Biggest goal of World Cup: Turning local energy into economic opportunities

Morris Avenue in Elizabeth, featuring gathering places for fans of Colombia such as Brisas restaurant, already rocks on match day — aim is to turn these parties into future prosperity

The more than 80,000 fans who packed MetLIfe Stadium on Tuesday night — many of whom traveled a great distance to see the legendary Lionel Messi and Argentina take on Canada in the first Copa America semifinal — were another example of why the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be a sporting and economic success for the state and the region.

A different type of opportunity comes Wednesday night.

When Colombia meets Uruguay in the second semifinal — this one played in Charlotte, North Carolina — thousands of Colombians will gather on Morris Street in Elizabeth in a cultural celebration that comes with every match featuring their national team.

The numerous eating establishments on the street — including the famed Brisas restaurant and its amazing empanadas — are nearly all owned and operated by Colombians. They will be so packed that the crowds will spill out onto what certainly will be a closed-down avenue, one filled with street vendors selling jerseys, flags and, for those truly feeling the experience, roses for their companions.

Thousands of others, looking for an even more spirited atmosphere, will spend their time at a nearby club — BarCode, which features more than a dozen screens, including perhaps the biggest to watch the sport in such an atmosphere in the state.

Colombia fans gather on Morris Street in Elizabeth.

Win or lose, Colombia’s effort to make just its third final in the 48th edition of the event, will be a huge economic boon for that part of the city.

Therein lies the opportunity and the challenge for the FIFA 2026 Host Committee for New York and New Jersey.

Taking advantage of the opportunity to get the millions of fans coming to the event to MetLife — or to the official fanfest area that likely will be at Liberty State Park — won’t be an issue.

Connecting in a meaningful economic way with local areas with passionate followings — whether it be in Elizabeth for Colombia, Paterson for Peru, Newark for Brazil and Portugal, among dozens of other enclaves — is the challenge.

Here’s the catch: These areas do not need an official World Cup logo to attract visitors — there wasn’t one to be found last Saturday night, when Colombia played its quarterfinal match against Panama.

Luis De La Hoz, center, at Brisas.

But, for these areas to fully take advantage of the event economically — both during the World Cup and for years after — they will need the help of the World Cup Host Committee to become a gathering for more than just the Colombian faithful.

Luis De La Hoz, the chairman of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, is one of many who is working to make this happen.

His vision for the World Cup includes making sure international visitors know places such as Morris Avenue exist — and that they can provide unique experiences. He wants locals, of all nationalities, to experience it, too.

“It’s an opportunity to show the whole world what New Jersey has to offer,” he said.

A Colombia fan at BarCade.

De La Hoz dreams of seeing the businesses on the block being able to show the region what they have to offer.

Businesses such as Brisas.

To be clear, the Brisas restaurant and bakery already is a smashing success. It was founded in 1998 by Albeiro Orozco, who proudly said all of the recipes are those of his mother from his native Colombia.

“She is the inspiration for everything we do,” he said.

Brisas is going national with its incredible empanadas — already distributing more than 800,000 per day. World Cup exposure could help the brand go international.

Colombia fans take in a game at BarCade.

Of course, there is plenty of opportunity for local growth, too. It’s common for regulars to come to the bakery (which makes the fluffiest biscuits you’ll find anywhere) and pick up lunch for later in the day.

“The World Cup will be an opportunity for so many Hispanic-owned businesses that are doing well in our communities to get more exposure,” De La Hoz said.

To be sure, there is great interest among state officials — the Host Committee, Choose New Jersey, the governor’s administration — to create vehicles for economic prosperity before, during and after the World Cup. This is especially true for entrepreneurs from the state’s numerous ethnic communities.

Creating the right initiatives to do so is the challenge.

The good news: They don’t need to invest in party invites to get things going. A quick trip to Morris Avenue in Elizabeth on Wednesday night will make that obvious.