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Sounders, Seattle officials confident they’ll be among 2026 World Cup host cities

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There are 23 cities still vying for 16 spots, but Seattle appears to be in good shape.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE – A final decision is unlikely to be made until 2020 or 2021, but officials from the Sounders and city of Seattle proclaimed optimism that they’d be among the 16 host cities chosen for the 2026 World Cup during a Wednesday press conference at The Ninety. The United bid — the joint venture between the United States, Canada and Mexico — was the overwhelming winner over Morocco earlier in the day.

A panel consisting of Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Washington State Public Stadium Authority Board chair Fred Mendoza and First & Goal Chief Operating Officer Chuck Arnold were presented to the media and answered questions about the city’s readiness and capability to act as a host city for the World Cup.

“This truly is a momentous day for soccer in North America,” Hanauer said in an opening remark. “As I was thinking about it this morning. It really struck me that these types of momentous days don’t come without the diligent and relentless work, commitment and teamwork of a group of individuals of an entire community. As I look out into this crowd ... it really is this entire community that is responsible for getting us here to where we are today.

“This momentous day is just the beginning. We have work left to do. There are cities left to be eliminated before we are home free and ready to host games. I am confident that we will get those games, we will host the World Cup, and we will leave a tremendous legacy and inspiration and a continued foundation for the growth of soccer in our community and in our country.”

The selection process for which 16 venues will make the final cut is not yet formalized, so Wednesday’s conference doesn’t mean much in the actual selection process. It did however, provide the opportunity for club, stadium and government officials to get on the front foot to try and assuage any discomfort that may exist regarding potentially hosting part of the tournament.

The panel focused on the positives Seattle offers: the high number of training facilities that meet the required qualifications nearby (including Starfire and the Seahawks’ Virginia Mason Athletic Center as well as those at Seattle Univeristy and the University of Washington), the existing public transit infrastructure and planned development of available hotel space in the next eight years.

Asked about the issue of putting grass on top of CenturyLink’s turf field, Arnold said he felt that the venue had a “proven track record” of successfully integrating grass for major events.

Hanauer focused on developments in technology and the amount of time Seattle would have to find a solution.

“First, (grass at CenturyLink has) been fantastic over the course of time,” Hanauer said. “Second, we will have more time to prepare than times in the past. Third, technologies are changing. There are even new technologies today that there weren’t around five years ago, like larger trays, more stable trays that U.S. Soccer has been working with. I think that that’s a non-issue in terms of our preparedness for hosting.”

One question the panel could not immediately answer was who would shoulder whatever financial burden hosting the tournament may incur.

Hanauer felt it would be worse to miss hosting than to incur a cost to do so.

“It’s an important question, and one that will have to be dealt with,” Hanauer said. “I guess I would take the opposite tack though and say there are a lot of costs to not hosting a World Cup in Seattle. This is the most important sporting event on the planet. It is the highest profile event to showcase our community, it will be the lasting legacy for our children, for our entire region.

“I think about all the kids in this area, what is the cost to not being able to inspire tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of kids to become involved in this sport, and I take it to a personal level as well. I was 8 when I started going to Sounders games, it left a mark on me. Hopefully I ‘ve done my part to be a leader in the community. I have a two-year-old son who will be 10 when the World Cup comes. I want those kinds of opportunities for him. Again, I’m well aware that (the cost) can’t be stupid, but I think that in the end, I think the impact this even will have on our community will be far greater than the cost, and we will figure that out.”

With much to be formalized, it will likely be several years before FIFA decides which 16 venues will play host to the world’s biggest stage. Wednesday’s event, though, signaled that Seattle intends to be in the mix when the final locations for the 2026 tournament are announced.