A look back at 1994 FIFA World Cup in Orlando

In 1988, three nations bid for host duties for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.  Those nations included the United States, Brazil, and Morocco.  

At that time, the U.S. had never hosted the international tournament, and a U.S. Men's Soccer Team had only made three World Cup appearances in World Cup history, with the most recent participation having been in 1950. As it turned out, the U.S. was chosen to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup, but on one condition. FIFA called for the creation of a professional soccer league, and from that, Major League Soccer was born, with league play beginning in 1996.

Tampa and Miami competed with Orlando to become a host city for the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Stadium conflicts in Miami took South Florida out of the running, and Orlando's growing reputation as an international tourist destination gave the City Beautiful an edge over Tampa. Orlando would eventually be selected as one of nine host cities.  

Image 1 of 12

Orlando opening ceremony  (Photo by Phil O'Brien/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Twenty-four teams qualified, which were divided into six groups of four. Sixteen teams would qualify for the knockout phase with group winners, group runners-up, and the four third-placed teams with the best records. This was the last time this format was used, due to the expansion of the World Cup in 1998 to 32 teams.

Orlando was awarded five matches -- four opening-round games and one game from the round of 16. Teams playing in Orlando included Belgium, Ireland, Morocco, Mexico, and the Netherlands.

1994 FIFA World Cup Opening Round in Orlando

  • June 19, 1994: Belgium defeats Morocco, 1-0
  • June 24, 1994: Mexico defeats the Republic of Ireland,  2–1
  • June 25, 1994: Belgium defeats the Netherlands, 1–0
  • June 29, 1994: Morocco defeats the Netherlands, 1–2

1994 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 in Orlando

  • July 4, 1994: The Netherlands defeats the Republic of Ireland, 2–0  (Attendance: 61,355)

The 1994 World Cup was a huge success for America. The cumulative attendance of 3,587,538 broke the previous record by more than 1 million, and the average attendance for the 52-game tournament of 68,991 also established a new mark, according to U.S. Soccer. 

Brazil would be crowned the winner of the 1994 FIFA World Cup after defeating Italy 3–2 in a penalty shoot-out at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

In July 2018, Canada, Mexico, and the United States were awarded the right to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Orlando once again made a bid to be a host city. Despite years of hard work to lure the World Cup back to the City Beautiful, Orlando was passed over for the 2026 tournament.

Despite losing the 2026 bid, Orlando has established itself as a major soccer market. Orlando has made a substantial investment in the renovation of Camping World Stadium in hopes of luring big sporting and entertainment events. Orlando City Soccer Club began play in 2015 as the 21st franchise in MLS and has also developed a huge fan base, showing that the region is big on soccer.