Johnny Duker speaks soccer.
“Soccer is, I guess, a language that most of us anywhere in the world, people can relate and speake to,” says Duker, who moved to Lee Summit from Ghana when he was 12.
He says soccer helped him make friends in a new country.
So when Duker, the Kansas City Soccer Club director of operations, found out that Kansas City, Missouri, could potentially host some of the 2026 World Cup games, he was ecstatic.
Kansas City is one of 23 cities listed as possible sites for some of the 80 matches that will take place in the United States, Canada and Mexico. United States will host 60 matches while Canada and Mexico will both host 10 matches, according to The United States Olympic Committee’s website.
FIFA, the international soccer governing body will select 17 venues in the states.
Even if Kansas City isn’t chosen, Manuel Campos is planning to go to a game. It will be the third World Cup he’s attended. He went to the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Campos is a lifelong fan but says even if you aren’t a soccer fan, going to a World Cup game is a powerful experience.
“Soccer is very emotional game,” Campos says.
Unlike Campos, Kyle Witherspoon isn’t a lifelong soccer fan. He’s an owner of Johnny’s Tavern who became interested in the sport about 10 years ago when he noticed a lot of his customers watching the matches. It sparked a lot of questions.
“Who are these people coming out and watching soccer? What about this sport is making them so passionate and so involved and so invested in it?”
Witherspoon says this pushed him to start following soccer more closely.
“Soccer fans are as passionate as any other sports fan that I’ve ever met,” Witherspoon says. “They’re knowledgeable. They’re intelligent about their sport. They’re passionate about supporting Kansas City locally and the USA team on a national level.”
The announcement that Kansas City could host some World Cup Games was welcome news after the U.S. men's soccer team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
“I know there was a lot of disappointment about the team not making the World Cup this year,” Witherspoon says. “I think that the announcement that it will be in North America, in the United States, in 2026 is maybe a consolation prize.”
Still, there's a lot of work to be done to secure Arrowhead Stadium as one of the venues.
Kansas City has already made it's pitch to FIFA. Kathy Nelson, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission, says she anticipates some repetitive steps in the coming months.
“We’ve been in Houston with them explaining the bid. We sat there for eight hours in Houston and walked through each portion of our bid hour after hour, so I’m sure we’ll do that again," Nelson says.
"There’s nothing set yet.”
FIFA is expected to decide by the end of 2020 which U.S. venues it will choose.
Greg Echlin contributed to this report.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is a KCUR news intern. Follow her on Twitter @avivaokeson.