2022-08-13

The 16 United States cities bidding to stage the 2026 World Cup will finally learn on Thursday whether they’ll get that chance.

It’s been exactly four years since FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, awarded the world’s most popular sporting event to North America. Ever since, two dozen cities across the United States, Canada and Mexico have been preparing and politicking, trying to prove themselves worthy of hosting matches.

On Thursday in the 5 p.m. ET hour on Fox Sports 1, FIFA will pick anywhere between 16 and 19 of them — including 10-12 in the U.S. — and leave the others feeling as if this agonizingly thorough, oft-delayed process was all for naught.

In Mexico, FIFA’s decision is a foregone conclusion. Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey will host a combined 10 games down south. Another 10 will be played in Canada, where Toronto and Vancouver are locks, and Edmonton is the third candidate. The North American bid committee originally proposed that there would be three host cities north of the border, and 10 in the U.S., but there have been rumblings that FIFA could select an 11th U.S. city, or even a 12th — perhaps at the expense of the less-glamorous Edmonton, or in addition to it.

With four U.S. cities long considered locks, and a few more shoring up their status in recent months, that leaves 12 American contenders for either six or seven spots in the 2026 World Cup rotation. According to conversations with people familiar with the process and previously reported information, here’s how the race looks with less than a week to go.

Which USA cities will (almost) definitely host 2026 World Cup games?

1. New York/New Jersey (MetLife Stadium)

An obvious choice, and the favorite to host the final.

2. Dallas/Arlington (AT&T Stadium)

The grandeur of Jerry Jones’ palace outweighs any functional aspects that make it unsuitable for soccer. Originally pitched as a semifinal venue, Jerryworld is, according to one source, the only other candidate to host the final, because it has one thing that MetLife does not: a roof. Domes can make for strange soccer settings, but, contrary to traditionalist assumptions, FIFA loves indoor stadiums for their weatherproof-ness. The nightmare scenario is a July thunderstorm in North Jersey interrupting the most-watched game in all of sports.

The 2026 FIFA Men's World Cup will take place in the United States, Mexico and Canada. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)
The 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup will take place in the United States, Mexico and Canada. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

3. Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

With one of the few NFL stadiums that regularly hosts soccer matches, Atlanta will be a prime candidate for a semifinal. It also could be the site of the International Broadcast Center, the tournament’s main media hub.

4. Los Angeles (SoFi Stadium, Rose Bowl?)

One ideal city, two less-than-ideal stadiums — and that’s why Los Angeles’ status as a favorite to host the U.S. opener has gotten shaky. It has ritzy SoFi, with just about every imaginable amenity but not enough field space for soccer. It has the Rose Bowl, which is steeped in history but relatively bare-bones compared to the other venues on this list.

It’s unclear whether both will get games or, more likely, FIFA will choose one. SoFi is the logical choice, but if FIFA is unwilling to compromise on field dimensions, it might have to sacrifice thousands, if not tens of thousands of seats — an adjustment that could jeopardize L.A.’s candidacy for a high-profile match like an opener or semifinal.

5. Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field)

Perhaps no city’s bid has been more squeaky-clean and impressive than Philadelphia’s. It began this whole process on the bubble. By late-April, according to a report from Grant Wahl, it was in the running for a semifinal, which could coincide with the 250th anniversary of the crafting of the Declaration of Independence in … the nation’s original capital, Philadelphia. (July 4 itself, though, would likely be the date of a quarterfinal.)

6. San Francisco/Santa Clara (Levi’s Stadium)

Grass field at a modern stadium in a moderate climate near an airport and an attractive metropolitan area. There’s a reason Levi’s has hosted some high-profile soccer matches since it opened, and there’s no reason to think it won’t get more in 2026.

7. Houston (NRG Stadium)

City infrastructure and the retractable roof are two big pluses — nobody wants to play in 95-degree Texas heat in June. It’s unclear whether Houston’s proximity to Dallas is a pro or con, but its proximity to Mexico, and specifically Monterrey, is another plus. Teams will, at some point, have to travel between the U.S. and its neighbors, and only two other American host cities (Dallas and Atlanta) are within a four-hours-or-less flight from Mexico City.

8. Seattle (Lumen Field)

Rich soccer culture? Check. Proximity to two other host cities (Vancouver and San Francisco)? Check. Natural grass? Nope, and that’s the reason Seattle doesn’t get more big-time internationals and preseason friendlies. But it isn’t alone here — nine of the 17 American stadiums in the mix have artificial turf. FIFA has said that, in general, “that’s not a concern.” Sod can be temporarily installed. And Seattle should be selected.

Which American cities will likely host 2026 World Cup games?

9. Miami (Hard Rock Stadium)

The first of the modern NFL stadiums built to accommodate soccer, Hard Rock has hosted summer friendlies over the past six years, including the first stateside Barcelona-Real Madrid Clasico in 2017. The assumption all along has been that FIFA will pick one of the two Florida cities still standing, and that Miami is the destination of choice.

10. Baltimore/Washington D.C. (M&T Bank Stadium)

FedEx Field, as you’ve probably heard, is a dump. FIFA officials confirmed that perception when they toured the then-Washington Football Team’s stadium last fall. So, with D.C. slipping from contention, and Baltimore always a longshot, the two DMV cities merged their respective bids into one.

The games would be in Baltimore. Many festivities would be 45 minutes away in D.C. On one hand, it seems ridiculous to even consider such an unwieldy arrangement over a dozen other solid options. On the other hand, it seems ridiculous to hold the world’s biggest tournament in the world’s most powerful nation without the nation’s capital involved.

An alternate solution could be to hold various ceremonial events in D.C., but not games in Baltimore, which is why this joint bid remains on the bubble. But two sources with knowledge of the process said recently that they couldn’t fathom FIFA snubbing it.

