The Sounders play two games this week – one against Vancouver on Tuesday and another against LAFC on Saturday. The games mark a restart in a season that has given the club the final two weeks off.
But those competitions aren’t what rabid football fans in Seattle are most concerned about this week. They all look to Thursday afternoon, when FIFA will decide whether this beautiful city will host the beautiful game on the biggest stage in the world.
The 206 isn’t exactly a neophyte when it comes to the international spotlight. Films, renowned television shows, a universal exhibition, all will have drawn attention to this maritime metropolis. But for Seattle to host the Men’s World Cup in 2026? For the rest of the eyes of the globe to focus on the Puget Sound region for the most revered sporting event on Earth?
It’s the kind of thing that, with the right game or two, can turn a city famous into legendary.
“I would be so excited to watch a game at Lumen Field,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I still remember 1994, I was there – I went to a few games in 1994 [in California], and those were truly life-changing moments. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but the whole area around the stadium… the fans, everyone who came, the nationalities, you know, football is a global sport, the atmosphere was really great.
So is this going to happen? Most likely. Maybe even a notch above probably. But nothing is guaranteed. For one thing, Seattle has established itself as one of America’s premier soccer cities. Atlanta United FC is the only club in MLS that consistently outperforms the Sounders. Not that the crowd is all locals, but the idea of there being even one empty seat in Lumen for an event of this magnitude seems borderline impossible.
Second, the city is in close proximity to Vancouver, British Columbia, which looks like a lock on hosting World Cup games four years from now. When the United States first won the bid to host the World Cup, it was feared that Seattle’s isolation in the Pacific Northwest would prevent FIFA from choosing it as the venue due to travel problems. But considering it’s just down I-5 from its northern neighbor, the location almost seems advantageous now.
Third, fields of practice abound. The Sounders will open a new facility in Renton in 2024, the Starfire Sports grounds in Tukwila will likely remain after that – and there are myriad other venues (the USA team trained at Seattle U before the Copa America) relatively close to the city center.
And finally – Seattle proved what it can do with a top international game last month by squeezing 68,741 into Lumen Field for the CONCACAF Champions League final – doing it in front of the FIFA President , Gianni Infantino, no less.
This may be part of the reason why Yahoo! Sportswriter Henry Bushnell listed Seattle as one of eight cities that will “(almost) certainly host the 2026 World Cup matches”.
The Sounders goaltender agrees.
“I think we’ve made our point, and if we [Seattle] do not understand [hosting honors], I will be deeply disappointed,” said Stefan Frei. “If they [FIFA] don’t take the opportunity in this town, so there are other things at stake.”
And you never know these other things. No one from FIFA will soon be considered holy. In 2015, seven FIFA officials were arrested in Switzerland on suspicion of receiving $150 million in bribes. And this year’s World Cup will be in Qatar – which isn’t exactly well regarded on the human rights front.
Seattle is also not a top 10 market in the United States. It could matter. This should not given his passion for football and sport in general, but there is always a possibility – just like in 1994 – that he will be overlooked.
The announcement will be broadcast by Fox Sports (channel TBD) and will take place at 2 p.m. Thursday. FIFA will choose between 16 and 19 North American cities to host World Cup matches, including 10 to 12 in the United States.
As Schmetzer said, having the World Cup here would be “a huge, massive statement about the involvement of football in our community or how the community is involved in our sport. I guess you could say that anyway.
On Thursday, we find out if Seattle will be part of the story or the recipient of heartbreak. My bet is on the first. If the powers that be deliver for this city, the city will deliver for them.