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Orlando one big step closer to hosting 2026 World Cup games

The United 2026 bid (Canada-Mexico-US) officials Carlos Cordeiro (2nd L), president of the United States Football Association, president of the Mexican Football Association Decio de Maria Serrano (2nd R) and Steve Reed (L), president of the Canadian Soccer Association, react following the announcement that the United States, Mexico and Canada will host the 2026 World Cup during the 68th FIFA Congress at the Expocentre in Moscow on June 13, 2018. (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)

Orlando took a big step closer to hosting 2026 World Cup soccer games.

City leaders were thrilled to learn Wednesday morning the United States, Mexico and Canada won the right to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, but they know there is still considerable work to do to make sure Orlando gets a chance to co-host the world’s largest soccer tournament.

Orlando was one of 23 potential host cities included in the United Bid, a joint effort between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. The host cities will be narrowed down to 16 in 2020, a U.S. Soccer Federation official confirmed. The process of narrowing down cities won’t begin until after the conclusion of the current World Cup in Russia, which begins today.

Still, those involved with soccer in Central Florida are excited World Cup matches could be played at Camping World Stadium if Orlando remains on the list of host cities.

Central Florida Sports Commission CEO Jason Siegel said the Local Organizing Committee responsible for Orlando’s portion of the bid was made up of more than 160 community leaders. He touted the more than 72 million visitors to Orlando in 2017 in a statement and said “hosting major events is in our DNA.”

“We expect to hear from a combination of the United Committee and FIFA with the next steps,” Siegel told Pro Soccer USA. “We have progress reports included in the bid that we already submitted. There was an awful lot of work that was done prior to today to be one of the 17 U.S. cities out of the 23 cities to be part of the bid book.

“We’re having ongoing conversations locally with potential training sites, hotels, the airport and government officials that will play a particularly important role because the venues we’ll be using are publicly operated. They’re certainly the next level of conversation.

“Today was a great start, but we’ve got an awful lot of work to do.”

Matches in Orlando would be hosted at 65,000-seat Camping World Stadium. Orlando organizing committee officials suggested completing the final phase of stadium renovation that includes expanded luxury seating would significantly help the city’s push to host games.

“The first part is that we certainly hope that we’ll finish the venues project,” Siegel said. “There were some items that were part of the renovation of the stadium that were not completed from the first phase. That’s No. 1.

“No. 2 is we have not received the detailed next set of requirements specifically for Camping World Stadium. We’re hopeful we’ll see that material in the near future.

“But we are confident. We know that leadership within the community has come together to help us get this far and we’ll keep working together.”

The bid includes 17 cities in the U.S., three in Mexico and three in Canada.

In a conference call with members of the media, U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro said he’s not looking forward to narrowing down the cities. Cordeiro worked with Canada Soccer President Steven Reed and Mexican Football Federation President Decio De María to make the United Bid a reality.

“We were blessed with 23 really world-class facilities, stadiums,” he said. “Some iconic, some brand-new, cutting-edge and everything in between. I think it will be a very difficult decision that we will all have to make, the three of us and obviously the folks at FIFA, when we have to determine the final 16.”

Orlando City SC CEO Alex Leitão is on board with the bid.

“We are extremely excited and honored that the United States will be one of the countries that will host the 2026 FIFA World Cup,” he said in a statement. “This is a moment that everyone involved in the sport in this country should be proud of as it is a result of everyone’s hard work and commitment to grow the beautiful game not only in the United States, but also in Canada and Mexico.

“Like it did in 1994, this World Cup will further allow us to celebrate the soccer culture in this country and inspire a new generation. We can’t wait for the opportunity to continue showing Orlando’s great passion for soccer in what will be the largest and most successful FIFA World Cup in history.”

The passion of the fans of both the Lions and Orlando City SC’s National Women’s Soccer League team Orlando Pride were contributing factors when Orlando was included as a potential host city, Siegel said.

Earlier in the process, some cities expressed concerns about FIFA’s financial and security requirements for host cities and opted out of consideration for the bid. Chicago, Minneapolis and British Columbia’s Vancouver, among others, dropped out, citing uncertainty regarding public funds needed to host World Cup matches.

Siegel said for now, the Orlando bid committee is still awaiting clarity on what its next steps should be.

Miami is the only other Florida city that could potentially host matches, though Siegel said collaboration wasn’t a topic of discussion when Orlando’s bid was put together.

“I think going into the process, it was really about Orlando, our assets, what we could bring to the table — nothing related to clustering a region,” he said. “It that changes, we’ll certainly respond accordingly.”

While Orlando waits for more host requirement details, Siegel said there is one thing soccer fans can do to help bolster the bid.

“The reason that Orlando is so well thought of and has been throughout this process is very much attributable to the passion of our soccer community,” Siegel said. “So when it comes to our professional teams, the Lions and Pride; the international teams we’ve hosted, the portfolio of positive and well-attended matches is in our favor.”

Staff writer Iliana Limón Romero contributed to this report.

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