ZÜRICH, Switzerland – For someone whose league has known virtually nothing but success and good news the past several years, the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and not to the United States certainly was a tough one for MLS Commissioner Don Garber to swallow.
"It's very disappointing," Garber said. "I'm a bit shocked. We ran a great campaign. We felt very good about it. All of the people we met throughout the last two years, including the last two days, told us we were in pretty good shape."
Obviously, Qatar was in better shape, defeating the US in the fourth and final round of voting by the FIFA Executive Committee, 14-8, at the Zürich Messe on Thursday. Japan, Korea and Australia were eliminated in earlier rounds.
Since contracting to 10 teams prior to the 2002 season, the league has soared to 18 teams with the addition of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers for 2011. Garber saw not hosting the World Cup as a fabulous opportunity missed to place the sport into a higher orbit.
"The sport's in good shape," he said. "It would have accelerated a lot. It would have given us a 12-year target to be able to do a lot of things to get us to where we want to be faster. And now like everything in the soccer business, you've just got to work harder and recognize sometimes you've got to do it the hard way. And that's what we've got to do."
Qatar has a population of 1.6 million and has never participated in a World Cup. The Middle Eastern country, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, is best known for its oil and natural gas.
"I am surprised and I'm sure most of America is surprised," Garber said. "I'm disappointed and most of America is disappointed. It's not just soccer fans who took a little shot in the head today. I think it's our entire country, which could have shown the world how passionate we are about the global game and how a diverse country we are to support the most diverse sport in the world.
"So, like everything else, we'll take a deep breath and go back to what we do every day, which is building the game,” he added. “It just might be a little bit harder now. It might take a little bit longer."
But how does one explain to mainstream America that the US lost out to a country with such a small population? There are more youth players in the US Youth Soccer Association (3.2 million) than people in Qatar.
"Mainstream America really doesn't understand the world of international sport," Garber said. "They might ask the same questions about Chicago losing the Olympics."
Last year, Chicago lost its bid to host the 2016 Summer Games as the Windy City surprisingly was eliminated in the first round. Garber didn't think the US bid lacked a transformational message that might have swayed some votes.
"We had a great message, but apparently it wasn't compelling enough for the guys that didn't vote for us," he said.