“CONCACAF Chronicles” is a column by Sam Reno about North American soccer.
In June 2018, it was announced that the United States, Mexico and Canada had won their joint bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. In recent months, FIFA has been sending officials on visits to the candidate cities across the three nations.
FIFA wishes to utilize two venues in Canada, three in Mexico and 11 in the United States for a total of 16 unique sites. The list of candidates in both Mexico and Canada has already been trimmed to the desired size, with Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Edmonton and Toronto garnering the respective selections.
In the United States, however, 17 candidates still remain. With FIFA likely to announce the official 11 venues in the near future, let’s break down the potential hosts into three — well, technically four — categories.
There are arguments for a handful of cities to earn this distinction, but for me, there are three candidates that stand out from the field: Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and New York City.
Los Angeles boasts the largest hotbed of soccer fanatics in the country, and it just so happens to be that nation’s second largest media market. With a host venue as iconic as the Rose Bowl, the city’s selection is a mere formality.
Not only has it hosted massive soccer matches before, but the Rose Bowl is also one of only two candidate venues capable of allowing north of 90,000 spectators.
It just seems right that the largest sporting event on Planet Earth would be set against that gorgeous sunset over the San Gabriel Mountains.
Washington, D.C. is another layup for the FIFA decision-makers. Its status as the nation’s capital is enough alone to merit a selection. Pair that with two massive airports to accommodate global supporters and it’s safe to assume that Washington should play host to its fair share of World Cup fixtures.
New York City, our last lock, is already a confirmed host city for the tournament since MetLife Stadium has already been named the official site of the 2026 World Cup Final.
New York also offers the most reasonable start time of any major city for the final. It can still be played in the evening local time while also airing at a somewhat reasonable daytime hour across many countries in Europe.
The Probables (7)
While there are certainly scenarios where each of the next seven cities are included, it is much more likely than not that the following cities win their bids as well.
Kansas City is home to one of the largest pockets of U.S. Soccer fans throughout the country. The city has already hosted the USMNT in the Gold Cup group stage this year as well as the USWNT for Carli Lloyd’s penultimate match in a U.S. jersey.
The USMNT has recently been avoiding coastal cities for home matches in an effort to avoid being outdrawn by opposing fanbases. The perfect marriage of soccer town and American passion, Kansas City will likely play host to the U.S. on multiple occasions.
Dallas might even be considered a near lock despite its atrocious showing during this year’s Gold Cup semifinals. FIFA requires official matches to be played on grass, and the surface brought in at AT&T Stadium in July was done so in square sections that were so uneven it visibly affected play on the field.
FIFA is likely to brush those concerns aside, however, because Jerry’s World is both a world-class venue and the only candidate stadium with a capacity greater than 100,000.
Seattle and Atlanta should also each earn selection on the merits of their support of their respective MLS clubs.
Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders have ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in average MLS attendance each year since 2017, the year Mercedez Benz Stadium, United’s home venue, was constructed.
Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area (as the bid is officially named) and Miami, our last three cities, all have previous experience hosting some of the sport’s largest contests.
Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and Levi’s Stadium both hosted matches in the Copa América Centenario in 2016. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami exceeded capacity for a match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, only the second El Clásico to take place outside of Spain.
Philadelphia would provide the national history that FIFA is looking for in a city, Miami has always attended international soccer and Levi’s Stadium, even though it will be 12 years old by the WC, is still one of the newest stadiums among the candidates.
Denver hosted this year’s CONCACAF Nations League semifinals and final, which of course was hailed as a milestone moment for the USMNT. Having a stadium at altitude at their disposal might be attractive to FIFA as well given the varying conditions of previous host nation’s venues.
Boston is also no stranger to the sport, having hosted the USMNT on multiple occasions. Gillette Stadium is also home of this year’s MLS Supporters’ Shield winners in the New England Revolution.
Nashville and Cincinnati both boast growing soccer fanbases, so much that each of their MLS teams are moving into brand new stadiums. Being in the Midwest also makes them attractive for U.S. Soccer as potential U.S. home match locations.
Houston and Baltimore are likely to be outshined by the stronger candidacies of Dallas and Washington D.C., respectively. That regional competition combined with Houston’s near absence of MLS fan support and Baltimore’s complete lack of an MLS side leave them on the outside looking in.
Just No (1)
Maybe I am putting too much stake into the first game of college football’s 150th season between Florida and Miami, but FIFA would be wise to stay as far away from Camping World Stadium as possible.
It was arguably the most in-demand event the stadium has hosted, and the hundreds of fans gaining entrance with fake tickets plus the hours-long exit from the premises proved it was not up to the task.
Regardless of which cities and venues FIFA ultimately settles on for the 2026 World Cup, the opportunity for the explosion of the game here in the United States and Canada is larger than ever.
Both nations are cultivating their deepest and most talented pools of players in their histories. The global stage will come home in 2026, and they will put on a show for a whole new generation of soccer fans who will get to see it for themselves.
“CONCACAF Chronicles” runs every Tuesday.