By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (March 11, 2013) US Soccer Players – The United States did not always make history on the soccer field. Sometimes it happened in the boardroom. In 1988, July 4th of that year to be exact, FIFA awarded the United States the 1994 World Cup. That moment would forever change the course of the game in this country and led to an unprecedented growth in the sport that rivaled even that of the North American Soccer League during the 1970s.
A 15-month campaign on the part of the US Soccer Federation, led by Werner Fricker, culminated with that Independence Day vote at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. The US bid also included a videotape message from then-President Ronald Reagan. By the time the executive committee cast their ballots, the United States received 10 votes, Morocco seven and Brazil two. The United States had made history without kicking a ball.
At that point in time, the United States had only qualified for three World Cups (1930, 1934 and 1950) and was in the midst of trying to reach the 1990 finals in Italy, a feat it would achieve 14 months after FIFA’s vote. FIFA took notice of the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles. The Olympic soccer tournament, held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, had been a rousing success. A crowd of 101,799 had attended the final. France defeated Brazil 2-0 for the gold medal and FIFA officials were watching — and smiling. The USA’s stock as an organizer, particularly of a soccer tournament, grew instantly.
Since 1962, the World Cup had alternated between the Americas and Europe. Although Brazil had a rich history of soccer and Africa remained a continent that had never hosted a World Cup, the United States – with its government support, NFL stadiums and great infrastructure – remained an untapped market. The US’s ability to market the game and lure advertisers would be a model FIFA would use for years to come.
“The United States is the only unconquered continent in the soccer set,” Peter Pullen, a member of the Brazilian bid delegation, told The New York Times following the decision. “There is a great potential for economic power, and a lot of people can make a lot of money if the games take off.”
Of course, not everyone was happy with the decision. One member of the Brazilian delegation, Guimaraes Octavio Pinto, told reporters that “taking the World Cup to the United States is like taking the World Series to Brazil.”
The original date of the vote had been June 30, but a change to July 4th gave a strong – and hopeful – hint that the United States would get the ‘94 tournament. At 1:21 p.m. local time at the Movenpick Hotel, FIFA announced that the United States would host the 1994 World Cup. The American delegation celebrated. The decision became front-page news in newspapers across the world.
The Americans had set their sights on being World Cup hosts years earlier. After Colombia had dropped out as host of the 1986 World Cup, the US – with the NASL in its dying days – hastily put together a 92-page bid book, flimsy for even 1980s standards, with color photos of the proposed stadiums and little substance. In 1983, the 27-member executive committee named Mexico as host, the first time a nation would get to host a second World Cup.
For the 1994 World Cup, the USSF put together a serious bid. The Federation created World Cup USA 1994 and put together a 381-page bid book that cost $500,000. The book listed 18 potential venues, although only five from that book would host games: RFK Stadium (Washington, DC), Soldier Field (Chicago), Cotton Bowl (Dallas), Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA) and Citrus Bowl (Orlando).
Pinto would eat his words six years later when the United States hosted one of the most successful World Cups in history. Some 3.6 million people attended the 52 games, generating $210 million in revenues from tickets alone. The World Cup in America led to the creation of Major League Soccer and spurred an unprecedented growth in the sport in this country that endures to this day.
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