Editorial (December 20, 2017) – The United States Men’s National Team will not be going to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Neither will historic European powers Italy and the Netherlands. Nor will Chile. Almost jokingly after the USMNT was eliminated from World Cup contention, the good people of the Internet decided to start talking about a possible tournament, a FIFA World Cup NIT, between the top countries who will not be Russia next summer.
How U.S. Soccer can Make the FIFA World Cup NIT Happen In 2018
The movement for this United States-based non-FIFA tournament, which has been coined the FIFA NIT, has gained some attention. Here’s how they can make this happen:
Get the involved parties:
First of all, U.S. Soccer (and definitely the new federation president) have to buy into this idea. They also have to get the other participants and the sponsors interested. This would be outside the existing TV deal structure for the USMNT in America. There’d have to be other TV/advertising deals done for the other participating countries.
Italy, Chile, the Netherlands, and the United States is a good start. For it to be a sizable tournament with more games, they’d need more teams (suppose World Cup group stage with two groups of four). Given Honduras just missed out on the World Cup, perhaps they would be interested. Throw in Wales so Gareth Bale has something to do next summer (and to help get further Euro Snob interest). Add the Ivory Coast and see if old man Didier Drogba wants to make a cameo. That gets us to seven. I’m sure there’s some other European or CONCACAF country that would be willing to join this list to make eight or more.
Technically this tournament wouldn’t be FIFA sanctioned, so they wouldn’t legally need FIFA approval, since it’s never happened before. Or could FIFA sanction it? Does anyone actually understand the FIFA bylaws?
Format and Regulations:
One reasonable reaction to the World Cup NIT idea, including MLSSoccer.com‘s own Matt Doyle has been about making this potential tournament not a total farce/glorified series of friendlies. One of the ideas out there has been to make it an U-23 tournament (players who are 22 or younger as of January 1, 2018). It would help the Americans and Italy who are about to age out a generational of national team starters.
I would make one side step: Use something similar to the roster rules for the Olympics. Make it a primarily U-23 roster, but with a certain number of roster spots for players over 23. The Olympics allows for three older players per team. The United States could give Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and DaMarcus Beasley a testimonial game each in the group stage. Dempsey would get to score a goal and claim the all-time USMNT scoring record in a match that had some meaning.
Italy could give Gianluigi Buffon a send off, as the best goalkeeper of his generation. Holland has Arjen Robben, Wales has Gareth Bale, etc. They could make it three or five or something (definitely no more than five so the Starting XI is majority U-23 players).
This would give the casual fans and Euro Snobs enough stars to get them to pay attention and attend matches. It would give a number of great players who won’t get to end their national team careers with a World Cup a proper send off. It would sell tickets and jerseys. (Make special one off jerseys and let the designers go crazy! It’s a meaningless tournament, so why not?)
Scheduling and Venues:
Personally, I think it would be better to select some of the smaller venues in America for this tournament. Use MLS soccer-specific stadiums whenever possible (we’re not sure if or how long MLS will be off for the World Cup given the USMNT’s absence). Use an NFL stadium for a group stage Italy-Holland game, but in general, make it smaller soccer stadiums.
The scheduling might be a bit tricky. Would the federations involved want to play during the World Cup? The earliest World Cup game kicks off at 5 AM EST. The latest is 2 PM EST. There’s no reason the FIFA NIT couldn’t be in the evenings stateside in parallel with the World Cup. The games kick off in Russia in mid-June. This isn’t a tournament you’d want to take place after the World Cup. I could see them starting before the World Cup and having the final by the end of the World Cup group stage.