Fifa could ask US to host in 2022 after nation gets World Cup fever, writes Mark Ogden in Salvador.
Amid all the outlandish claims made by Fifa around the 2022 World Cup bidding process - and there have been many - one of the strangest has been somewhat overlooked.
When world football's governing body published its evaluation report on the United States' failed bid to host the tournament, it cited the absence of "guarantees of federal government support" as the central cause for concern should the tournament be hosted by the country.
Never mind the punishing desert heat of Qatar, which was shamefully overlooked by the Fifa executive committee in the final ballot which handed the competition to the gas-rich Gulf state. When it comes to finding a reason to go elsewhere, the lack of green lights from politicians proved the ultimate roadblock to a 'yes' vote for the States.
However, as President Obama tweeted regular encouragement for Jurgen Klinsmann's Team USA from the White House before, during and after the second-round defeat against Belgium in Salvador last Tuesday, the message was clear. The US has now embraced football to the extent that it even matters in the West Wing.
Not only did Obama tweet his support - he also spent time on the telephone to goalkeeper Tim Howard and captain Clint Dempsey in the wake of the Belgium game - the White House even published a photograph of Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State for defence, on a call to Howard at the same time as clutching a football in his right hand.
That "federal government support" which Fifa was concerned about? American politicians now cannot get enough of the game and that, along with mouth-watering financial numbers, will not have gone unnoticed at Fifa's Zurich headquarters. If Fifa is left with no option but to take the 2022 tournament elsewhere once investigator Michael Garcia publishes his report in the autumn into allegations of a corrupt bidding process around Qatar 2022, the US ticks every box, politically, financially and in a sporting sense.
Already, there is an acknowledgement at high levels within Fifa that the States has arrived as a force to be reckoned with, both on the pitch and off it. "What we see in the United States is staggering," Jerome Valcke, the Fifa's Secretary General, said. "The country has the largest level of youth soccer in the world, with 20?million young people playing, and there is a commitment from Fifa to work with US Soccer."
The key now is to get the Americans onside to the point where they will step into the breach should Qatar 2022 fall through, with many senior figures in the US still scarred by the fiasco which saw their bid blown out of the water by the Gulf state.
"Maybe we'll bid [for 2026]," Sunil Gulati, president of the US Soccer Federation, said. "But we're not going to bid unless the rules are changed. If that part of the process can change, then of course we're interested in bringing the World Cup to the United States. Absolutely."
Turning to the States in 2022, however, could hand Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, the opportunity to map out the tournament until 2030 and fulfil his desire to take the World Cup to China.
With an election to fight, the ability to stage a tournament in Concacaf (2022), Asia (China 2026) and a centenary tournament in Argentina and Uruguay in 2030 could secure Blatter's position for the next cycle, with every major confederation bar Africa hosting the World Cup between Russia 2018 and 2030.
The States is where the money is, however. Significantly, five of the 14 international sponsors and partners of Brazil 2014 are American companies - Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Johnson & Johnson, Budweiser and Visa - so Fifa will be acutely aware of corporate relations in the States.
However, Brazil has also showcased the outbreak of football fever in a country. This is not an entirely new phenomenon: even 20 years on from hosting USA '94, the US still holds the record for highest average attendances at a World Cup. The figure of 68,991 dwarfs the next highest average of 52,491, which was set in Germany in 2006.
Well-attended stadiums means more money through the turnstiles and more spent on merchandise. And no country possesses a greater array of giant super stadiums than the States. From New York in the east to Seattle in the Pacific north west, there are state-of-the-art arenas capable of attracting more than 70,000 spectators.
In Brazil, 196,838 tickets have been purchased by Americans, a figure second only to the host nation, and the demographic of those travelling supporters - largely middle-class families with their children, plus twentysomething guys with their girlfriends - once again sets the Fifa cash counters into overdrive, given they are the demographic most likely to stock up on merchandise.
Nike has already reaped the rewards of being Team USA's official kit supplier. "We don't give out numbers but sales for the two US soccer kits that we make have been very strong," Charlie Brooks, Nike's vice president of global communications, said. "The red, white and blue away kit was the bestselling US kit we've ever done in North America in the first two weeks after its launch. And even before the tournament had started, the level of interest was huge - we posted a 21 per cent increase in our football product revenues for the year leading up to the World Cup.
"The average sports fan in the US is getting into football during this World Cup like never before. It shows this is no longer a minority sport but one that is on the up."
It is also a trend that is apparent in the television viewing figures, which have shot through the roof, with more than 25?million watching the 2-2 draw with Portugal a fortnight ago. By comparison, Major League Baseball's 2013 World Series averaged viewing figures of 15?million.
"To see this overwhelming surge of interest in the United States is a true 'watershed' moment for the Fifa World Cup and for football," Niclas Ericson, director of Fifa TV, said. "We have been thrilled to see the way the American fans are embracing the World Cup like never before."
If they end up staging the tournament in 2022, the Americans are likely to set the bar higher and higher.
Football fever grips the States:
196,838 - World Cup tickets sold to Americans - a figure second only to Brazil.
25million - Audience figure for USA v Portugal game.
5 - Number of US-based companies among 14 World Cup sponsors.
68,991 - USA 94's average attendance - 16,500 higher than Germany 2006, the next highest.
- The Sunday Telegraph