MISSION VIEJO — To prepare for the first World Cup soccer tournament ever hosted in this country, the United States Cup organizing committee has chosen Mission Viejo as the team's permanent training site.
Jubilant city officials received word from U.S. World Cup officials Thursday afternoon that Mission Viejo had been selected over the only other finalist, Orlando, Fla.
"We're all just thrilled," said Councilman Robert D. Breton, who worked on a task force to bring the U.S. team to Mission Viejo, "especially now during all the excitement of the Olympics."
A formal contract remains to be signed, but both sides said Friday that they expect an agreement to be reached quickly.
Mission Viejo benefited from its proximity to Los Angeles, where the World Cup finals will be held in 1994. U.S. Cup officials also singled out the city of 73,000 for its year-round temperate climate and rural community atmosphere.
The city's bid to host the World Cup squad apparently received a big boost from team coach Bora Milutinovic, who recently moved his family to neighboring Laguna Niguel.
"He absolutely loves the environment" in South County, said Michael Hogue, who was in charge of the U.S. World Cup site selection committee. "It was a combination of the opportunity to have outstanding facilities and outstanding community support, not only in Mission Viejo, but in Southern California."
Mission Viejo is a planned community that prides itself on recreational sports opportunities. From Little League to adult softball and soccer, facilities are jammed with weekend athletes, and finding new sites for more fields is a controversial issue in town.
Internationally, the city has benefited from its association with the Nadadores swim club, whose members have included world-famous swimmers such as Shirley Babashoff, Brian Goodell and diver Wendy Williams. And during the 1984 Olympic Games, some of the cycling competitions were held in Mission Viejo.
City officials say they offered to build a world-class training facility at Oso Viejo Community Park at La Paz Road and Marguerite Parkway which will include two lighted soccer fields and a clubhouse with a weight room, media area and other amenities.
Breton cited a study done in Orlando that estimated the soccer team would bring more than $4 million in revenue during its approximately yearlong stay. Most of that income would stem from the touring soccer teams and the anticipated crush of media representatives assigned to cover the U.S. squad.
Alan Gallup, regional director of the South Orange County American Youth Soccer Organization and a task force member, said the team's presence will have a far greater social than monetary impact on the city.
"The press and public relations we will get is invaluable," Gallup said. "Mission Viejo will be on people's lips just like when a Nadadore wins (a swimming event) at the Olympics. These people are good role models for our children and the coach wants to be part of the community."
Milutinovic "wants to talk with people here about soccer and our children will be rubbing elbows with the best soccer players in the United States," he said. "I'm just tickled over this."
City officials say they will have the training facilities ready for the team by spring of next year. Construction costs are estimated at $400,000.
Hogue said the impact of the World Cup will be felt in Mission Viejo in 1994 when a huge promotional campaign swings into gear.
"It's going to get crazy," he said. "Having the World Cup in the United States is going to expose millions of people to soccer. It's an opportunity to bring the world's most popular sport into the mainstream of America."
"Soccer is never going to replace football or baseball as America's pastime," Hogue said. "But this is a grand opportunity to develop a soccer legacy in this country."
For Gallup and other Mission Viejo residents, the news that the city was chosen to host the U.S. World Cup soccer team is also a chance to show off some civic pride.
"We want this to be something to puff up our chests about," he said. "It'll be another reason to be proud to live here."