Orlando ready to welcome Copa America, but eyeing 2026 World Cup bid

As it stands, the Copa America Centenario is one month away from kicking off, and Orlando will have the pleasure to host a select amount of games at Camping World Stadium this summer.

With marquee international players such as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ricardo Kaká expected to play in the 100-year-0ld tournament, Orlando City president Phil Rawlins believes this summer’s tournament in the United States will serve as a dress rehearsal for a potential 2026 FIFA World Cup bid.

“This is the biggest tournament that’s been in this country since the World Cup in 1994,” Rawlins told reporters on the upcoming Copa America tournament. “If you ask my personal opinion, I think the U.S. is in great shape to get the World Cup in 2026. So this is a dress rehearsal for all that.

“We have the best infrastructure in the country. If we can show the rest of the world what we know to be true that this is a soccer community, and fill this bowl a few times, I think we make a great case for Orlando being a host city.”

According to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, a FIFA council meeting later this month in Mexico will kick-start the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup, but a final decision on which country will host the tournament will come no later than 2020.

The Central Florida region hit the 66-million visitors mark in 2015, and the growth of soccer in the area played somewhat of a factor.

A figure on ticket purchases for this summer’s Copa America in Orlando has not been released yet, said Mike Millay, who is a board member for the Central Florida Sports Commission.

“We’re about where we thought we’d be,” Millay said. “One of the things with some of the games is that it’s a later buy. We’re hoping we’ll get that last push, which is what you see for a lot of the international matches.”

Millay added that 50 percent of the allocated tickets have been sold and expects about 80 percent capacity for the three games coming to the City Beautiful. Another reason for the late ticket push would be that most of the teams competing in Orlando weren’t named until last January during the group stage draw.

The Copa tournament is billed as the biggest sporting event in Orlando since the 1994 World Cup. Other big soccer events that have played in Orlando include the 1998 MLS All-Star Game, a friendly between Costa Rica and Mexico in 2015, and the United States women’s national team games in 2013 and 2015 against Brazil, which brought record crowds.

The Copa America will be held across the United States from June 3 to June 26.

Orlando will host three games at Camping World Stadium:

Saturday, June 4 at 5 p.m. 
Costa Rica vs. Paraguay

Monday, June 6 at 7 p.m. 
Panama vs. Bolivia

Wednesday, June 8 at 7:30 p.m. 
Brazil vs. Haiti

(Photo via SaJorden Miller / Skyboat)

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