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Paul Klee: Should Colorado host the 2026 World Cup? Let's ask our youth soccer fans

The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) — Paul Klee The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

July 12--DENVER -- Maybe they're telling the truth.

Maybe hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup is a good idea for Colorado.

Under the shadow of Bucky the snorting Bronco outside Mile High Stadium, maybe governor Jared Polis and Denver mayor Michael Hancock weren't just blowing hot air Thursday. Maybe the pep rally that unfolded with cool-sounding numbers ($300 million funneled into the state, Polis said), cozy neckwear (soccer scarves!) and global symbolism (a soccer ball the size of Lionel Messi) are signs I should forget the traffic and crummy politics the massive event is sure to entail, cop a Pulisic jersey and let the beautiful game wash over us.

"The FIFA World Cup is the most important event in the world," former U.S. Soccer president and Colorado bid chairman Bob Contiguglia said. "And Denver should host it."

Maybe. Truth is, though, nothing these politicos preached was going to convince me that packing thousands of more people onto Interstate 25 is a positive. Shoot, the Light Rail to Mile High was crazy late again Thursday. Is our public transportation going to be updated by 2026?

You'd think so, but not convinced.

Until Lillian Osifodunrin showed up.

She's 11 with a smile that lit up my week. While the suits hobnobbed way over there on a fancy-schmancy stage, Lillian found a patch of grass and flicked a ball back and forth, back and forth, as if she were trying out for the USWNT. Don't put it past her. She showed off this one move she got from Alex Morgan on TV.

"She's my favorite player," Lillian said.

And your favorite part of the women's World Cup?

"Like, every part."

There's your spokeswoman for Colorado's bid to host five to seven men's World Cup games in the summer of 2026. We've got 70,000-plus spokeskids here -- the number involved with our soccer programs, according to Nate Shotts, CEO of the Colorado Soccer Association and one of the finest sports leaders around these hills. Colorado just had five local products competing in the women's World Cup -- Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh with the USWNT, Janine Beckie with Canada, Estelle Johnson with Cameroon and Loren Donaldson, a coach with Jamaica.

"These kids, they grow up watching the world's greatest players, men's and women's. They want to do that. They want to replicate what those players are doing on the field," Shotts told me. "And not everyone can travel across the world to see these great players play, you know? And now they could have the chance to drive across Denver and see them live?"

"I get the chills every time I think about it," Shotts said.

Now that's convincing.

OK, back to the suits. They're hell-bent on politicizing another sports matter, turning off half the fans in the process. This time it was Polis, at an event meant to galvanize the state behind the bid, demanding "equal pay for equal work" for the women's national team, blowing past the fact the men's 2018 World Cup generated $6 billion to the women's $131 million, according to the Washington Post.

Eh, who needs supply and demand, anyway? I'm-more-virtuous-than-you is way easier.

"We're going to move heaven and earth to make it happen and bring the World Cup to Colorado," Polis said.

So what's Colorado up against? The 2026 shindig is actually North America's World Cup, with Canada probably scoring three host sites (who doesn't associate Canada with soccer?) and Mexico getting three (fewer than it deserves, if fandom counts). That leaves 17 U.S. cities vying for 10 bids. New York's a lock. I'd guess the same for Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Dallas and Boston (Patriots owner Robert Kraft rubbed FIFA the right way as North America's honorary bid chairman). Now we're down to three hopefuls between Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, Nashville, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Jose, Seattle and ... Denver.

"And of those, Denver, Colorado, is the best," Polis said.

Yeah, that's what I thought too. No-brainer.

"And stunning mountains we love to share," Polis said.

Do we, though?

"There's no question in my mind Denver has everything necessary to host a successful World Cup," said Contiguglia, who's been involved with every World Cup since 1990.

We do for Lillian, and her soccer buddy Levi Blair. He's 10, an awesome redhead from Northglenn who was working on his goal celebrations Thursday: "I play striker, mostly," Levi said. "I'm also pretty good at defense."

"I would love to see Christian Pulisic," he said.

Count me, Levi and Lillian in. Bring the 2026 World Cup to Colorado. Let's go.

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