Expanded FIFA World Cup could include games in Vancouver
"Do I think Canada will co-host the World Cup? Yes, I do," says Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi
The combination of a FIFA announcement that the World Cup will be expanded, and discussion of a joint bid that includes Canada to host the 2026 tournament, may well bring the biggest tournament in the world to Vancouver.
"Given what the game is going through right now at the MLS level and the success in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and the development that the Canadian clubs are investing to give players the best opportunities possible, to me, it could be the perfect storm," said Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi on the phone from Los Angeles.
A strong contender to host the 2026 tournament, according to Lenarduzzi, is The CONCACAF Confederation which represents North and Central America and the Caribbean.
It could provide a joint bid from at least two of the involved countries: the United States, Mexico and Canada.
"You've got MLS clubs like in our case where our average attendance is 22,000. Toronto is the same. Montreal is 21,000. I think the opportunity to actually qualify and potentially co-host for the 2026 World Cup could be massive," said Lenarduzzi.
Canada could qualify
A country that hosts the World Cup automatically qualifies to play in the tournament.
Lenarduzzi, however, is confident that with 48 teams playing, a Canadian team should be able to make it to the 2026 field on its own steam.
"There will be at least one more and potentially, I'm assuming, two more berths for the region of CONCACAF," said Lenarduzzi.
"If we're doing the job properly at the development level while working hand-in-hand with the Canadian Soccer Association we should have produced players at that point that would get us to the World Cup without the benefit of getting there as a co-host."
The one and only time Canada has qualified for the World Cup was in 1986.
Lenarduzzi says the Whitecaps have done a good job of tailoring B.C. Place into a soccer venue.
"You'd have the ability, as was done for the Canada/Mexico game, to expand to the full capacity which is 55,000, so I don't have any real issues at this stage with the venue."
In the past, there has been fear B.C. Place would never qualify to host World Cup play because of its artificial turf instead of a grass field but Lenarduzzi says that's not an issue anymore.
"FIFA has sanctioned turf for World Cup qualifying so it's something that will likely be debated but it's not going to hold up Vancouver being a potential host city," he said.
The hosts of the 2026 tournament will be decided in May 2020.