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Soccer Insider

FIFA’s Gianni Infantino visits Trump, vows an ‘open’ World Cup in 2026

August 28, 2018 at 9:07 PM

President Donald Trump is given a red card by FIFA President Gianni Infantino during a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Gianni Infantino has great hope and expectation for American soccer.

“What I want to see is the U.S. — the U.S. league, the U.S. national team, U.S. youth development structures, boys and girls — being part of the top three in the world,” the Swiss-born president of FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, said Tuesday.

“We have economic power in the U.S., we have the sports DNA and culture and the competitiveness of the people. All the ingredients are there.”

And the vehicle to drive soccer to a higher level — in a country where football, baseball and basketball rule — is the World Cup, which, in 2026, will be played in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Related: [D.C. United: Lineup change gives Zoltan Stieber a start against Philadelphia]

It is, as U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro interjected during Infantino’s roundtable session with The Washington Post and Sports Illustrated, “an eight-year runway to really grow the sport from the youth to the professional leagues, men and women. This is our chance.”

Two and a half months after FIFA awarded the 2026 World Cup to North America, Infantino and Cordeiro headed a delegation visiting President Trump at the White House to celebrate that success and begin laying the groundwork for hosting 60 of the tournament’s 80 matches in this country. (Mexico and Canada will stage 10 apiece.) The group spent about an hour with Trump, presenting him and family members with jerseys and, for the president, a set of yellow and red cards.

Asked what legacy he would like the World Cup to leave, Infantino said: “I would definitely like to see soccer in the U.S. becoming one of the top sports, not number five.”

Despite the unique makeup of soccer in the United States — no promotion and relegation in MLS, a university system, a fragmented youth structure — “some good progress has been made,” he said. “We should not forget that. And maybe this is the right way to do things in this country. But personally, coming from a different background, I believe in something like promotion-relegation, I believe in the competitiveness.

Related: [How more than 100 Americans fared internationally this weekend]

“There is a lot of great work which has been done, including with the MLS. . . . As it is, in the world, maybe it is number 20 or 30, the league and football movement in general? I don’t know. It should be one, two or three. As FIFA president, I want football to prosper all around the world, and if there is a country where all the ingredients are already there …”

Cordeiro believes the awarding of the World Cup to North America will lead to potentially enormous growth of soccer.

“We have been given by FIFA an incredible gift to co-host, to take that as an opportunity to really transform the sport . . . to make the sport preeminent, we want it to be first or second in people’s mind-sets. We think we have the opportunity in the next eight years.”

Added Infantino: “You have to transform this country into a soccer country.”

As part of World Cup preparations, organizers and government officials (from all three host countries) will work closely together on matters such as immigration and security.

In the bid to stage the tournament, FIFA received assurances from the Trump administration (even though it will no longer be in power in 2026) that visitors would be welcome to the United States. And although Tuesday’s meeting was ceremonial, Infantino reiterated in the media interview that the U.S. government has pledged its full support.

“Sports events are something special, and they should remain something special,” he said. “I am not concerned or worried at all there would be any issue with any team or fans from any country. Iran will [probably] qualify. If they qualify, they will play and their fans will be welcome.”

Cordeiro added: “Whether it’s opening our doors to the Iranians or whoever it might be, we are committed to hosting the most open event.”

Infantino addressed several other topics, including whether he had a personal preference for the site of the 2026 World Cup final.

“Yes. [But] I will not say, even under torture.”

The New York and Los Angeles metro areas are the front-runners, with MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., considered the early favorite.

On multiple countries hosting the World Cup and other FIFA events with expanded fields: “This is the future. Hosting the competition of such a big scale today is very difficult in only one country.”

The North American World Cup will be the first with 48 teams, a 50 percent increase.

As for a proposal to expand the tournament for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Infantino said: “It’s getting late. If a decision is not taken by June, it will not happen.”

Infantino is not thrilled about the recent proposal of Spain’s La Liga playing league matches in the United States, starting this season. FIFA, as well as several other organizations, would have to approve such a request.

“I think I would prefer much more a great MLS game in the U.S. rather than La Liga being in the U.S.”


Steven Goff has covered soccer for The Washington Post since the early 1990s. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the U.S. national teams. He has been on assignment at every World Cup since 1994, plus four Women's World Cups.

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