U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen of Everett poses with a soccer ball in front of the U.S. capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Provided photo)

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen of Everett poses with a soccer ball in front of the U.S. capitol building in Washington, D.C. (Provided photo)

How Rep. Rick Larsen helped Seattle secure its 2026 World Cup bid

The longtime congressman isn’t solely responsible, but he played a small role in bringing the event to the Pacific Northwest.

Rick Larsen acknowledges that he’s not the one responsible for Seattle being selected as a host city for the 2026 men’s World Cup soccer extravaganza.

“As the saying goes, success has many parents and failure is an orphan,” Larsen said during a phone conversation last week. “I’m probably a third uncle five times removed in this process.”

Nevertheless, in his own small way Larsen, Everett’s 11-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, played a role in bringing the World Cup to the Puget Sound.

When international soccer’s governing body FIFA announced on June 16 that Seattle’s Lumen Field would serve as one of the 16 match sites for the 2026 World Cup, which is being jointly hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada, it was lauded across the region. Soccer fans, sports radio jockeys and civic leaders alike celebrated the world’s biggest sporting event coming to town.

Including Larsen, who is both a politician and a soccer booster.

“It’s phenomenal,” Larsen said. “We get to show off the Pacific Northwest and our love of soccer. Soccer has been popular here a long time, longer than in most areas of the country.”

Larsen would know. His love for the sport was formed in the 1970s when, as a kid in Arlington, he began playing youth soccer at the age of 8. That progressed to being a ball boy for the NASL’s Seattle Sounders and playing central defense for the Arlington High School boys team. It’s even followed him into politics, as he serves as the co-chair for the Congressional Soccer Caucus, an informal bipartisan group that helps promote soccer causes — Larsen has even scored a goal in the Congressional Soccer Match, an annual charity game that benefits the U.S. Soccer Foundation.

So after the U.S., Mexico and Canada were awarded the World Cup in 2018, Larsen put what weight he could behind SEA 2026, the committee responsible for Seattle’s bid to serve as one of the tournament’s host sites. Seattle was one of 34 U.S. cities bidding to be one of the country’s 11 host locations, a number that was later narrowed to 16.

So to promote Seattle’s cause Larsen:

— Led a Washington congressional delegation last October in sending a letter to FIFA, CONCACAF (North America’s soccer governing body) and the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) encouraging them to consider Seattle as a host city.

— Recorded a video for SEA 2026 in front of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. last November touting Seattle as a host candidate, complete with heading a soccer ball at the 56-second spot’s conclusion. “We had to do a lot of takes,” Larsen quipped about getting the header part down.

— Drafting a letter from the Congressional Soccer Caucus’ four co-chairs to FIFA, CONCACAF and the USSF last December, encouraging them to consider geographic diversity when selecting the host sites (hint, hint, that upper-left corner of the country that’s often overlooked). “It was easy to get (the other co-chairs) to sign the letter because no one else was from a city that was asking,” Larsen said.

SEA 2026’s efforts proved successful. The details about the number of games and stages of the tournament each site will host will be determined at a later date. But presumably Lumen Field, home to the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, MLS’s Seattle Sounders FC and the NWSL’s OL Reign, will be the site for one of the 16 three-team groups in the revamped 48-team format.

When asked what he thought tipped the scales in Seattle’s favor, Larsen cited the way the local fans show up for soccer. The Sounders regularly draw more than 40,000 fans for home games, which currently is second only to Atlanta United in MLS, and the U.S. men’s national team has drawn similarly big crowds on the rare occasions when it’s played games in Seattle — Lumen Field isn’t often used by the USSF because of its artificial surface, but grass will be installed for the World Cup.

“I think the Sounders’ and Reign’s general success and the interest of their fans played a huge part,” Larsen said. “If we host a game between two teams no one’s heard of, we’re all going to show up because it’s the World Cup. That’s the impression we leave, because people here love soccer.”

With Seattle’s World Cup hosting duties secure, Larsen can go back to being a soccer fan, primarily of the Sounders and the men’s and women’s national teams. That’s particularly the case for the men’s national team this year, as it prepares for the 2022 World Cup that begins in November in Qatar. Larsen talked about his admiration for national team members like midfielder Brendan Aaronson for his endless energy, midfielder Weston McKinnie for his strength in the air, and especially for fellow central defenders Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long for their no-nonsense physical approach to playing defense.

The U.S. has a young player pool, with most of the team’s stars expected to still be in their primes when 2026 rolls around. So when Larsen was asked which countries would make up his dream pool for Seattle in 2026, his answer was obvious:

“I’d have to say any pool with the U.S.”

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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