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It seems so far away, 2026, farther over the horizon than the 2024 Olympics that Los Angeles hopes for, more distant than the end of Donald Trump's presidential reign even if he serves two terms, past the close of the soccer careers of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Yet the bid to host the FIFA World Cup in nine years is a fight that could be won quickly and decisively, even if the ultimate decision will not be revealed until May 2020 and 3,000 days will have elapsed before the first ball is kicked.

The USA, Canada and Mexico launched a bold three-pronged campaign Monday with the clear intention of establishing itself as the primary, and perhaps only, legitimate contender to stage soccer's grandest spectacle.

Thanks to a combination of timing, quirky soccer politics and FIFA's intricate and convoluted processes, the North American bid became an immediate favorite in a race that isn't going to have a whole lot of runners.

Barring another mental meltdown from soccer's political power brokers, the CONCACAF collaboration is the surest of sure things, so much so that they might as well start printing the tickets. Even the specter of Trump's immigration policies is not necessarily a negative given that the president would be at least two and possibly six years removed from office by the time the tournament begins.

Trump, according to U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, has actively backed the bid and its nature of regional alliance. Yet for those opposed to Trump, the combined formula of the bid also could be seen to fly in the face of the controversial president, which might sit well with some global FIFA delegates who could have held reservations about supporting the USA outright.

Canada, whose Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has wanted little opportunity to tweak Trump, and Mexico, which Trump wants to isolate with a physical border wall, are ideal running mates in this instance.

For all the theme of international teamwork that will surely be trotted out again and again, make no mistake, this is a USA-driven bid. The USA would have the vast majority of the games, 60 of the 80 total and all games from the quarterfinals on, and its infrastructure and size would be relied heavily upon. Under the formative plans, Canada and Mexico would host 10 games each.

Already, the USA-Canada-Mexico bid is its own to lose, because the competition is painfully thin. European bidders are out of the reckoning, as that continent will have hosted in Russia two editions earlier in 2018. Therefore, no "home of football" bid from England to beat out. No opposition from Spain or Italy with their wondrous soccer cultures.

Asia, too, capable of mounting serious bids from nations such as China or Japan, will be excluded on account of the Qatar farce of 2022.

Other continental confederations will be permitted to apply, yet there hasn't been much appetite for it yet. South America went 36 years between World Cups before hosting in Brazil in 2014, so it is a bit of a stretch to think Colombia, Argentina or Uruguay would be selected with a gap of only 12 years. Furthermore, it could be that South American bids get out of the way this time in order to facilitate a Uruguayan bid for 2030 -- which would be the 100th anniversary of the first World Cup, staged in Uruguay.

In Africa, Nigeria or Morocco have some serviceable stadiums but would have scant chance of toppling the CONCACAF effort, and a previously proposed composite bid of several West African nations was quickly deemed as being too risky and unwieldy.

Which leaves the Oceania region's New Zealand, which doesn't want it unless it is in combination with Australia. But Australia can't bid because it is part of Asia for soccer purposes.

Game, set and match, it would seem, even with the unpredictable nature of a governing body that saw fit to award the 2022 tourney to a minuscule enclave in the Middle East that has never qualified for the World Cup and that sees temperatures reach 110 degrees during the period when the event is typically staged.

The USA has timed its run and picked its partners perfectly. The 2026 event, remember, will be the first 48-team World Cup in history, up from 32. Bigger might not mean better in terms of the quality of soccer, but it does in terms of providing a safe pair of hands with which to deliver an enlarged event for the first time.

Monday marked the opening salvo in what figures to be a short and decisive battle. By establishing itself as an organized, efficient and heavyweight contender at the start, the triple bid might have knocked the fight out of its potential rivals before the opening bell has formally sounded.

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April 11, 2017


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