A 21-member FIFA delegation wrapped up a three-day visit to Southern California on Sunday in which it studied the region's ability to play host to games and other events for the 2026 World Cup.
The 2026 World Cup will be the largest in history, with 48 teams playing 80 games in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. FIFA, the governing body for global soccer, is considering a slate of 22 potential host cities for the tournament, 17 of them in the U.S.
FIFA is expected to choose the 16 finalists, 11 of which will be in the U.S., by the middle of next year. The delegation looked at two Southern California stadiums: the Rose Bowl, which hosted a men's World Cup final in 1994 and a women's final in 1999, and SoFi Stadium, the $5-billion home of the NFL's Rams and Chargers.
"The City of Los Angeles is very attractive to FIFA," said Galaxy president Chris Klein, the host committee's other co-chair. "Our amazing weather, the culture and diversity of Los Angeles, also our ability to host big events and not just, once the event is over, pack up the tent and leave.
"The legacy we've been able to create around the 1984 Olympics, around the 1994 World Cup, the 1999 [Women's] World Cup and how we've been able to keep going after the event leaves, that was something in our favor."
There are things working against the bid as well. SoFi Stadium, for example, is appealing to FIFA because of proximity to the airport, its ability to accommodate crowds of up to 100,000 and its 260 luxury suites. But the field is too narrow for a World Cup game and the artificial Matrix Turf would have to be covered with a carpet of real grass.
"That has been an issue that everybody's been aware of. And the team at SoFi is, as I understand it, working to come up with a solution," Freedman said. "Hopefully they can get there."
The hopes of bringing the World Cup final back to Southern California could also be hampered by the clock. Europe is nine hours ahead of Los Angeles so the game would have to kickoff no later than noon to finish in prime time on the continent.
In addition to touring the stadiums, the FIFA delegation inspected numerous proposed locations for the official FIFA Fan Fest as well as training sites and base camps for teams that would play here. The delegates also visited the Grammy Museum, attended a reception at Sony Pictures Studios, took in a Kings hockey game at Staples Center and were introduced by chef Wolfgang Puck to the unique culinary flavors of Southern California's diverse neighborhoods.
Southern California's host committee has designated the region as a Super Host City since it's offering two stadiums and bidding to host ancillary fan and culture events as well.
"We don't want to take anything for granted. But we are certainly proud of our city, proud of the venues that we're putting out there," Klein said. "We're very proud of us positioning ourselves as a soccer city. So we feel good about it, but we're certainly not taking anything for granted."
Founded in 2019 ChampionLA, the fundraising effort behind the World Cup Host Committee, is a private-sector initiative that works to attract and support high-profile sports and entertain events and to fulfill the financial obligations of staging those events. The host committee is led by the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission (LASEC).
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.