TORONTO – The FIFA World Cup is returning to North America.
On Wednesday morning the United Bid, a joint venture of the United States, Mexico and Canada federations, was selected to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Speaking the day before, when this new reality was mere potential, Toronto FC players and coaches spoke about what a World Cup on their doorstep would mean for the continued growth of the game in North America.
“The power of a World Cup is incredible, in terms of the energy, the passion, the enthusiasm that comes with it. That's all magnified so much more if you're able to host it,” said Michael Bradley. “It would be very important.”
Though neither Bradley nor head coach Greg Vanney thought not getting the tournament would stifle the growth of a rapidly-progressing sport, they see it as “an incredible shot in the arm; another boost,” in Vanney’s words.
“To get the benefits of being a host country – the exposure to the big games the World Cup brings, the quality of those games,” continued Vanney, “the impact can't be understated. The US built off that in '94 and now for Canada to [do so] would be huge. It would continue the progress in North America in general.”
After all, it is at the World Cup that lifelong memories are made.
For Vanney, his earliest such recollections stem from the 1986 edition in Mexico, watching Diego Maradona, a player whom he modeled his game after – admittedly a plan “that didn't work,” as he became a defender instead. The most exciting memories for him came from watching the 2002 U.S. national team side progress to the quarterfinals and push Germany to the limit — a squad he was a part of until injury sidelined him.
For Bradley, the legacy of the United States hosting in 1994 looms large, having watched a pair of matches (Italy-Norway and Mexico-Bulgaria) as a six-year-old in New Jersey's Giants Stadium.
TFC’s home, BMO Field, is in contention to host matches eight years from now.
“I can remember 1994, what that meant; to be able to go to a few games, being around the training of a few teams. As a young guy to be able to see all that up close, and feel a part of it, was incredible,” recalled Bradley. “Twenty-some years later, [to] host the World Cup, in terms of continuing to grow the game, reaching out to all different types of people, goes a long way.”
His TFC midfield colleague Jonathan Osorio had another sort of reaction.
“Hopefully I'm playing in it,” said the 26-year old Canada international with a smile.
“If that is the case, that's bigger than even a dream. Never was possible, ever, as a kid,” added Osorio. “Now that it's coming to light, not only is it exciting for the people, which is the most important, but for myself, it's motivating to keep going.
“I will be a little older – not old, but more wise – it'll be motivation to keep myself healthy throughout my career,” said Osorio, “so when that times comes, my body is in the best shape possible to give myself a chance to participate.”
For the time being, the Colombian-Canadian's favorite World Cup moment is watching Colombia beat Uruguay 2-0 in the round of 16 in the 2014 Brazil edition of the competition with his family.
With 2022 in Qatar and now 2026 in his native land ahead, Osorio will have the opportunity to craft new memories, while furthering the game in Canada. He called it a “huge chance for it to grow at an even faster pace than it is already” on these shores.
“We saw having a World Cup in '94 helped the sport in the US,” said Osorio. “The same will happen [in 2026] … games here in Canada would be amazing.”