By 1990, and possibly sooner, the United States could host the World Cup soccer tournament.
The US Soccer Federation (USSF) has already submitted a preliminary application to host the sport's most prestigious event eight years from now, and plans to be prepared to host the next World Cup in 1986 if a change of countries is required.
The '86 Cup is scheduled for Columbia, but some officials are beginning to wonder if there will be adequate facilities and accommodations. The event was tentatively awarded to Colombia before the field was expanded from 16 to 24 teams. The first 24-team tournament just concluded in Spain, where 16 stadiums and 14 cities were involved.
A decision on Colombia may be made when the Federation Internationale de Football Association, the sport's international governing body, next meets in December. Another last-minute replacement could be Brazil, which has hosted the event before and has at least four stadiums that hold 100,000 or more, including 200,000-seat Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, the world's largest.
Brazil's Pele, maybe soccer's best known personality, is among those seeking to eventually land World Cup soccer on US soil. He generated a great deal of enthusiasm in the North American Soccer League several years ago, and gave the league the credibility it needed to sign such World Cup superstars as Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff after him.
The NASL is currently having its problems, but youth participation in soccer continues to grow both in the US and Canada, which is also interested in hosting the World Cup. Young fans and ethnic populations could form a solid nucleus of fan support for the Cup matches in either country. And since the host team automatically qualifies, Americans would have a rooting interest they've long lacked (the US hasn't appeared in the tournament since 1950).
The catch might come in finding enough suitable stadiums. FIFA requires fields at least 110 yards long by 72 to 75 yards wide, and is relucant to play World Cup matches on artificial turf. That would rule out a lot of US stadiums. However, a number of others could fill the bill, including RFK Stadium in Washington, the Yale and Rose Bowls, and major league parks in Anaheim and San Diego to name a few mentioned by the USSF. Conflicts with baseball games aren't considered a problem.
FIFA officials may get a better feel for the situation when it sponsors a major international all-star game Aug. 7 at the New Jersey Meadowlands. The game, a benefit for Unicef, will pit European stars against those from the rest of the world.