Bruce Arena said Thursday that the United States’ bid to host the 2026 World Cup could mark the culmination of the country’s emergence as a global soccer power.
Speaking to a group of reporters including USA TODAY Sports on a conference call, national men’s team head coach Arena revealed his excitement about the three-pronged bid (with Canada and Mexico) that has established the USA as a favorite to stage the tournament in nine years.
“In 2026, we will be fully emergent and a big player,” Arena said. “2026 will be the time when we start talking about winning a World Cup, to be honest.
“It wasn’t going to be 1994 or 2010, but 2026 could be our time. We (would be) one of the hosts, which is an advantage.”
Arena, who took over from Jurgen Klinsmann in November to begin his second stint in charge of the U.S. team, said that the continuing growth of Major League Soccer, combined with American players improving in terms of technique and global experience, will help bridge the gap to the world’s best squads.
The last time the USA hosted a men’s World Cup was 1994, when it lost to Brazil in the Round of 16. It has reached the same stage of the last two tournaments.
“Think about where we will be in nine years,” Arena said. “Think about where we were in 1994, then 1998. Think about where we will be in our league, nine years of players playing all over the world, we will be positioned to be a really big player.”
However, Arena has more immediate matters to deal with. The end of Klinsmann’s reign left the team in a perilous qualifying position for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, having lost its opening two matches in the last qualification round.
Arena took charge of a 6-0 win against Honduras followed by a 1-1 tie in Panama last month, but there is work to be done, beginning with a home clash against Trinidad and Tobago in Denver on June 8 and a visit to Mexico three days later.
The Denver game and a training camp before it will be aimed at getting the players acclimated to the altitude of Mexico City, where the USA has historically struggled and never won in World Cup qualifying.
“There is no loss of urgency. We are far from out of the woods,” Arena said, reflecting on the USA having climbed from the bottom of the six-team group that will send three teams directly to the World Cup and a fourth into a playoff spot. “There is very little margin for error. There is a lot of urgency. I am working every day to help us understand there is a lot of importance here.
“We think that we have a better chance in both venues of being acclimatized if we have a couple of weeks training (at altitude) and follow a couple of procedures to adjust. We want to have the best possible chance to leave Mexico City and Denver with some points.”
The USA sits in fourth place in the CONCACAF group, with four points from four games.
© 2017 KPNX-TV