Winnipeg soccer stars disappointed as Manitoba left out of 2026 World Cup co-hosting

Winnipeg soccer stars disappointed as Manitoba left out of 2026 World Cup co-hosting

Many Canadian soccer fans are rejoicing after learning the FIFA World Cup will be played on North American soil eight years from now, but locally, some feel let down because not a single pro cleat will touch ground in Winnipeg during the global sport spectacle.

"Being a Winnipegger, I would've loved to have had it in Winnipeg," said Desiree Scott, a midfielder with the Canadian women's soccer team and a two-time Olympic bronze-medallist. "Disappointed, obviously, but I think any city that gets that in Canada is good as well."

Delegates from the United States, Mexico and Canada celebrated in Moscow on Wednesday morning as the three countries were awarded a joint bid to co-host the 2026 World Cup.

Sixty of the 80 games will take place in the U.S. Ten will be played in Mexico, and three Canadian cities — Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton — will host another 10 games.

Winnipeg didn't make the cut; the United Bid Committee of Canada, Mexico and the United States never submitted Investors Group Field as a possible venue.

"It's too bad," said Eddy Gesualdo, an avid fan and former professional soccer player with the Winnipeg Fury in the 1990s.

"We know Toronto, we know Montreal. I'm surprised with Vancouver, but Edmonton over Winnipeg?"

Though not all fans from abroad were impressed with Winnipeg's hosting abilities during FIFA Women's World Cup play in 2015 at Investors Group Field, Gesualdo cited that as proof the city is capable of generating a buzz worthy of another hosting gig.

The city has shown it is a great sports city in other ways and deserved to get in on the action, he said.

"What we've done bringing back our Jets and how we've supported them, and our Bombers — and we have a brand new field [in IGF] — and we have a huge subculture of players and fans, I think it's really disappointing."

Grass lacking

Scott said it was a blast playing in front of a hometown crowd during the 2015 Women's World Cup, although IGF is an artificial turf field rather than grass and that could have been a limiting factor this time around.

"They've gone to some big major hubs in Canada and they're probably going to get some grass fields there. I don't know if we have a grass field that could have been there for that tournament," Scott said.

'Something to strive for'

Despite the disappointment, Scott, Gesualdo and Hector Vergara say there are reasons to be excited.

"It's huge for Canada soccer and this country as a whole to be able to host an event of that calibre," said Scott.

Vergara, executive director of the Manitoba Soccer Association, is currently in Moscow working with referees for the 2018 World Cup, which gets underway Thursday. He played soccer competitively for a decade and officiated at about 150 international matches, including a record 14 World Cup games, before retiring. 

"It's great for our young generation of players who now have something to strive for," Vergara said Wednesday about the 2026 World Cup news in a phone interview with CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa.

In the past, host countries have automatically been given a berth in the World Cup, but it's not clear whether all three co-hosts will be given spots in the 2026 competition.

Just last week, Winnipeg got a new professional soccer franchise, Valour FC, which will play in the inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League next year.

Gesualdo says Winnipeg fans will rally behind that team.

'It's huge when you look at just Winnipeg alone with this new team coming in, and with the amount of support that Winnipeg gives its teams, it spreads like wildfire," he said.    

Even though Winnipeg isn't hosting any of the World Cup games, Edmonton and Toronto aren't so far away that you won't see Winnipeggers make the trip to take in the world events, Gesualdo said.

Vergara agreed. 

"There's a real emotion, real passion for it, and I think that Canadians are going to have a real treat to be able to do this in their own homeland," Vergara said.