Former pro asks 'Edmonton over Winnipeg?' after Manitoba snubbed as 2026 World Cup co-host

Former pro asks 'Edmonton over Winnipeg?' after Manitoba snubbed as 2026 World Cup co-host

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.

Delegates from the United States, Mexico and Canada celebrated in Moscow, Russia, 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 was left of the list.

“It’s too bad. I really thought that we would’ve been one of the front-runners,” said Eddy Gesualdo, an avid fan and former professional soccer player with the Winnipeg Fury in the 1990s.

Eddy Gesualdo played for the Winnipeg Fury in the 1990s. (Submitted by Eddy Gesualdo)

“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, 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 Investors Group Field] — and we have a huge subculture of players and fans, I think it’s really disappointing.”

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

“I think this is fantastic news,” Vergara, executive director of the Manitoba Soccer Association, told CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa over the phone from Moscow Wednesday. 

“It’s great for our young generation of players who now have something to strive for.”

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

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.

Published at Wed, 13 Jun 2018 11:19:04 -0400