The 2018 FIFA World Cup is almost here. The soccer tournament will start in Russia on Thursday as 32 national teams compete.

A few notable teams absent in this year’s tournament include Italy, the Netherlands and the United States.

Although the U.S. is nowhere near the level of Italy and the Netherlands in soccer, this was a huge blow to the growing soccer fanbase in the United States.

It also will be a huge blow to Fox, which paid $425 million in 2011 to have the men’s and women’s World Cup rights from 2015-2022.

While the 2018 World Cup ratings may be a lost cause in the United States, there still is hope for the future with the 2026 World Cup.

On Wednesday, the 68th FIFA Congress will vote to award the 2026 World Cup to official bidders.

The list is down to two, Morocco and a joint bid between Canada, Mexico and the United States.

If the North American countries win, it will be the first time since 2002 that more than one country hosts the event. It would also be the first time that it would be three countries splitting the event.

The FIFA Congress can also decide to vote for neither bid and reopen the process.

Although the North American bid is a joint one, the United States would be the primary host with 60 of the 80 matches across 10 cities.

This would be a great win for United States soccer as the sport continues to grow. In a 2017 Gallup poll, soccer was the third most popular sport to watch for people ages 18-54, behind only football and basketball.

Not everyone is on board though. Hope Solo recently said the bid should go to another country due to the way the United States Soccer Federation is operated. While Solo does bring up some good points, like pushing for equal pay for the women’s team, this move seems to be out of retaliation after the former star was dismissed from the national team over her behavior in the 2016 Olympics and her failed run for president of the United States Soccer Federation.

Yes the way the organization runs the sport is not perfect, but this could be a huge benefit to soccer and the country as a whole.

The local economies of the host cities would thrive with this.

Kansas City, Missouri, is a potential host city with Arrowhead Stadium, and this would be huge for the city that already saw success in the Power & Light District watch parties during the last two men’s World Cups.

Children’s Mercy Park regularly is over capacity for Sporting Kansas City matches.

Other cities like Seattle already have a big soccer fanbase and cities like Atlanta and Dallas have some of the best sports venues in the world.

Throw in the large capacity of Estadio Azteca in Mexico City and Olympic Stadium in Montreal’s planned renovations and there are more venues to offer a high quality soccer experience for the player and fans attending the 2026 World Cup.

It is also worth noting that 2026 is 250 years from 1776, when the 13 colonies declared independence from Great Britain.

Even though the hosting is by three counties, it can also act as a celebration for the United States in its anniversary. Plus, who doesn’t love the potential idea of the U.S. winning a game in Philadelphia on July 4?

It would be great and hopefully FIFA will agree and award the World Cup back to the North American countries.

Luke Peterson is the sports editor of the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at lpeterson@leavenworthtimes.com