US organizers sharpen pitch for World Cup return

NEW YORK (AP) — The hopes of the U.S. soccer community were shipped to Switzerland in two packing crates, filled with 30 five-volume sets of the official bid plus 94 4-inch binders containing contracts and copies.

Those 1,940 pounds of documents will be handed over Friday to FIFA president Sepp Blatter ahead of the Dec. 2 vote that determine whether the World Cup returns to the United States for a second time in 2018 or 2022.

That decision by FIFA's 24-man executive committee is a long way off. Planners are not shy about talking up the growth of American soccer since the 1994 World Cup.

"The U.S. has come a very, very long way in a short period of time both on the field and in the marketplace," said U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, chairman of the USA Bid Committee. "It's my believe if it can host another World Cup, then the trend lines of the commercial side, or the business side, and on the soccer side will move up rapidly and dramatically."

Each five-volume bid book totals 1,250 pages, what appears to be a hardcover encyclopedia of the sport in the United States. The colorful photo and graphic filled-set lists the 18 proposed host cities announced in January, plus 64 base camps and 54 venue-specific training sites.

Stadiums, mostly built for NFL teams, average 76,000 in capacity. Organizers project record attendance over 5 million and revenue in excess of $1 billion.

And it would be a construction-free tournament, a big change following the massive building necessary for this year's World Cup in South Africa and the 2014 tournament Brazil.

"The highlights of the bid would be the enormous amount of infrastructure that's already existing in the United States and the flexibility that we have to choose," bid committee executive director David Downs said. "Other countries are struggling to meet the minimum requirement."

England, Russia, Australia, Spain-Portugal and Belgium-Netherlands are competing for both tournaments, and Japan, Qatar and South Korea are bidding for 2022 only.

Given that eight of the 24 votes are from Europe, soccer's big-money continent appears likely to be awarded the 2018 tournament — the first there since 2006 in Germany.

"That's mainly what Europe is saying, that we should play every three times in Europe," FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said.

The U.S. must persuade voters that it's better to award a second World Cup to the United States than to send it for the first time to Australia or Qatar, which appear to be the chief 2022 competitors.

"We think 28 years, especially if it's '22, obviously is a long time," Gulati said.

The original U.S. bid for the 1994 tournament contained only five of the nine stadiums eventually used, filled with 13 others that were dropped, a long list that includes sites in Annapolis, Md.; Blaine, Minn.; Corvallis, Ore.; and Las Vegas.

If the U.S. bid is successful, there could be more changes, especially if new stadiums get built for the San Francisco 49ers, the Minnesota Vikings and an NFL team that would be in the Los Angeles area.

But those decisions will be driven by the NFL. FIFA and U.S. organizers won't have any role in whether they get built or not.

"We're not in a world where our competitors are incapable of hosting a World Cup," Downs said. "Whenever you're in a situation like that, it can come down to factors that are political, have to do with perceptions of particular nations, rightly or wrongly. Those are the areas we need to work on the next seven months."

Gulati, who will hand over the bid with Downs and U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra, already has traveled to visit 15 of the voters in their countries. FIFA will make technical inspections of the bidders from July to September.

For much of the U.S., soccer was a novelty in 1994. Now there's a professional league that will have 16 U.S. teams by next year. European teams regularly visit, drawing large crowds at high prices. There are two fulltime soccer cable networks, and most English Premier League games are now televised in the U.S. There are regular telecasts of Serie A, La Liga and the Bundeliga.

"All those things, coupled with a World Cup sitting out there on the horizon eight to 12 years down the road and our ability to market it I think would push us over the tipping point," Downs said. "Would we ever be Brazil or a country like that, that's quite as soccer mad? I doubt it, because there's so many other choices people have for their sports and entertainment in the United States. But I think there's potential for dramatic growth short of that."