The United States is making a strong case to co-host the 2026 World Cup and, in national team Coach Bruce Arena’s opinion, American soccer would also be well-positioned to challenge for the championship by then.
Asked during a teleconference about the prospect of the United States staging the tournament for the first time since 1994, Arena said: “In 1994, the U.S. was looked at as this emerging frontier in the game and FIFA wanted to bring the U.S. into the world’s game. In 2026, we’re going to be fully emerged into the game and a big player. I think 2026 will be the time where we are going to start talking about winning the World Cup. It wasn’t going to be in 1994. It wasn’t going to be in 2010. But 2026 could be our time.”
The U.S. team advanced to the quarterfinals under Arena’s direction in 2002 but hasn’t gone beyond the round of 16 in subsequent World Cups. Arena, the most successful men’s coach in MLS and U.S. history, began his second tenure in charge of the national team this winter. The Americans are seeking to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
“We’re one of the host countries, which is an advantage, and think about where we are going to be in nine more years,” he said. “Think about where we were in 1994, ’98, 2000, keep going. And think about where we will be with even nine more years in our league, nine more years of players developing around the world and then playing the World Cup in our country. I think we’re going to be positioned to be a big player by 2026.”
The United States has joined Mexico and Canada in formulating a bid to host the 2026 competition. No other countries have come forward yet. FIFA will select the location no later than May 2020.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Arena also said:
>> U.S. staff has been in touch with Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old star employed by Borussia Dortmund, whose team bus was attacked Tuesday.
“We’ve had contact with him. I actually left him a message today We’ve had contact with him through texts during the incident, after the incident. He’s okay. I’m sure it was very hectic, very scary and I’m sure disrupted the team in a lot of ways. Hopefully in time all those people recover.”
>> He doesn’t anticipate many changes to the training camp roster, aside from players returning from injury, ahead of World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico in early June.
“The general principle we are working on is not make too many changes. We can’t afford to do that. We’re not going to be experimenting a whole lot. We have to get results. We’re going to stick with the players we had in the last camp and add a couple more. But I don’t think you’re going to see any new faces just pop up and you’re going to be surprised by it.”
Training camp will open May 28 in the Denver area. The Americans will visit Salt Lake City for a June 3 friendly, then return to Colorado for the T&T match at DSG Park in Commerce City, Colo. The delegation will then fly to Mexico City for the June 11 qualifier.
>> The U.S. depth chart includes 61 players, of which Arena said he would narrow to 43, then 31 and choose about 25 for training camp. He said he’ll travel to Europe in early May to watch matches and meet with players.
He is concerned about midfielder-defender Fabian Johnson, whose thigh injury has prevented him from playing for the past month at German club Moenchengladbach. Johnson was a late scratch from U.S. camp before the March qualifiers.
“The word from their medical staff is that he hasn’t responded that well,” Arena said. “That’s a concern. We’re going to be checking his progress each week to see if he’s a possibility to be part of the next camp.”
>> The Michael Bradley-Jermaine Jones partnership against Panama on March 28 “certainly didn’t look anything special.”
Arena prefaced his comments by saying the tone of the match, the officiating and the field conditions affected the flow and combination play.
“As we look forward, we continue to look at different possibilities. In my mind, there are some clear choices we are going to make in the midfield and how others fit in around that remains to be seen.”
>> Although the Gold Cup roster is far from Arena’s mind, the World Cup qualifiers in June will impact player selections for the CONCACAF competition in July.
“If we are in a desperate situation, we may need to go with the team we somewhat will need in September [qualifiers]. If we come out of these games in good shape, we’ll have a little bit more flexibility to look at some new players. My preference is to have some new faces in the Gold Cup.”
>> Pulisic was included on the preliminary roster for the U-20 World Cup next month in South Korea. However, it’s “unlikely” he will join the squad because, Arena said, “Christian is going to play with us.”
The World Cup runs May 20-June 11. The U.S. senior squad will be together May 28-June 12.