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World Cup in Foxborough? ‘I think we have a great chance,’ bid president says

Foxborough MA 03/10/18 New England Revolution opening day against the Colorado Rapids at the start of the second half of MLS Soccer at Gillette Stadium. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff) topic: Rapids-Revo pics reporter:
Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff
Gillette’s artificial turf would have to be replaced by grass for World Cup games.

FOXBOROUGH — The World Cup is coming to North America in 2026. Will Gillette Stadium be one of the host locations?

Brian Bilello, president of Boston Soccer 2026, believes his recently launched nonprofit can lure World Cup action to the Greater Boston area.

“Thinking about 2026 and the opportunity to bring the FIFA men’s World Cup back to North America, to the United States, and hopefully back here to Boston is tremendously exciting,” said Bilello — who is also president of the Revolution — in a news conference at Gillette Stadium Wednesday.

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“There will be an effort over the next couple of years for those of us here in Boston to win the right to actually host games here in Boston. I think we have a great chance to do so.”

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Foxborough played host to several World Cup contests back in 1994, at Foxboro Stadium. That was the last time the tournament was played in the US.

Officials from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, met in Moscow Wednesday and voted to accept North America’s bid for 2026 over a bid from Morocco.

With the bid secured, 23 venues — mostly NFL stadiums — will begin campaigns to obtain games for their sites. That list will be narrowed over the next two years, as FIFA and the United Bid Committee analyze the economic and logistical viability of each candidate.

How does Gillette stack up? The fact that the venue is privately owned by the Kraft Group helps the chances considerably because the economic risks of hosting large-scale events at publicly funded stadiums are far greater.

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Bilello, a lifelong soccer fan who yearned throughout his childhood for a local team to support, pointed out that private ownership wasn’t the only advantage here.

“When you look at our bid, particularly here in Boston, the venue exists, the transportation infrastructure exists, the airport exists, the hotels exist,” Bilello said. “There is nothing that needs to be built to bring the World Cup to Boston, and that is really important.

“From a big-picture standpoint, this is going to be a relatively easy and low-cost event to bring to North America and to bring to Boston.”

There remains work to be done, though. Should Boston’s bid prove successful, Gillette’s artificial turf would have to be replaced temporarily with a natural grass surface.

Bilello observed first-hand the impact that World Cup action had on improving soccer’s reach in the area 24 years ago. Engagement with the sport skyrocketed nationally, helping prompt the formation of Major League Soccer, which held its first MLS Cup two years later in 1996.

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Bilello believes that welcoming the world’s best to Foxborough eight years from now could have a similar galvanizing effect.

“I think fans in the United States want to watch Cristiano Ronaldo, they want to watch Lionel Messi, they want to watch Mohamed Salah,” said Bilello. “I think people will be surprised at how strong the TV ratings are going to be in this World Cup, even without the US men’s national team in it.”

Owen Pence can be reached at owen.pence@globe.com.