NEW YORK — Bruce Arena looks into the future, thinks about the possibility of the U.S. hosting the World Cup for the second time and believes the Americans could win the title.
“I think in 2026 we’re going to be fully emerged into the game and a big player,” the U.S. coach said Thursday. “So I think 2026 will be the time where we’re going to start talking about winning a World Cup. It wasn’t going to be in 1994. It wasn’t going to be in 2010, but 2026 could be our time.”
Continued strides in player development leading up to the event is what he figures could allow that to become reality.
The U.S. had not played in the World Cup since 1950 when FIFA voted in 1988 to have the U.S. host the ’94 tournament, which drew more than 3.58 million fans and became the most-attended World Cup ever.
The Americans have qualified for seven straight World Cups, and Arena coached them to the 2002 quarterfinals, the best American finish since they reached the semifinals of the first World Cup in 1930.
This week, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced it intends to bid jointly to host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada. Sixty matches would be in the U.S., with 10 each in the other countries.
“Think about where we were in 1994, ’98, 2000, and keep going, and just think about where we’ll be with even nine more in our league, even nine more years of players developing all over the world, and then play in the World Cup in our country,” Arena said.
While the joint bid is considered the favorite, Arena said he wasn’t assuming the U.S. will host because “we’re being politically correct in a time where you don’t even need to be politically correct.”
Arena coached the U.S. from 1998-2006 and was rehired in November to replace Jurgen Klinsmann, who was fired following losses to Mexico and Costa Rica in the first two games of the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean. The U.S. rebounded in March to rout Honduras 6-0 at home and draw 1-1 at Panama.
Next, the U.S. hosts Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 and plays three days later at Mexico City. Mexico leads the hexagonal with 10 points, followed by Costa Rica (seven), Panama (five), the United States and Honduras (four each) and T&T (three). The top three nations qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia, and the No. 4 finisher plays Asia’s fifth-place team in a playoff for another berth.
“We’re far from out of the woods here,” Arena said. “We have, again, I think very little margin for error, so there’s a lot of urgency in these two games. … Perhaps we’re not in as much trouble as we were the last time but I don’t feel good about sitting with four points after four games.”
The team is tentatively scheduled to reconvene May 28 ahead of an exhibition in Sandy, Utah, followed by the qualifier against Trinidad at Commerce City, Colorado. The Utah venue is at about 4,500 feet altitude, Colorado at 5,200 feet and Azteca Stadium at 7,820.
“Our game plan is already established in some ways in that we are going to go in, train at altitude,” Arena said, adding: “I’ve had experience with this in the past, failed miserably” a reference to March training in Colorado Springs ahead of a 2-1 loss at Mexico City in 2005.
Arena doesn’t expect strained relations between President Donald Trump’s administration and Mexico to be a factor.
“Mexico-U.S. is such a big game I would think that that will take precedent over any kind of political issues,” Arena said. “I don’t think the Mexican fans are going to be pointing fingers at us because of the political climate.”