NEW YORK --- As Americans celebrated the Fourth of July in 1988, a present arrived from Zurich: The World Cup was headed to the United States for the first time.
"The richest land in the world simply cannot be allowed to remain a blank spot on the world map of soccer any longer," Hermann Neuberger, president of West German soccer's governing body, said at the time.
Since that watershed 1994 World Cup the global game is now very much a part of the country's sports landscape. There's a national team that's played in six consecutive World Cups, three television networks that are pretty much all soccer, constant additional exposure on ESPN2 and a growing league preparing for its 16th season -- albeit one still struggling to gain attention in a market dominated by the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA.
Bidders promise another burst of explosive growth if FIFA's executive committee awards the 2022 tournament to the U.S. when it votes Thursday in Zurich. Australia, Japan, Qatar and South Korea are the competition.
"We've got all of the infrastructure in place, and it's extraordinary infrastructure," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in an interview with The Associated Press. "...I think it changes the economics in a positive way for FIFA and other associations."
Much of soccer has never seen anything like Dallas Cowboys Stadium, with its 50-yard-wide video screen hovering above field, 10,000 club seats and 300 luxury suites ringing five levels -- the expensive seats alone just about match the 20,224 total capacity of Portsmouth's Fratton Park.
FIFA's technical report says attendance at a U.S. World Cup could average 76,000, breaking the record of 68,991 set in 1994. It says there is medium legal risk because of a lack of government guarantees, which would require federal legislation after a bid is awarded.
"Clearly for us, there is nothing that we could do in the United States, whether it be our federation or Major League Soccer, that would be more important than having the World Cup here in our country," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.