SOCCER

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

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SEATTLE — Maya Mendoza-Exstrom sounded like her voice was about to break. Speaking to a crowd of several hundred at Pier 62, Mendoza-Exstrom had the honor of being the final speaker at the event celebrating Seattle’s successful efforts to be a host city for the Men’s World Cup. 2026.

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

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Although Mendoza-Exstrom is now the Sounders’ chief operating officer and one of the key players in Seattle’s World Cup bid, it was almost as much a personal project as a professional one. . 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 referenced that original bid book both for inspiration and a kind of touchstone when she needed to remind herself of the values ​​that would guide this new auction.

Unlike this bid, which was funded by a football organization in its own right and legitimately global brands, this first was largely driven by volunteers and youth football organizations – really the only football infrastructure in the region that still existed in the early 1990s. But the spirit that fueled the 1994 bid still lives on in 2022.

“Today we realize the work done 30 years ago by those soccer moms and dads who first dared to dream that Seattle could and should host a World Cup,” Mendoza-Exstrom told the crowd. “We must express our gratitude to those who dared to dream this dream. To honor this dream, it’s our turn to think about bringing this legacy of this event to Seattle. This heritage has been at the heart of this candidacy.

When Mendoza-Exstrom said those words, her voice shaking a little, I admit I cried a little too.

I think it was because I felt personally included in my own way, and so should you. It was the triumph not only of a region that has flourished over the past 30 years, but also of a footballing community that is now unrivaled in this country.

From Mendoza-Exstrom to owner and chairman of the Sounders bid, Adrian Hanauer, these were people with lived experience, who still felt the sting of that previous failure and were personally invested in making sure it never happened again. The Sounders organization, in a way, can even trace back to that failed bid, as the A-League team that revived the name effectively rose from the ashes of that failed effort.

The region’s football infrastructure that formed the backbone of the bid – Starfire Soccer Complex, the University of Washington, Seattle University and the Sounders FC Center in Longacres – all have deep ties to the community. soccer. Although there was no shortage of government officials at Thursday’s celebration, non-football sports organizations were notably absent from the list of speakers. They’ll play their part eventually, I’m sure, but they didn’t make it happen. We, the greater Washington football community, can claim this achievement as our own.

This same community stands to benefit as well, with the Rave Foundation’s 26 Fields for 2026 initiative to provide physical infrastructure for disadvantaged youth in the state to be just one example.

“I screamed and then I cried,” Mendoza-Exstrom told me earlier today of her reaction to the announcement. “It was a lot of soul labor. We felt we did everything we could do. We didn’t sell ourselves, we didn’t sell the football community. We did that through this deep customization, this deep history that we have and this is our best case, we invested everything in this.

Don’t get me wrong, the World Cup is big business. There are reasons to be cynical. There are reasons we should be skeptical. Our city will be transformed in ways we don’t always appreciate and may not always like. We can recognize that and always be happy, always proud, always optimistic about what it all means.

Seattle being chosen as one of 16 cities to host the 2026 World Cup is not only a huge opportunity, but it is a material recognition of our place in the world of football. I have no illusions about staging a World Cup final – I suspect it would be a little upsetting if we still stage games as late as the quarter-finals – but I think Seattle and the north- Western Pacific will end up being the stars of this tournament. It comes with responsibility – being gracious and inclusive, with a need to care for the most vulnerable members of our community – but it’s also a tremendous opportunity.

The Pier 62 event was kind of a teaser. This is where Fan Fest activities will be centered, creating an entry point for every visitor to feel connected to the World Cup. Notably, while other cities focused their celebratory events on press conferences, this was something open to the public, with free food, free beer, and a free concert. I can only imagine what it will be like when there are real games attached and I couldn’t be more excited.

Other takeaways from Thursday’s announcement:

We’ve known for a long time that laying down a grass surface was a requirement for a successful bid, but details on how Seattle would achieve that have been hard to come by. This is finally changing. I had the opportunity to speak to Lumen Field General Manager Zach Hensley and he clarified that the current FieldTurf would be removed completely and replaced with a “native grass surface”. Lumen Field was originally built assuming it would have a grass surface, meaning much of the required infrastructure already exists. That doesn’t mean it will be an easy process.

Work is expected to begin as soon as the Seattle Seahawks’ 2025 season ends, likely in early 2026. Lumen Field will first need to install certain FIFA-mandated tools, such as vacuum cleaners, heating elements and grow lights designed to keep the grass at optimum quality. If all goes according to plan, it’s possible the Sounders and Reign could play there at the start of their 2026 seasons.

But FIFA requires no activity to occur on the pitch for around 60 days before the tournament starts, which likely means club teams won’t be able to use it from mid-April until the end of the tournament. tournament in mid-July. The plan is for the Sounders and OL Reign to finish their seasons on the grass surface. Presumably, the Seahawks would also play their 2026 season there.

Beyond that remains to be determined. I imagine at best the pitch holds up very well during the NFL season and all parties agree to keep the grass. Perhaps more likely, the grass would be removed at the end of 2026 and FieldTurf would return during the following offseason.

When Vancouver re-entered the bid process for the 2026 World Cup, there were fears it would lessen Seattle’s hosting chances. If the goal was just to be able to claim that the Pacific Northwest is serviced, Vancouver would definitely tick that box.

Ultimately, of course, both cities were selected, and Sounders president of business operations Peter Tomozawa actually suggested that Vancouver’s inclusion helped solidify Seattle’s bid.

“It’s a great city and I think it will bring us closer together over time,” Tomozawa said.

Although it was reported that Vancouver was going to host six games, everyone I spoke to insisted that they still had no idea how many games Seattle would get. Estimates given to me ranged from three to seven. Those details likely won’t be known for at least a few more weeks, and possibly much longer.

If Seattle officials have any say in the matter, it looks like they’d rather have more games than later games. Based on viewership figures reported by FIFA, around 200 million people watch the average World Cup match worldwide. It’s very similar to the global Super Bowl viewership.

In other words, Seattle has a chance to have Super Bowl-sized eyeballs on our city multiple times during the tournament. The more time the better, as far as local organizers are concerned.

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