The First Coast is officially on the radar for World Cup soccer.
The United States Soccer Federation announced Tuesday that Jacksonville is among 34 cities under consideration as a host city for the 2026 World Cup.
The bid is part of a three-nation combined effort of the United States, Canada and Mexico, which will be bidding against Morocco to make North America the host for the planet’s biggest sporting event this side of the Olympics.
Now, Jacksonville is a part of the discussion.
A spokeswoman in Jacksonville’s public affairs office said the city did not have any official response at this time.
The United States, which previously served as host nation in 1994, next continues the process of identifying its potential host cities.
Each contender on the nation’s list of 34 cities and 37 stadiums - Dallas has two possible venues and Los Angeles has three - must confirm its interest by September 5 to the United Bid Committee, the three-nation organization coordinating the bid.
From that point, U.S. Soccer plans to issue a shortlist of candidates in late September.
World Cup stadiums must, among other things, seat at least 40,000 people and meet the minimum field size standards of world soccer governing body FIFA. EverBank Field can clear the first hurdle easily, the second more narrowly, and has built a successful recent track record in matches involving the U.S. men’s national team.
The city has drawn regional-record crowds for American games against Scotland in 2012 (44,438 fans) and Nigeria in 2014 (52,033). However, the most recent match, September’s World Cup qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago, drew a smaller attendance of 19,410.
The stadium is just one element in the bid, which also includes considerations like transportation infrastructure, available hotel accommodations and team training sites.
The United Bid Committee expects to submit between 20 to 25 venues in its bid to FIFA. If the North American bid succeeds, that number would be whittled down further.
The tournament would include at least 12 host cities, though the exact number remains undetermined. All nine cities from the 1994 World Cup - Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, San Francisco and Washington - made the list.
Jacksonville can expect to face strong competition from Orlando, which served as a host for both the 1994 World Cup and the 2016 Copa America Centenario. Other regional candidates include Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans and Tampa.
Compared to 1994, however, there are more games to go around.
In January, FIFA voted to expand the 2026 tournament from 32 teams to 48, boosting the number of matches to 80.
The preliminary plan calls for 10 games in Canada and 10 in Mexico, with the remaining 60 games to be played in the United States.
Nearly a decade ago, U.S. Soccer attempted to win hosting rights for the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. In December 2010, however, a controversial FIFA vote gave the 2018 tournament to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
Jacksonville had applied to serve as a host city in that bid, clearing the initial round of cuts but missing the cut to 18 cities in January 2010.
For a while, it appeared that this year’s combined North American bid would be unopposed. But last Friday, Morocco declared its intention to bid, hours before the Friday deadline set by FIFA.
Morocco has applied unsuccessfully to host four previous World Cups and carries considerable recent baggage - the country won hosting rights for the 2015 African Cup of Nations but pulled out two months before the tournament, forcing the Confederation of African Football to scramble for a replacement.
Still, amid the turbulent internal politics of FIFA, there are no guarantees.
The United Bid Committee must submit its final bid to FIFA by March 16, 2018. FIFA will then meet next June in Moscow to determine whether to accept one of the bids.
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