USA WORLD CUP SOCCER: THE OUTHOUSE (2018) TO THE PENTHOUSE (2026)
One day before the 21st foootball World Cup begins in Russia – with the United States not in the 32-nation field – the USA (mainly), Canada and Mexico on Wednesday were awarded the 2026 World Cup.
The 23rd World Cup will he expanded from 32 to 48 countries and from 64 to 80 games.
The United States will host 60 of those games (including all games from the quarterfinals onward) in 10 cities.
The championship game will be at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.
The USA, Canada and Mexico are expected to receive automatic spots in the field.
The United States won the FIFA vote 134 to 65 over Morocco, the only competition. Iran expressly decided not to endorse either option – does Iran like anybody? Cuba (I thought we were friends now), Slovenia and Spain abstained (Spain’s delegation was meeting elsewhere in Russia to hire a new coach).
In the bidding process, some FIFA voting members expressed concerns about the political situation in the United States, including immigration policies – as if conditions are perfect in many of those countries.
So why was the USA-led bid accepted?
Probably partly because the USA lost out to Qatar eight years ago to host the 2022 World Cup. It later was discovered that back-door deals and bribes turned the tide for Qatar.
But mainly because the USA produced by far the most profitable World Cup in 1994. It set records for revenue and attendance (almost 3.6 million; 68,991 per game). FIFA like money – a lot.
The projected 2026 World Cup profits will mean at least $50 million more to each FIFA member than Morocco could’ve provided.
One difference between the USA bids in 1994 and 2026 is that FIFA didn’t demand that the USA form a professional soccer league. Major League Soccer is alive and well.
Hosting the 2026 World Cup certainly will increase interest in soccer in this country – at least temporarily. Making the sport more popular among prospective players and fans was a big selling point for the USA bid in 1994 -- and for 2026.
But will hosting the World Cup for a second time give a huge booster shot to the United States in terms of participation to close the talent gap on the rest of the world – short term or long term?
I don’t think so. Participation in soccer among young athletes is not the problem. It’s a great and relatively cheap sport for boys and girls of all ages. That’s a big reason why the rest of the world is so far ahead of us in terms of competitiveness in top-level soccer. You don’t need shoulder pads, helmets, bats, gloves to play soccer.
We have many more options for our top-shelf young athletes than most countries do. If soccer were our No. 1 sport and Major League Soccer had salaries to compete with professional basketball, football or baseball, I’d be far more optimistic about the United States becoming a major player on the world’s top-level soccer stage.
But at the very least, World Cup 2026 will be a great opportunity to show the rest of the world what a unique and diverse country we are blessed to live in. We have our problems and disagreements -- but where would you rather be?
By 2026, maybe we might even be pals again with Canada and Mexico.
BOB’S PICKS FOR WORLD CUP AND U.S. OPEN: BRAZIL AND KOEPKA
The 118th golf U.S. Open and the 21st soccer World Cup both begin Thursday. There is no chance for the United States to win the World Cup. After seven straight appearances, we failed to qualify for the 32-team tournament. But there is an excellent chance that an American will win the U.S. Open.
Second-favorite Brazil is my pick to win its sixth World Cup championship and live long-shot Brooks Koepka is my pick to win the U.S. Open.
Updated Bovada odds for the World Cup favorites: Germany 9-to-2...Brazil 5-to-1...France 11-to-2...Spain 7-to-1...Argentina 8-to-1...Belgium 10-to-1.
Brazil, the only country to play in every World Cup, has the added incentive of trying to erase memories of the 2014 World Cup, when it was the host country and suffered a disastrous 7-1 loss in the semifinals to eventual champion Germany.
For the record, Brazil’s brilliant performance line in the World Cup is 70 wins, 17 draws and 17 losses; outscored opponents 221-102 (+119); five championships (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002), plus two seconds, two thirds and two fourths.
Brazil superstar scorer Neymar is back in top form after foot surgery and the classy roster also includes Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus, Paulinho, Danilo, Renato Agosto, Philippe Coutinho, Cassemiro, Fernandinho, Marquinhos and Thiago Silva. (I don’t know why some Brazilian stars go by one name while others go by two names).
Germany obviously is the team to beat after going 10-0 in European qualifying and outscoring opponents 43-4. The last country to win consecutive World Cups was Brazil in 1958 and 1962.
Updated Bovada odds for the U.S. Open favorites: Dustin Johnson 9-to-1...Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose each 14-to-1...Jordan Spieth 16-to-1...Jason Day, Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler each 18-to-1...Brooks Koepka 20 to-1...Jon Rahm 22-to-1.
Dustin Johnson is the player to beat in the U.S. Open but 9-to-1 is no bargain in such a quality deep field.
