This afternoon, U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati held a conference call with reporters in which he talked about the just-completed Gold Cup and the upcoming American bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.
I asked Gulati about Philadelphia’s chances of hosting World Cup games, and he said the city "obviously is a market we’re very interested in."
Responses to U.S. Soccer’s request for proposals to host games are due tomorrow. A total of 58 cities expressed interest in hosting games back in April, and this deadline will whittle that number down to between 30 and 40.
Gulati said he was not sure whether Philadelphia has submitted a bid proposal. The only city he mentioned specifically was Tampa, because that city’s representatives delivered their proposal in person to U.S. Soccer’s Chicago headquarters.
But it's pretty clear that Lincoln Financial Field is in the conversation. It meets every requirement you could think of for amenities - except one.
The playing surface.
I know I've written about this already, and I probably will again as the bid process continues. But as obstacles go, it's pretty significant.
The minimum required feild width to host a World Cup game is 70 yards. Lincoln Financial Field's surface is somewhere between 65 and 68 yards - I've seen it reported as both over the years. Regardless, we know it is not 70 yards wide.
I don't know how wide the path is between the edge of the grass surface and the seating bowl wall, and this is the area that will be considered first for an expansion of the playing surface.
In addition, because the seating bowl is angled near the end lines, there is a possibility that a few rows of seats may have to be removed, or at least removed for soccer and re-installed as temporary seating for football.
(Thanks to commenter Orange44 for noting that I should include a description of the problem.)
I asked Gulati what he makes of the situation.
"It’s solvable, we believe," he answered.
And with that, we had some news.
Gulati did not give any details as to how it’s solvable. But I don’t think he would have used the word if he didn’t have some ideas.
Gulati also said that U.S. bid chief David Downs met with Mayor Nutter while in town for the Gold Cup.
Among the many factors in Philadelphia’s favor are that having games here would allow for a certain amount of regionalization of group play. A team could play games in some combination of Washington, New York, Boston and Philadelphia without having to travel excessively.
You could add a short plane ride to Chicago in that group, and there will probably be venues in the South too. If the Georgia Dome agrees to install temporary grass as it did for last week’s exhibition between Inter Milan and Club America, then Atlanta gets on the list. There will probably be at least one Florida venue as well, though the summer heat and humidity will be a factor.
Then there's a Western-oriented group of venues including Los Angeles, Seattle, Phoenix, Dallas and Houston. Put it all together and you have the “national event” Gulati wants to create.
"We'll certainly be playing in all time zones," Gulati said. That was not the case in 1994, as none of the nine venues were in the Mountain time zone. This time around, there are three candidates, led by the new Arizona Cardinals’ stadium in suburban Phoenix. It is enclosed and air conditioned, and with the huge Hispanic population in Phoenix I’m sure it will get consideration.
Denver and Salt Lake City are also in the mix right now, and could remain in play for a while if U.S. Soccer decides altitude is not a factor.
There’s a lot of politics to be played before anyone can think about playing soccer, and we’ll know more after the RFP responses are all in.
But at the moment, Philadelphia seems to be in a pretty good position should the U.S. World Cup bid succeed.
Here's audio of the conference call from U.S. Soccer's website. In case you ever wanted to know what my computer keyboard sounds like.