Sounders FC

World Cup coming to Seattle someday? Could happen

Just over 15,000 of this region’s soccer fans turned out Saturday to watch the USA beat Grenada in CONCACAF Gold Cup play at Qwest Field; and just over 4,000 are expected to fill Starfire Sports Stadium on Tuesday when Seattle Sounders FC meets Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals.

However, projected attendance figures are not expected to be a primary factor in determining which United States cities would host games if the World Cup returns to this country for the first time since 1994.

“We honestly believe that if the World Cup comes back to the United States that we’ll sell 5 million tickets,” David Downs, executive director of the USA Bid Committee said during his weekend visit to Seattle. “… I think that’s a realistic number. What that is is 64 matches times roughly 78,000 per match. I don’t think there’s any question that we would sell out every single match.”

Whether any of those matches will be played in Seattle is part of a two-tiered decision: FIFA must decide whether to award either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup to the United States, while the USA Bid Committee must decide which cities and venues will be put forward as part of this country’s proposal.

Seattle is one of 37 U.S. cities still in the running, and one of the few with two venues under consideration: Qwest Field and Husky Stadium.

Downs’ certainty that every World Cup ticket would be sold negates any concern that Seattle might have hurt its chances with a Gold Cup crowd that filled only a third of Qwest Field’s lower bowl. On the other hand, Downs said the committee won’t equally discount Seattle’s success story as Major League Soccer’s attendance leader.

“To a certain degree we’d still like to reward the hotbeds of soccer,” he said. “One of the many, many criteria we’re looking at is the level of passion for the sport of soccer in that particular market. But in addition to that, we’re looking for a host city that’s an attractive destination for visitors (and has) a state-of-the-art facility. Obviously, the capacity is critical, but so is the ability to host on a VIP level, the ability to have sufficient space for print and broadcast media. It’s like a Super Bowl; but then it’s unlike a Super Bowl because (a) lot of countries are involved in a bigger way. And so, there are some other criteria besides the passion for soccer.”

Downs implied other factors that could work in Seattle’s favor are its international appeal, its active downtown, an exposition hall adjoining Qwest Field, Seattle’s reputation for environmental responsibility, and a Northwest location that could fulfill the committee’s desire for host cities from all regions of the country.

Downs said the committee expects to whittle the current contenders to 18 by December, present the U.S. bid to FIFA in mid-May and then to receive FIFA’s decision in December 2010.

Even if successful, Seattle wouldn’t be certain of hosting until five or six years before the event because no more than 12 or 14 of the 18 final U.S. cities are expected to actually host games.

Added time

The Sounders returned to practice Sunday. Coach Sigi Schmid implied that Kasey Keller might start in goal against the Wizards, as he did in Seattle’s 2-1 win over Portland on Wednesday. He also implied that he might go with more of his regular starting lineup than he has in previous Open Cup matches simply to keep them sharp. He also noted that Kansas City might take the opposite approach, because while the Sounders haven’t played a league game since June 28, the Wizards suffered a one-goal loss to league-leader Houston on Saturday. … Steve Zakuani and Sebastien Le Toux appear healthy enough to play Tuesday. However, Osvaldo Alonso (groin) has been ruled out. ... Schmid said that forward Nate Jaqua addressed his teammates before practice regarding the sexual-assault civil suit recently filed against him in Oregon. “We’re supportive of Nate,” Schmid said.

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808