Koepka is the defending champion and had the lowest combined score in last year’s four majors, but he remains underrated despite playing well as a rookie in U.S. victories in the 2016 Ryder Cup and 2017 Presidents Cup.
He missed almost four months with a left wrist injury earlier this season but appears to be rounding to top form. He fired a course record-tying 63 and finished tied for 11th in The Players Championship May 13 and was second in the Fort Worth Invitational May 27. The 20-to-1 odds on Koepka are extremely generous. If he doesn’t score lower than Tiger Woods I’ll be surprised. If Koepka wins, I won’t be shocked.
538 COMPUTER PICKS BRAZIL TO WIN THE WORLD CUP
Five-time champion Brazil is the FiveThirtyEight computer pick to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup starting Thursday in Russia.
Brazil has a 19 percent win probability, followed by Spain 17 percent, defending champion Germany 13 percent, France 8 percent; Argentina, Belgium and England each 7 percent; and Portugal 6 percent. USA is 0 percent (failed to qualify).
The USA is 25th in the latest (June 7) FIFA/Coca-Cola World Soccer Rankings. That’s better than 12 of the nations in the 32-team field: host Russia is 70th...Saudi Arabia 67th...Japan 61st...Korea Republic 57th...Panama 55th...Nigeria 48th...Egypt 45th...Morocco 41st...Iran 37th...Australia 36th...Serbia 34th...Senegal 27th.
The highest-ranked nations not in the 32-team field are Chile (9), Netherlands (17)...Wales (18)...Italy (19)...USA (25)...Austria (26)...Slovakia (28)...Northern Ireland (29)...Romania (30).
TUESDAY WAS PARADE DAY FOR THE CAPITALS AND THE WARRIORS
The NBA champion Golden State Warriors and the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals celebrated with their fans Tuesday in victory parades.
The Las Vegas oddsmakers expect the Warriors and their fans to be celebrating again next June. Washington might not be so fortunate.
BOVADA odds to win the 2019 NBA Championship (not much hope for the lack of parity that has plagued the league for some time):
Golden State 5-to-4 (bet $4 to win $5)...I’d be in line early, before the odds go down
LA Lakers 16-to-1
San Antonio and Cleveland 25-to-1...the wizards of odds must expect LeBron James to be playing elsewhere
Milwaukee, Minnesota, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Utah each 75-to-1
Denver, Indiana, LA Clippers, Portland and Washington each 100-to-1
NY Knicks 150-to-1
Atlanta, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Memphis, Orlando and Sacramento each 500-to-1.
NHL STANLEY CUP 2019 ODDS BY BOVADA
Tampa Bay 9-to-1
Boston, Toronto, Vegas and Winnipeg each 10-to-1
Nashville and Pittsburgh each 11-to-1
Anaheim and Chicago each 22-to-1
Columbus and Dallas each 25-to-1
Calgary and Philadelphia 28-to-1
Los Angeles, Minnesota and San Jose each 30-to-1
Colorado, Florida, New Jersey and St. Louis each 40-to-1
Carolina and NY Islanders each 60-to-1
Buffalo 66-to-1 (ahead of five teams)
NY Rangers 70-to-1
Arizona and Vancouver each 80-to-1
538 RANKS GOLDEN STATE NBA’S TOP FOUR-YEAR DYNASTY
The 2015-through-2018 Golden State Warriors edge the 1995-through-1998 Chicago Bulls as the NBA’s all-time greatest NBA dynasty.
That’s the controversial conclusion from FiveThirtyEight’s Elo computer. The ratings are based on won-loss records, point differentials and in-depth statistics over a four-year span.
Those Warriors and Bulls each won three NBA Championships over their peak four-year spans. Worth noting, the Warriors lost to Cleveland in the 2016 Finals – the year they were an all-time best 73-9 in the regular season. They led the Cavs three games in the Finals when Dreymond Green was suspended for Game 5 for a low-blow kick to LeBron James in Game 4. Cleveland rallied to win the next three games for the title.
FiveThirtyEight notes that Golden State could widen the gap in subsequent seasons if the roster – featuring the “Core Four” of Green, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson -- stays reasonably intact.
WHERE WILL LeBRON JAMES BE PLAYING NEXT SEASON?
NBA superstar LeBron James will become a free agent on July 1.
Bovada has posted odds on where King James will choose to play:
Lakers 7-to-4 (bet $4 to make a $7 profit)
Houston 2.5 to 1
San Antonio 8-to-1
Golden State 30-to-1 (why play a season and playoffs?)
Bets are “limited” because James could make a fortune knowing what he’s going to do.
OFFSEASON GRADES FOR THE 32 NFL TEAMS
ESPN Insider this week asked “anonymous NFL executives” to give offseason grades (college draft + veteran arrivals and departures) for the 32 teams.
