Seattle’s successful 2026 World Cup bid belongs to the entire community

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SEATTLE — Maya Mendoza-Exstrom sounded like her voice was about to break. Mendoza-Exstrom was honored to address a crowd of several hundred people at Pier 62, being the final speaker at the event celebrating Seattle’s successful bid to host the 2026 Men’s World Cup.

Flanked by children and Seattle Sounders legend Kasey Keller, Mendoza-Exstrom’s speech thoughtfully illustrated what made this particular bid so special. While other cities have newer, shinier stadiums; are in more strategic locations; have larger populations; or more pop culture cachet, Seattle’s offering had an authenticity that just couldn’t be matched.

Although Mendoza-Exstrom is now Sounders’ chief operating officer and a key player in Seattle’s World Cup bid, it was almost as much a personal project as it was professional. Mendoza-Exstrom’s father had worked closely on Seattle’s previous World Cup bid — an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to enter the transformative 1994 tournament — and she often referred to that original bid book for inspiration and a touchstone of sorts as she went about it the values ​​that would guide this new commandment had to be remembered.

Unlike that bid, which was funded by a full-blown football organization and legitimately global brands, this first one was driven largely by volunteers and youth football organizations – truly the region’s only football infrastructure still in existence in the early 1990s. But the spirit that fueled the 1994 bid still lives on in 2022.

“This is for all these soccer dads and soccer moms,” Mendoza-Exstrom told the crowd.

As Mendoza-Exstrom spoke those words, her voice shaking a little, I have to admit that I burst into tears a bit too.

I think it was because I personally felt included in my own way, and you should too. This was not just a triumph for a region that has thrived over the past 30 years, but for a football community unrivaled in this country.

From Mendoza-Exstrom to Sounders owner and bid chair Adrian Hanauer, these were people with lived experiences who still felt the sting of that earlier failure and made a personal effort to ensure it didn’t happen again. The Sounders organization can in some ways even trace it back to that failed bid, as the A-League team that revived the name was practically born from the ashes of that unsuccessful effort.

The region’s football infrastructure that formed the backbone of the bid – the Starfire Soccer Complex, the University of Washington, Seattle University and the Sounders FC Center in Longacres – are all closely linked to the football community. While there was no shortage of government officials at Thursday’s celebration, non-football sports organizations were notably absent from the list of speakers. They will eventually play their part, I have no doubt about that, but they weren’t the ones who made it possible. We, the greater Washington football community, can claim that accomplishment.

The same community will also benefit from using the The 26 fields of the Rave Foundation for 2026 Initiative to provide physical infrastructure to the state’s underprivileged youth is just one example.

“I screamed and then cried,” Mendoza-Exstrom told me earlier in the day of her reaction to the announcement. “It was a lot of soul work. We felt like we had done everything we could do. We didn’t sell ourselves, we didn’t sell the football community. We made it through this deep personalization, this deep history that we have and this is our best case. We put everything into it.”

Make no mistake, the World Cup is big business. There are reasons to be cynical. There are reasons why we should be skeptical. Our city will change in ways we won’t always appreciate and may not always like. We can acknowledge this and still be happy, still be proud, still be optimistic about what it all means.

For Seattle to be selected as one of the 16 cities to host the 2026 World Cup is not only a tremendous opportunity, but also a material recognition of our place in the football world. I’m under no illusions about hosting a World Cup Finals – I suspect it would be a bit annoying if we were still hosting games through to the Quarterfinals – but I think Seattle and the Pacific Northwest will be the stars of this tournament. This brings with it responsibility – to be gracious and inclusive, with the need to look out for our most vulnerable community members – but it’s also a great opportunity.

The Pier 62 event was kind of a teaser. This is where Fanfest activities are concentrated, creating an entry point for any visitor to feel connected to the World Cup. While other cities centered their celebrations around press conferences, this was something open to the public and included free food, free beer and a free concert. I can only imagine what it will be like with real games attached and I couldn’t be more excited.

Other takeaways from Thursday’s announcement:

We have long known that planting a lawn was a prerequisite for a successful bid, but details on how Seattle would accomplish this have been hard to come by. That’s finally changing. I had the opportunity to speak to Lumen Field General Manager Zach Hensley and he clarified that the current FieldTurf will be completely removed and replaced with a “native grass field”. Lumen Field was originally built with the assumption that it would have a grassed area, meaning much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place. That doesn’t mean it will be an easy process.

Work is scheduled to begin as early as 2025 Seattle Seahawks The season is expected to end in early 2026. Lumen Field must first install some FIFA-mandated tools such as vacuums, heaters and grow lights designed to keep the weed in optimal quality. If all goes according to plan, the Sounders and Reign could play on it at the start of their 2026 season.

However, FIFA requires the pitch to be idle for around 60 days before the tournament starts, which likely means club sides won’t be able to use it from mid-April until the tournament ends in mid-July. It is planned that the Sounders and OL Reign will be able to finish their seasons on the grass field. Presumably, the Seahawks would also play their 2026 season on it.

In addition, it is still to be determined. I envision a best-case scenario that the field holds up well throughout the NFL season and all parties agree to keep the grass. Perhaps more plausibly, the grass would be removed in late 2026 and FieldTurf would return the following offseason.

When Vancouver re-entered the 2026 World Cup bid process, there were some concerns that it could reduce Seattle’s chances of hosting. If the goal was to simply claim to serve the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver would certainly tick that box.

In the end, of course, both cities were chosen, and Peter Tomozawa, Sounders’ president of business operations, actually suggested that Vancouver’s inclusion would help solidify Seattle’s bid.

“This is such a great city and I think that will bring us closer together over time,” said Tomozawa.

Despite reports that Vancouver will host six games, everyone I spoke to insisted they still had no idea how many games Seattle would get. The estimates I was given ranged from three to seven. These details will probably not be found out for a few weeks, and maybe much longer.

If Seattle officials have anything to say, it sounds like they’d rather have more games than later games. Based on FIFA’s self-reported viewership, about 200 million people Look at the average World Cup game around the world. It’s very similar to that super bowlworldwide audience.

In other words, Seattle has a chance to see our city Super Bowl sized multiple times over the course of the tournament. The more often the better as far as the local organizers are concerned.

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