The Sounders play two games this week: one against Vancouver on Tuesday and one against LAFC on Saturday. The games mark the restart of a season that has given the club the last two weeks off.
But those contests aren’t what rabid football fans in Seattle are most concerned about this week. Everyone is looking forward to Thursday afternoon when FIFA decides whether this beautiful city will host the beautiful game on the world’s biggest stage.
The 206 isn’t exactly a neophyte when it comes to international attention. Movies, renowned TV shows, a world’s fair – they will all have drawn attention to this maritime metropolis. But Seattle being the host city for the men’s World Cup in 2026? So that the rest of the world’s eyes are focused on the Puget Sound area for the most revered sporting event on Earth?
It’s the kind of thing that, with the right game or two, can transform a city from famous to legendary.
“I would be so excited to see a game at Lumen Field,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I still remember ’94, I was there, I went to a couple of games in ’94. [in California], and they were truly life-changing moments. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but the whole area around the stadium… the fans, everyone who was coming, the nationalities, you know, football is a global sport, the whole atmosphere was really tremendous.”
So is this going to happen? Probably. Maybe even a step above, probably. But nothing is guaranteed. For one thing, Seattle has proven to be one of America’s premier soccer cities. Atlanta United FC is the only MLS club to regularly beat the Sounders. Not that the crowd is made up solely of locals, but the idea of a single empty seat at Lumen for an event of this magnitude seems almost impossible.
Second, the city is close to Vancouver, BC, which looks set to host World Cup games four years from now. When the US first won the bid to host the World Cup, there was concern that Seattle’s isolation in the Pacific Northwest could prevent FIFA from choosing it as the venue due to travel issues. But considering it’s just down I-5 from its neighbor to the north, the location seems almost advantageous now.
Third, practice fields abound. The Sounders will open a new facility in Renton in 2024, the fields at Starfire Sports in Tukwila will likely remain afterward, and there are plenty of other venues (Team USA practiced at Seattle U before the America’s Cup) relatively close to downtown the city.
And finally, Seattle showed what it could do with a high-profile international match last month by bringing 68,741 people to Lumen Field for the CONCACAF Champions League final, in front of none other than FIFA President Gianni Infantine.
Perhaps that is part of the reason why Yahoo! Sports writer Henry Bushnell mentioned Seattle as one of eight cities that “will (almost) definitely host the 2026 World Cup games.”
The Sounders goalie agrees.
“I think we made our case, and if [Seattle] I don’t understand [hosting honors], I will be very disappointed”, said Stefan Frei. “If they [FIFA] don’t understand what the opportunity is in this city, then there are other things at stake.”
And you never know about those other things. No one from FIFA will be considered for sainthood any time soon. In 2015, seven FIFA officials were arrested in Switzerland on suspicion of receiving $150 million in bribes. And this year’s World Cup will be in Qatar, which is not exactly well regarded on the human rights front.
Seattle is also not one of the top 10 markets in the United States. That could matter. It’s should not matter given his passion for football and sport in general, but there is always the possibility, as in 1994, that it will be overlooked.
The announcement will be broadcast on Fox Sports (TBD channel) and will take place at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday. FIFA will choose 16-19 North American cities to host World Cup matches, including 10-12 in the United States.
As Schmetzer said, the World Cup coming here would be “a huge, huge statement about how much football is involved in our community, or how community is involved in our sport. I guess you could say that either way.
On Thursday, we’ll find out if Seattle will be part of the story or the recipient of the heartbreak. My bet is for the first. If the powers that be deliver for this city, the city will deliver for them.