Sounders FC President of Business Operations Peter Tomozawa and Chief Operations Officer Maya Mendoza-Exstrom recently returned from a trip observing the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar as part of the organizing committee bringing the FIFA World Cup to Seattle in 2026.
It was a whirlwind of a trip as Mendoza-Exstrom and Tomozawa witnessed four games in four days in addition to countless presentations and tours by members of FIFA. In fact, they landed in Doha at halftime of the United States Men’s National team game against the Netherlands in the Round of 16 and managed to make it inside the stadium by the 60th minute.
“It’s incredible,” said Mendoza-Exstrom. “It’s pretty amazing to have such a compressed tournament footprint. To see all the fanbases always – not just one country, but all countries – out and about at fan fests or down by the water or down at the stadiums, it’s pretty special.”
In many ways, this trip was an exercise in absorbing what is the biggest sporting event on the planet. Tomozawa and Mendoza-Exstrom also watched Kylian Mbappe make history in France’s 3-1 win over Poland, witnessed Croatia’s gutsy penalty-kick shootout victory over Japan, and saw Portugal put on a 6-1 masterclass against Switzerland.
More than anything, it was a reminder of soccer’s ability to unify millions of people around a team and the way that the matches can forge indelible memories for fans.
“Being here has just gotten us that much more excited about the possibilities of what 2026 can be,” said Tomozawa. “Whether you’re visiting the United States on the west coast, the middle of the country or the northeast – or you go north to Canada or south to Mexico – there’s going to be something for everyone. It just makes us that much more excited about the possibilities.”
Witnessing the FIFA World Cup firsthand has also helped both Tomozawa and Mendoza-Exstrom envision how they can bring to life the culture of our region when Seattle serves as a host city in 2026.
“Both Maya and I are just so excited about how we might put the Seattle and Pacific Northwest imprint on the game,” added Tomozawa. “That’s what really got our minds going and ideas flowing, and how we can make this great event specific and special to Seattle.”
From an operations perspective, Tomozawa and Mendoza-Exstrom learned all about the behind-the-scenes work required to carry out a tournament of this scale, especially on matchdays.
“There are so many more people in back of house and on site than even an MLS Cup or a CCL Final,” noted Mendoza-Exstrom. “The understanding of how that dance works is something the public will never see but is really important to understand operationally.”
In addition to being disaggregated across 16 host cities throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be fundamentally different from this year’s tournament because it will be the first time that 48 nations participate. That leads to a distinct possibility that several nations will qualify for the FIFA World Cup for the first time in their history, making it extra special for fans that travel to the tournament.
Emerald City Pack
This pack includes a ticket to our first three home matches of the 2023 season and a special limited-run Sounders FC World Cup themed scarf.
“I truly hope we have a debutant play in Seattle for a group game,” said Mendoza-Exstrom. “That level of excitement that a country can bring would be so fun … There’s a reality in the United States and in Seattle that everyone one of the teams in the event very likely has a resident community derived from that nation of immigrants or cultural affinity and heritage in every single market in our country.
“Seattle is prime to be inclusive of every single one of the 48 teams that will come in 2026. That’s a really wonderful aspirational quality for us on the organizing side to think about embracing as we get further into the qualification process.”
There are countless reasons to be excited about the FIFA World Cup coming to Seattle in 2026. But for Tomozawa and Mendoza-Exstrom, one of the most thrilling aspects is that it’s an opportunity to celebrate soccer culture in Seattle and the way fans have embraced the beautiful game here for decades.