Which U.S. cities are on the World Cup 2026 bubble?

11. Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium)

Kansas City is the only contender even remotely close to the middle of the country. (Chicago, which would have been a near-lock, pulled its bid in 2018 due to taxpayer risk, leaving the Midwest without another legitimate option.) The question is how FIFA will interpret that geography. Does K.C.’s location help bridge geographical divides between the two coasts and Texas, because it cuts some flight times in half? Or, if FIFA wants “clusters,” as one of its top officials has said, is Kansas City a tad too isolated?

Local officials are confident enough in a favorable answer that they’ve scheduled a downtown watch party for Thursday’s announcement.

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12. Boston/Foxboro (Gillette Stadium)

Perhaps the most polarizing bid of the bunch, Boston has first-hand World Cup hosting experience and, most importantly, Robert Kraft — a Major League Soccer founder and 2026 bid committee honorary chair who boasts a personal relationship with FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Unfortunately, it also has an inconvenient, barely-even-suburban stadium with neither a roof nor natural grass, which makes it extremely unattractive. There has also been a litany of minor issues behind the scenes. If it weren’t for Kraft’s political pull, Boston would surely be out. As it stands, it’s squarely on the bubble.

13. Nashville (?)

FIFA officials left Nashville impressed after their visit last fall, but uncertainty surrounding the future of the Music City’s NFL venue — the Titans now plan to build a new stadium rather than renovate Nissan Stadium — has left FIFA asking a simple question: Why, with so many low-risk options, would we gamble on a construction process that could become a race against time?

Unless they’ve secured assurances in recent weeks, Nashville will be on the outside looking in — though it could remain in contention to host non-soccer events, like the preliminary or final draw.

Which USA cities are FIFA World Cup 2026 longshots?

14. Denver (Empower Field at Mile High)

The calculus here is similar to Kansas City, but Denver is much more of a longshot. There’s better soccer infrastructure and a richer soccer culture in K.C.

15. Orlando (Camping World Stadium)

See Miami. (The stadium in Orlando is one of the least impressive and, more importantly, least weatherproof.)

16. Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium)

With all due respect to Cincinnati, whose training facilities have twice lured the USMNT, it probably shouldn’t even be in this conversation.

What factors are being considered in World Cup 2026 host cities?

FIFA considers dozens of factors, from a city’s hotels and public transportation, to its willingness to commit public funds to events, to its training sites. But there is one absolute non-negotiable: “The pitch is everything,” FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani said last November. “The pitch is sacrosanct.”

More broadly, the stadium is the single most important factor. As spectator venues, each of the 17 proposed American stadiums is beyond sufficient. The difficulty is in converting them to soccer venues with natural-grass surfaces that are wider than NFL fields, and that don’t have any imperfections that might mar games that billions of fans around the world will watch. (The World Cup is, above all else, a television extravaganza; what matters is the quality of the product that shows up on TV screens.)

Who, exactly, will make the decision?

FIFA. Colin Smith, its “chief tournaments and events officer,” is leading the charge. But he and his team have consulted a wide range of stakeholders, from local bid committee officials to U.S. Soccer Federation executives. In fact, FIFA recently hired two former USSF employees, former CEO Dan Flynn and VP of events Amy Hopfinger, to help lead the local subsidiary that it has created for the 2026 World Cup.

How many games will each selected city host?

That hasn’t been decided, but if there are 10 sites for 60 stateside games, that’s an average of six per city. The North American bid committee originally proposed that each U.S. city would get a minimum of five.

And it’s reasonable to assume that each host city will get at least one knockout-round match. In fact, the bid committee sketched out a schedule way back in 2018 that put at least two knockout games in each U.S. city. With the World Cup expanding to 48 teams, there’ll be a truncated group stage (16 pods of three teams, and three games each) and a Round of 32, meaning 31 win-or-go-home games over a span of three weeks.

Will the snubbed cities get any consolation prizes?

The half-dozen cities that aren’t selected on Thursday, plus others who weren’t even finalists, could host ancillary events, team base camps and pre-World Cup friendlies. North American officials also proposed “pop-up fan fests” — tamer versions of the official fan hubs that FIFA sets up in each host city — in cities that don’t stage matches.

When will ticket sales begin?

Likely sometime in 2025. But if you’re interested in buying tickets, get ready to pay handsomely. The average ticket across all rounds, based on sales and revenue projections submitted by the North American bid to FIFA years ago, will cost upwards of $300.

What, exactly, will FIFA announce on Thursday?

Not much beyond the list of host cities. Details will likely trickle in over the coming years, in part because intermittent announcements mean more opportunities to build excitement and generate interest, but also because the logistics of organizing a World Cup are unfathomably complex.

FIFA originally hoped to announce the host cities in 2021 and the match schedule in 2022. Delays, some of them related to the COVID-19 pandemic, have pushed back the timeline. An early draft of a schedule, including the hosts of the final and openers, could be revealed in 2023. Qualifying processes and the “preliminary draw” will likely be set in 2023 as well.

When does the 2026 World Cup begin?

In June, and most likely on or around June 11, specifically. The final would likely be on July 12. Despite the expansion to 48 teams, the tournament will still fit in the traditional 32-day window.

How to watch the host city selection

The Thursday announcement will be made during an hour-long live show that begins at 5 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. The network will announce details soon.

A follow-up news conference is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET, and can be streamed live on FIFA’s website.

Will the Women’s World Cup come back to the U.S. anytime soon?

Possibly. U.S. Soccer officials have said they’re planning to bid for either the 2027 or 2031 tournament. The more likely option is 2031. But FIFA hasn’t yet finalized bidding processes for either of the two.

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