ATLANTA — The soccer dreams of Atlanta start with a new MLS team in 2017. But they don't end there.
During Wednesday's announcement during which the 22nd MLS expansion team was awarded to owner Arthur Blank and Atlanta, the World Cup was brought up on multiple occasions — by Blank, by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and by MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
"We would love to see that happen. That's one of the reasons we designed the stadium," Blank said before the press conference in reference to the $1.2 billion state-of-the-art facility that will house the MLS team and NFL Falcons beginning in 2017. "We had the opportunity to become an MLS franchise, but hopefully the United States will host the FIFA World Cup again and the stadium will accommodate that beautifully. Atlanta will. It's used to hosting big events."
With Canada also positioning itself for a World Cup bid in 2026, what will a potential CONCACAF bid look like? What better person to answer the question than CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb (right), who was present and recognized during Wednesday's ceremony.
"If we end up with the World Cup in North America, I'll be a happy man," quipped Webb. "Anywhere."
For the last four years Webb has been splitting time between the Cayman Islands and Atlanta. On Wednesday, he made sure he was in attendance for soccer history in his adoptive US home.
"Excellent, excellent to see MLS expanding, and of course Atlanta's a great city, a great community and for many years it's been a hotbed for soccer," Webb said. "I played here many, many years ago back when we used to come from Florida and play in tournaments here. It's definitely really rewarding and great for the city to have an MLS franchise."
Webb has taken notice of the MLS expansion boom in recent years, calling the league's plan to be at 24 teams before the end of the decade "a very aggressive plan that will help soccer in the United States become a great sport." And he thinks the American soccer landscape can handle it.
"Who knows what that magic number [for MLS teams] is, but at the end of the day the expansion team boils down to the quality," Webb said. "You have to have the quality in the league to be able to sustain that. And really the infrastructure and the foundation they've built soccer on in the United States from the ground up … I believe that the infrastructure is able to sustain that.
"When you talk about youth development programs you have to put the United States up there with some of the best youth development programs in the entire world," continued Webb. "Definitely the popularity of the game and the success the US has had at the World Cup and also in various tournaments … it is putting US soccer as one of the leaders in the [soccer] world."