A- -- LA Rams and New England
B+ -- Arizona and Baltimore
B – Cleveland (A for work on the veteran market and C for the draft), Denver, LA Chargers, Minnesota, NY Jets, Tampa Bay and Washington
B-- -- Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and San Francisco
C+ -- Green Bay, Houston, Kansas City, Oakland, Philadelphia and Tennessee
C – Buffalo, Cincinnati, Dallas, NY Giants and Seattle.
Some interesting comments on the Bills – Gave up a lot (picks 12, 53 and 56 to Tampa Bay) to move up 5 spots to select QB Josh Allen...questionable 5-year, $50 million to run-stuffer Star Lotulelei, who last season played 344 of Carolina’s 600 pass-defense plays and collected only 1.5 sacks...”They’re a team in transition. They’re turning the page and clearing a lot of this stuff out of there to get better. The big piece is that they gave up a lot for Josh Allen. Allen could wind up providing a massive upgrade for a long time, pushing the Bills past the Patriots in a post-Tom Brady AFC East. Allen was not a universally loved prospect, however.”
C-- -- Miami
D – Carolina and Detroit.
Updating the 10-game losing streak of the Rochester Red Wings: Lost a doubleheader to the host Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders Tuesday, 5-2 and 2-0. Outscored 55-13 in the last 10 games...at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 6:30 p.m., Wednesday...Then on to Buffalo for four games Thursday through Sunday.
Addition to the Red Wings promotions schedule: Bob Gibson bobblehead, Sunday, September 2. The Hall of Famer as a Red Wing: 1958 – 5-5 record, 2.45 ERA, 20 games, 11 starts, 7 complete games; 1960 – 2-3 record; 2.85 ERA; 6 games, 6 starts, 3 complete games, 2 shutouts. In 144 total innings, he allowed 121 hits and 71 walks, with 107 strikeouts.
The latest minor-league baseball team to join the rebranding craze to boost cap and jersey sales is the Staten Island Yankees. For Saturday night home games the rest of this NY-P League season, they’ll be the Staten Island Pizza Rats. I’m not disliking the Red Wings-to-Plates so much now.
The next “home game” for the United Soccer League Toronto FC II (0 wins, 11 losses, 2 draws; outscored 30-12) at Rochester’s Marina Auto Stadium is Saturday. 7 p.m., against the Indy Eleven (5 wins, 4 losses, 3 draws; 14 GF and 14 GA).
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...
Wednesday, June 14
Hassan Whiteside (29)...Mike Hartline (30)...Jonathan Lecroy (32)...Jason Spezza (35)...Valeri Bure (44)...Sam Adams (45)...former Amerks goalie David Littman (51)...Hannah Storm (56).
Thursday, June 15
Lorenzo Booker (34)...Bruce Bowen (47)...Jason Hanson (48)...Steffi Graf (49)...James Patrick (55)...Sam Perkins (57)...Eric Heiden (60)...Don Newcombe (92). Boy George (57) and Donald Trump (72) are invited to the birthday party.
ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...
97 years ago (1921), Babe Ruth hit two HRs in an 11-8 win over Detroit...93 years ago (1925), American Flag won the 57th Belmont Stakes. There were no protests...83 years ago (1935), James J. Braddock beat Max Baer in 15 for the world’s heavyweight boxing title...70 years ago (1948), Babe Ruth had final farewell at Yankee Stadium. He died August 16...65 years ago (1953), Ben Hogan won the 53rd U.S. Open...47 years ago (1971), Kathy Whitworth won the 17th LPGA Championship...29 years ago (1989), the Detroit Pistons swept the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0 for the 43rd NBA Championship...27 years ago (1991), The National, America’s first all-sports national sports daily newspaper, ceased publication...24 years ago (1994), Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg retired due to poor play and forfeited $15.7 million of his $25 million contract...23 years ago (1995), Cleveland’s Dennis Martinez no-hit the Baltimore Orioles 11-0...16 years ago (2002), Scotty Bowman won his record ninth Stanley Cup as a coach and retired...14 years ago (2004), Annika Sorenstam won her 50th LPGA Championship.
148 years ago (1870), the all-pro Cincinnati Red Stockings suffered their first loss in 130 games...66 years ago (1952), Warren Spahn of the Boston Braves had 18 strikeouts in a 15-inning 3-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs...55 years ago (1963), Duke Snider hit his 400th career MLB home run...33 years ago (1985), Eal Weaver came out of retirement to replace Joe Altobelli as manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Hall of Famer Weaver and Alto each won one World Series with the Orioles...31 years ago (1987), the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 4 games to 2 for the 41st NBA Championship...23 years ago (1995), the Houston Rockets swept the Orlando Magic 4-0 to win the 49th NBA Championship...11 years ago (2007), the San Antonio Spurs swept the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-0 for the 61st NBA Championship.