Three years ago, skeptics wondered if Orlando was ready for a Major League Soccer team, then fans packed the Orlando Citrus Bowl for the second largest opening weekend of a franchise. Now the City Beautiful is in the running for a joint bid for the US, Canada, and Mexico to host World Cup Soccer in 2026.
The opening this year of Orlando City Soccer Club’s new stadium, sellout crowds and the addition of the Orlando Pride women’s soccer club have spurred FIFA to consider the city. Orlando hosted the 1994 World Cup and the 2016 Copa America Centenario matches. The city also will host a 2018 World Cup qualifying match at Orlando City Stadium October 6.
But Orlando is not the only Florida city in the running. Jacksonville is also vying for a spot as a host city.
In a July 17 letter to United States Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said the city is interested in hosting the high-profile event and has a passionate following of fans to fill seats. He pointed to the city’s record-setting fan base, its 68 million tourist visits last year, the enviable year-round weather, and history as a sports destination as reasons why Orlando is the perfect spot for the World Cup.
City soccer fans filled the Citrus Bowl’s 62,510 seats March 8, 2015 for the team’s inaugural MLS match against New York City FC. The match was the largest ever for a soccer game at the Orlando Citrus Bowl and the second largest opening weekend for a MLS franchise.