Local Sounders Reflect on Seattle’s Men’s World Cup Host Status: ‘This City Deserves It’ | U.W. Sports

June 18th. Craig Waibel wasn’t surprised to see FIFA’s announcement that Seattle would host World Cup matches in 2026. Waibel, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and now scouts for the Sounders, said he’s watched Seattle’s football culture grow. the last few decades.

Ten years ago, he said he couldn’t imagine the World Cup in Seattle. On Thursday afternoon, as it became a reality, Weibel said it was a moment of numbness as he reflected on decades of football’s growth. However, the emotion was not disbelief because “there was no logical reason why Seattle wouldn’t understand it.”

“It’s no coincidence that Seattle became the host,” said Waibel, the Sounders’ senior vice president of football and sports. “This city deserves it for the culture and football culture they have built here.”

Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer echoed the excitement ahead of Saturday’s Sounders game. He grew up in Seattle and started playing for the Sounders in 1980 before going on to coach various teams in the Seattle area.

Striker Jordan Morris echoed that again on Friday when he said “the city deserves it.” He was born on Mercer Island and played for the Sounders in all but one season of his professional career. So is linebacker Christian Roldan, who has been playing for the University of Washington since 2013 and has been near Seattle ever since. According to Roldan, the selection of the host city reflects the progress of the sport in Seattle.

“It wasn’t difficult for me, but it’s nice to see that FIFA really released it and we get the World Cup,” said Roldan.

The 2026 FIFA World Cup will be hosted for the first time by three different countries (USA, Mexico and Canada) in 16 different cities. On the West Coast, other hosts are Vancouver, British Columbia, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Los Angeles.

In 2018, Seattle hosted the NCAA Men’s Final Four, the NBA, WNBA and MLB All-Star Games, and the US Special Olympics. In 1990, the Goodwill Games were also held here. But the World Cup will be the biggest sporting event for the city.

“It will be just fantastic for our city,” Schmetzer said. “Good news, yesterday was a good day.”

The announcement speaks to the growth of football in Seattle, several Sounders players and employees said. In 1994, when the only World Cup was held in the United States, this city was not among the nine selected.

Weibel said he was in high school during the 1994 World Cup and had to watch it on TV because he couldn’t travel to Stanford, California – the nearest venue – to watch it in person. Nearly 30 years later, he credits the Sounders’ fanbase and organization with contributing to the World Cup committee’s decision to choose Seattle.

“The constant support of the fan base is very good,” said Weibel. “Of course, this is the main factor why the World Cup committee considered Seattle to be the right place.”

Roldan cited the Sounders’ trophies and attendance as tangible evidence of the sport’s growth. They had the largest audience ever for a CONCACAF Champions League game of 68,741 when they lifted the trophy at Lumen Field in May.

“This is just a small part of what the World Cup can be here and we are very excited,” said Roldan.

In addition to Seattle’s fan base, which Schmetzer said was “motivated,” the coach also credited city and state officials for helping make the bid possible.

The U.S. men’s team has not played in Seattle since 2016 because Lumen Field has turf instead of natural grass (grass was added for the 2016 America’s Cup). Weibel said it was “incredible” that the World Cup would be held in Seattle when the national team doesn’t visit the city often, and hoped it would inspire US Soccer to host more games in Seattle in the future.

FIFA requires grass for tournament play, so Lumen Field will need to install natural grass for matches in the summer of 2026.

When the news broke, Schmetzer and Weibel were both working, the former preparing for Saturday’s game against LAFC and the latter looking for players for the summer transfer window. Schmetzer said he saw the Seattle name, got a little excited, and then went back to work.

Moving forward, Schmetzer hopes the World Cup will help “push football a little higher here.” It could benefit Major League Soccer, he said, if it helped secure a new television deal that would boost the league’s revenue. He’s not sure if the World Cup will be enough for football to surpass the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL in popularity, but said it will certainly bring the sport closer.

According to him, this happened during the 1994 World Cup, since this tournament is closely related to the launch of MLS. This time, in 2026, Seattle will also host the FIFA World Cup.

“Billions of eyeballs in Seattle… It will make a big difference,” Schmetzer said.

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