The slogan has been THE GAME IS IN US. Not only does the U.S. bid for hosting the 2022 World Cup have a cute little pun, but it describes a slowly burning movement which has started to catch fire in the USA. For most of its U.S. history, soccer has been relegated to club status, the U.S. Open Cup trophy changing hands with little to no fanfare.
Since the 1994 bid to host the World Cup and the creation of MLS, soccer in the United States is still a fringe sport, but one with aspirations to stay in the national consciousness. If the 1994 World Cup was a chance to bring international soccer to a large immigrant population in the U.S. with ties to other national teams, the 2022 World Cup bid is about that new American soccer fan, the ones who purchased the largest number of tickets to see games in South Africa.
As a result, it was fitting that Landon Donovan be the US Men's Teams representative in Germany as the bidding process kicked into its final leg. As official ambassador for U.S. soccer, Landon Donovan made a pitch this morning along with former president Bill Clinton (who was on hand in South Africa as well), Sunil Gulati (the chairman of the US Bid committee), Don Garber and Morgan Freeman. Now when Morgan Freeman gets involved, you know things are serious.
Landon Donovan was responsible for the goal which took the U.S. from floundering in group stages for another World Cup to moving on to the round of 16. He was also a major player in the US's push during the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan. Gracing the cover of the US edition of FIFA 11, Landon Donovan has cemented himself as the face of U.S. soccer.
In a funny twist, one of his Galaxy teammates is also in Germany making a pitch; David Beckham is there on behalf of England's big to host the 2018 World Cup. The stories of the two men are completely different. David, coming out of the English football tradition was signed by Manchester United at a young age then went on to an international career which eventually landed him in the U.S. where he was supposed to take soccer to a new level.
Landon was 12 when the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994, watched Argentina-Romania face off in the Rose Bowl, and feel in love with a sport which would become his livelihood. He, in many ways, embodies the future U.S. men's soccer hoped would spring out of getting to host that World Cup.
The presentation began with a video narrated by Morgan Freeman, focusing on America's diversity and that very diversity making it an ideal place to host a World Cup. Then he came up to speak and talked more about America's diversity and drew on Nelson Mandela's statement that sport could change the world (something he may have picked up studying to play Nelson Mandela in Invictus).
In the background to this bid presentation is Don Garber's role in securing the bid. MLS is directly tied to FIFA and thus FIFA's decisions. One of FIFA's demands on MLS is that it switch to an international calendar lining it up with competitions around the world and making transfer windows and international competition easier. Given Garber's statements in his State of the League address, it wouldn't be surprising to see this change happen in the next five to ten years.
Barack Obama also made an appearance via satellite, talking about just how much the U.S. has changed in the last fifteen years, to a point where the country has truly embraced the sport and thus wants another chance to play host to the beautiful game.
The FIFA will hand down its decision tomorrow morning. Those in Los Angeles can head down to LA Live at 7 in the morning to watch the announcement with LA Galaxy players as US Men's National Team members Omar Gonzalez and Edson Buddle. The U.S.'s competition for 2022 are Japan and South Korea (bidding separately this time), Qatar (attempting to be the first Arabian nation to host the World Cup), and Australia. Bidding for the 2018 World Cup are Netherlands & Belgium, Portugal & Spain, England and Russia. The English bid doesn't include any sites in the greater UK.