Miami Dolphins’ home a ‘slam dunk’ for World Cup in 2026, says Joe Robbie’s son, Tim

Hard Rock Stadium is illuminated in colors saluting the tri-country bid involving the United States, Mexico and Canada. (Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins)

DAVIE — There’s no guarantee that South Florida became a World Cup destination Wednesday.

But it’s about as close as you can get.

FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, overwhelmingly voted to bring the World Cup back to the United States in 2026, choosing a joint bid with Mexico and Canada for the 2026 tournament. North America received 134 votes to Morocco’s 65.

The Dolphins’ home of Hard Rock Stadium figured prominently in the winning bid, and although Miami was bypassed when the World Cup came to the United States in 1994, South Florida’s soccer community is brimming with confidence it won’t be jilted again.

“I think it’s a slam dunk,” said Tim Robbie, former general manager of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers whose father, Dolphins founder Joe Robbie, built the stadium with World Cup matches as a dream. “The only impediment the last time, in ’94, was the Marlins. That prevented us from getting games because of baseball. Now that there’s no conflict, I think it’s a lock that we’ll have games in South Florida.”

The “United 2026 bid,” as it was called, involves 23 hopeful stadiums in 23 cities in North America, but 60 of the 80 matches — including everything from the quarterfinals on — will be in the United States. FIFA expects to select 16 sites in 2020 or 2021. 

The highest-level match Hard Rock Stadium is seeking is a quarterfinal or third-place match. Areas that bid for the final all have considerably larger venues than Hard Rock’s capacity of 67,518 for World Cup matches.

The 2026 tournament will have 48 teams instead of the current. 32. Although host countries traditionally receive an automatic berth, the tri-country bid is a first and FIFA has not determined if all three countries will be extended that courtesy.

From South Florida’s perspective, it can’t hurt Hard Rock’s odds that the new president of the U.S. Soccer Federation is Carlos Cordeiro, a Miamian.


‘Obviously Miami is very special to me, being my hometown.’ — Carlos Cordeiro, new president of U.S. Soccer


“Obviously Miami is very special to me, being my hometown,” Cordeiro told reporters on a conference call from Russia, where this year’s World Cup kicks off Thursday. “In fact, the beaches factor prominently in some of our slides.”

Although Cordeiro said narrowing down the candidate stadiums in the United States from 17 to 12 “is going to be very, very hard,” the biased view among South Floridians is that one choice should be easy. Tom Mulroy, a longtime soccer promoter and member of the bid committees for both 1994 and 2026, said his wife woke up to find him crying on the couch.

“She goes, ‘Are you all right?’ ” Mulroy said. “I said, ‘We just got the Cup.’ ”

Lionel Messi (right) celebrates his goal for Barcelona against Real Madrid at Hard Rock Stadium in July. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Mulroy, who plans to attend his ninth World Cup final this summer, has no doubt South Florida will be chosen now that the Marlins have their own ballpark. Comparing ’94 to now, Mulroy said, “FIFA said, ‘You’ve got two stadiums and you’re offering us the Orange Bowl instead of that stadium? Stick it in your ear, my friend.’ They ain’t gonna stop it now. I fully in my heart believe we will get games in that spaceship that landed (Hard Rock). That’s one of the best places in the world to watch a soccer game.”

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross recently pumped a half-billion dollars into stadium renovations, including a canopy, to help secure the 2020 Super Bowl and events such as the World Cup. Tom Garfinkel, president and CEO of the Dolphins, measured his comments to avoid sounding overconfident, but he’s clearly optimistic, acknowledging a “very positive” vibe he received while giving FIFA reps a tour.

“What I can say is with the stadium renovated now the way it is, I think it is truly a global entertainment destination,” Garfinkel said. “I think it’s one of the premier facilities not just in North America, but in the world, for soccer, for football, for concerts and other things. I think it’s competitive with any other facility from that standpoint.”

Miami scored well in numerous areas of FIFA’s report on competing cities. The one major area where it can’t stack up — and the reason we won’t see the semifinals or final in Miami Gardens — is stadium size. Competing for the final — which quadrennially is the most-watched sporting event on the planet — were stadiums in Dallas (92,967 capacity), Southern California’s Rose Bowl (88,432) and the reported winner, New York/New Jersey (87,157).

FIFA’s report noted that Miami is the eighth-largest among U.S. contenders in population (6.06 million), received a 4.3 stadium score (only Denver scored higher) and tied with a dozen others for the top score in accommodations (5.0). FIFA praised accessibility of Miami’s international airport, that the area is used to providing security for major events and made a special mention of “the tropical waterfront of Miami’s Biscayne Bay.”

Joe Robbie was the original owner of the Dolphins who dreamed of hosting World Cup matches in the facility originally called Joe Robbie Stadium. (File photo)

Pointing to massive weeklong fan fests surrounding Super Bowls and the Barcelona-Real Madrid match last July, Garfinkel indicated that World Cup matches, possibly spread over weeks, would involve similar party atmospheres, even for fans who don’t have match tickets.

“We’ll try to create great experiences for people and make sure it’s something that they remember for a long time,” Garfinkel said.

Mulroy noted that the announcement came despite escalating political tensions between the United States and its two bordering neighbors.

“I”m super proud we sat down with our neighbors and did it,” Mulroy said. “Because that’s what soccer’s about. It’s about two guys who don’t speak the same language kicking a ball around in a park, where neither are sure where they are, but they’re home, no matter what they look like. No walls. No border. Just a healthy sport.”

Tim Robbie is glad the future likely will add to his late father’s legacy.

“Obviously he’d be very pleased and very proud,” he said. “That was part of the plan from the very beginning, that it would host top international soccer. And of course the crown jewel of international soccer is World Cup matches.”

[Which undrafted rookies have impressed Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke so far?]

[Who wins a race between Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Kenny Stills?]

[Marjory Stoneman Douglas football team visits Dolphins practice]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.