Next to hosting the Olympics in 1996, hosting World Cup matches arguably will be the second-most important sporting event(s) to be held in the city. The matches will bring people from all over the world to the city.
“When when I heard about it, it was something that I wasn’t expecting,” Fortune said. “But I’m glad that it is. I’m glad to be a part of the team and part of the city and to play in that stadium to know that a big game like that is going to be coming here, it’s a great thing.”
Fortune, a midfielder, may not only feel the pride in the city hosting matches. He may be playing in the tournament and the stadium for Trinidad and Tobago. The country will have to qualify out of the CONCACAF (North America, Central America and the Caribbean) region.
“There’ll be a moment in time where it will sink in and say to myself, ‘all right I have a chance here,’ so when that time comes I’m sure ... that’d be awesome,” he said.
The U.S., Mexico and Canada will host the tournament. Sixteen cities, 11 in the U.S., three in Mexico and two in Canada, were announced as host sites in June 2022. Because they are hosts, the U.S., Mexico and Canada won’t have to qualify to play in the World Cup.
The tournament will be the first in an expanded format that will include 48 teams. There will be 104 matches. Each host site should be scheduled to have several matches. The tournament is scheduled to be played from June through July, with the championship match scheduled for July 19.
After countries qualify through their federations for the World Cup, the final tournament will start with 12 groups of four teams each. Each team will play each other once. Winners get three points. A draw will result in each team getting one point. The most recent editions featured 32 teams broken into eight groups of four. In the expanded format, the top two teams from each group, plus the eight best third-place teams, will advance to the knockout rounds.
Because of the increased number of matches and the few host sites, each site likely will get different levels of matches. As an example, Mercedes-Benz Stadium could host a few group-stage matches, an early knockout-round match and a semifinal. Grass will be put down in the stadium for the matches.
The World Cup was last played in the U.S. in 1994. Atlanta didn’t host any matches. That World Cup led to the creation of MLS. Its growing popularity was among that reasons that Arthur Blank bought into the league with an expansion franchise in 2014. Atlanta United played its first matches in 2017. Mercedes-Benz Stadium was completed later that year.
Atlanta United player Gonzalo Pineda was just a kid growing up in Mexico when the World Cup was last held here. After playing for several clubs in Mexico, he ended his playing career at Seattle in MLS. He joined Atlanta United during the 2021 season.
“Now with the growth of MLS and know all the good things that the league has been doing in the recent years, I think this is going to be massive for the expectations of everyone involved in soccer in America,” he said.