Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
TAMPA, Fla. – Former England international and current Tampa Bay Rowdies midfielder Joe Cole led the excitement felt by current players and coaches in the USL upon the announcement that the 2026 World Cup had been awarded on Wednesday to the United 2026 bid, with FIFA’s decision bringing the biggest sporting event in the world back to North America for the first time since 1994.
Cole, who played for England at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 editions of the tournament and scored one of the most memorable goals at the tournament in his country’s history, said the decision was evidence of the game’s rapid growth across the continent and was a great reward for the passionate fans across all three host countries.
“Having the 2026 FIFA World Cup awarded to the region shows how much the sport has grown here in the United States in recent years,” said Cole. “Traveling around the country during the season, it’s easy to note the passion fans have for soccer here in America. Congratulations to everyone involved in bringing the biggest tournament on the globe to North America once again.”
Joining Cole in praising the decision was current Sacramento Republic FC Head Coach Simon Elliott, who competed for New Zealand at the 2010 tournament in South Africa. Having seen the game’s growth on and off the field during a playing career that saw him compete for the San Jose Earthquakes, Columbus Crew SC and LA Galaxy, where he helped the club claim the 2000 Concacaf Champions’ Cup, Elliott believes the opportunity for the United States to host the tournament again will only accelerate the sport’s popularity further.
“I think it’ll be great,” said Elliott. “The resources are here, the facilities are here, the organizational capability is here. It will be really exciting. The last one was a fantastic event and it sort of launched the next wave of American soccer and I think this would help take the sport to the next level in this country again. It’s an exciting experience as a player and anytime players can connect with fans in a tournament of that magnitude is a really special occasion.”
Elliott and Cole are two of five current players and coaches in the USL to have competed at the World Cup during their careers, with Phoenix Rising FC’s Didier Drogba representing the Ivory Coast in 2006, 2010 and 2014, the Charlotte Independence’s Lee Jung-Soo competing for South Korea in 2010, and North Carolina FC Head Coach Colin Clarke playing for Northern Ireland in 1986. Clarke is now excited that the tournament will return to North America again.
“Hosting the 2026 World Cup in North America is great,” said Clarke. “It will be a big boost for everybody. The United bid deserves it, it was a great event in 1994 when the United States hosted, and it will be even better now with newer soccer-specific stadiums. This is great for many reasons, the biggest one being it is an event for everyone to get behind and look forward to, and it will continue to help fuel the passion and growth of the game.”