By Julian Linden
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - If the United States is ever to conquer its final sporting frontier and win the soccer World Cup, 2026 could be the perfect time.
Although the disappointment of falling short in Brazil continues to linger, it could pay even richer dividends in years to come if 2014 really does turn out to be the turning-point for American soccer.
It may be 12 long years away but if the soccer gods were ever to smile on the land of opportunity, 2026 could be the year when all the stars align.
Not only would it give U.S. head coach Juergen Klinsmann the time he needs to build a new generation of top players capable of beating the world's best but the date coincides with one of the biggest celebrations in American history.
The year marks the 250th anniversary of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, when the then 13 American colonies announced they were splitting from Britain and forming a new nation, the United States of America.
Independence Day, celebrated each year on July 4, will be around the same time as the 2026 World Cup final, which could well be played on U.S. soil.
Aggrieved at missing out on the chance to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cups, the U.S. is planning to bid for 2026 and appears to have a great chance of being selected.
Although FIFA scrapped its rotation policy, the sport's world governing body did introduce a new rule stipulating that countries could not host the World Cup if another nation from their confederations had staged either of the past two.
This rule means that no country from either Europe or Asia can bid for 2026, leaving Africa, South America and Oceania as the only confederations that could challenge the North and Central America and the Caribbean(CONCACAF) region for hosting rights.
Oceania has expressed no interest in bidding and with South Africa having hosted the World Cup in 2010 and Brazil this year, the odds are heavily stacked against Africa and South America.
Canada and Mexico have expressed interest in hosting the 2026 World Cup but the U.S. - which last hosted the tournament in 1994 - would be the strong favorite.
Although hosting the World Cup is no guarantee of victory, home support has helped six countries win the title, Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934), England (1966), Germany (1974), Argentina (1978) and France (1998).
Just as significantly, it would also give the U.S. time to build a team of stars from a country where millions of American children now choose soccer as their first-choice sport.
The national governing body and Major League Soccer teams are also pouring millions of dollars into development and the fan base is getting bigger and bigger.
Before this World Cup even started, Klinsmann tried to play down expectations, saying it was unrealistic that the U.S. could win but hopes the lessons learnt will pay off in the future.
"We are still in the process of learning to take our game to the opponent. No matter what their name is, we cannot just wait too long to start our game," Klinsmann said.
"I think there is a little bit too much respect when it comes to the big stage - why not play them eye-to-eye?
"I don't know how many years that takes to change but it's something we have to go through."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)