TORONTO — Mexican federation president Decio de Maria clearly recalls that April afternoon atop the Freedom Tower in New York City when his nation joined the United States and Canada in announcing a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
He went about the proceedings with a sense of calm satisfaction — up until the point organizers revealed the U.S. would host 60 matches under the proposal, with Mexico and Canada getting 10 apiece.
"Thirty seconds after I said, 'Mexico is going to get 10 games,' my mother was very famous," De Maria deadpanned.
Speaking ahead of Saturday's MLS Cup final as part of a presentation on the bid, De Maria defended his role in a proposal that has drawn its fair share of criticism in his homeland. In addition to highlighting the financial burden that would have come with organizing more matches, De Maria pointed to the possibility that Mexico will become the first nation to host matches at three World Cups.
"The money that would come from the society I think is best spent on other things than building the stadiums, so for many reasons I'm very OK with myself over the decision," De Maria said. "I know that hopefully if we get the blessing from FIFA to organize this at the end of the World Cup in '26 I'm going to find people in the street who say bad words to me, saying 'why 10?'
"But there are going to be 95 percent saying, 'Thanks, we got a third World Cup in Mexico, we enjoyed it, we showed the world we can do it together.' ... But the number 10 is going to follow me for the rest of my life."
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, who announced Monday he won't be running for re-election in February but plans to retain his role in the bid committee, further justified the arrangement by noting the U.S. is better equipped to handle the demands of FIFA's first 48-team tournament.
"It is a united bid," Gulati said. "That doesn't mean we're hosting the same number of games. The U.S. in terms of infrastructure clearly has far greater stadiums that can host a World Cup. But this is about three countries coming together — it's not just down to the number of games."
Alluding to the substantial funds spent by host nations to host recent World Cups in South Africa and Brazil, as well as upcoming tournaments in Russia and Qatar, Gulati also played up the fact that the North American bid will face no such financial burdens. That, Gulati implied, gives the unified proposal an advantage over the only opposing bid, put forward by Morocco.
"There is nothing in our bid" about spending on additional stadiums and infrastructure, Gulati said. "But I would be hard pressed to think that for anybody else that's bidding that there wouldn't have to be a number of commitments regarding, 'If we host the World Cup we'll have to do X, Y and Z.'
"We believe that between the size of the stadiums, which obviously impacts attendance; the level of hospitality at our stadiums, which affects revenue; and the professional opportunities that are available to FIFA, this will be by far the most successful financial World Cup. And it's probably a pretty good time for that to happen for FIFA."
Although Gulati found himself disenchanted following a failed bid for the 2022 World Cup, which was awarded to Qatar in 2010 under dubious circumstances, the U.S. Soccer president expressed optimism that new FIFA procedures will make for a more transparent process this time around.
In addition putting restrictions in place on the behavior of bidders, FIFA also has ensured that the 207-nation vote June 13 in Moscow will be made public.
"I think the most important thing for FIFA in this particular process is to make sure that it is a transparent, clean, fair process and the best bid is selected," Gulati said. "So we are fully confident that this is a far better process than FIFA has ever had before, and that's why we're in it."
The North American bid will feature 15 to 18 cities from the current shortlist of 32, and the final venues would not be confirmed until 2021. Organizers have also announced that every match from the quarterfinals on would be in the U.S., in another concession from Mexico and Canada.
Recalling a "fun" negotiation Gulati held a few months back with De Maria and an unnamed official from Mexican media conglomerate Televisa, the U.S. Soccer president said the executive lobbied for hosting the opening match at Mexico City's legendary Estadio Azteca — a request he rebuffed with a lighthearted counteroffer.
"I said, 'I'll tell you what: Why don't we pull out and you and Canada do it?'" Gulati said with a smile. "He goes, 'OK, that's fine.' And I said, 'But you can't use American airspace during the event.'"