The 2026 World Cup is coming to North America, an enormous land mass with dozens of cities that would love to host matches. Well before the United States, Mexico and Canada prevailed, the list of potential venues to fill 16 slots had been trimmed to 23. So where will the games be played?
— By Steven Goff, The Washington Post
First, the basics
Slated to stage 60 matches, the United States will have the most locations (10 or 11). Mexico (10 games) is expected to have all three entries. Canada (10) can count on at least two of the three proposed sites.
FIFA has the final say, so the current outline could change. If FIFA really wanted more games in Mexico or Canada, the governing body would make it happen. In theory, FIFA could demand a fresh look at two major cities — Chicago and Vancouver — that withdrew from consideration because they didn't go along with the financial requirements.
Why didn't Mexico and Canada receive a more equitable share of the matches in the original proposal? Because Mexico and Canada needed the United States more than the United States needed them. Had either rejected the plan, the United States would've gone forth without one or both — and might have still won the right to host the tournament.
In fairness, though, Mexico and Canada did diversify the effort and help sell it as a regional campaign rather than a strictly U.S. event. And in this political climate, that factor might've influenced several voters.
Another question: With so many large cities and proper stadiums available across three countries — and an expanded tournament with 16 additional games — why not play in 24 or 30 venues? Answer: money. Each World Cup venue requires the same level of security, infrastructure and preparations, whether a city hosts one game or 10. Sixteen sites apparently made the most economic sense.
One important thing to consider: To reduce travel demands, organizers plan to weigh geography heavily. So a city that seems out of the running might receive greater consideration before the final verdict.
North American organizers will work with FIFA before the final list is selected no earlier than 2020.
New York: MetLife Stadium holds 82,000 and, although it's not actually in the Big Apple, it's the primary outdoor venue for sports in America's largest market. It has staged a Super Bowl, Copa America Centenario final and numerous international friendlies. If it doesn't host the 2026 final, it will get a semifinal. In 1994, Giants Stadium (which sat on property next to where MetLife Stadium was built) was among the primary venues and hosted a semifinal.
Los Angeles: The Rose Bowl staged the 1994 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy, and remains a jewel in the portfolio of American stadiums. But with a new NFL stadium opening soon in nearby Inglewood, FIFA will weigh options. If the United States were the sole host, both venues would likely be included. It's not unprecedented: In 2010, South Africa used both Ellis Park in downtown Johannesburg and Soccer City in suburban Soweto, and this summer, Moscow has both Luzhniki Stadium and Spartak Stadium. But with no more than 11 U.S. venues, it's hard to imagine two in one city.
Mexico City: Estadio Azteca is the only venue in its current form to host two World Cup finals. Yes, Maracana has done so as well, but the Rio stadium has undergone considerable changes since the 1950 final. Anyway, Azteca remains an iconic site for soccer, and after upgrades, it's sure to make the list.
Boston: A contender, yes, but a front-runner? Foxborough, that town nowhere near Boston? Yes. Absolutely, yes. And here's why: Patriots owner Robert Kraft owns Gillette Stadium. Bob Kraft was the North American bid's honorary chairman. Bobby Kraft persuaded the Trump administration to support the bid and give federal assurances that FIFA requires. On Friday, Trump gave Kraft a shout out on Twitter. The venue is one of several that would have to lay natural grass over the artificial turf months in advance. In 1994, World Cup matches were held at Foxboro Stadium, Gillette's predecessor.
Dallas: With its retractable roof, massive capacity, video board the size of small Concacaf countries and, in its young existence, experience hosting international matches, AT&T Stadium in suburban Arlington is a no-brainer. A grass cover is needed, however; it's been done there. In 1994, the Cotton Bowl in the city limits was a venue.
Guadalajara: As mentioned above, Mexico is likely to get all three of its proposed stadiums onto the final list. So that would include Estadio Akron, a 48,000-seater built in 2010.
Monterrey: Same goes for 53,000-seat BBVA Bancomer Stadium, located a few hours from the U.S. border.
Atlanta: Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a retractable roof, 72,000 seats and a downtown location. It, too, will need to install temporary grass. Atlanta also has Arthur Blank, the billionaire whose investment in MLS and the stadium has vaulted the city into a top-tier soccer market.
Washington: Visiting FedEx Field is a wonderful experience ... said no one ever (except maybe Redskins owner Daniel Snyder). But it is plenty big, has natural grass and is close to the nation's capital. There is also the possibility the Redskins will build a new stadium, which would jump the city into the front-runners category. In 1994, before FedEx Field existed, RFK Stadium was the choice.
Houston: Retractable roof for summer comfort and experience hosting international matches will boost NRG Stadium's chances.
Miami: South Florida missed out in 1994, yielding to Orlando. It will probably be the other way around this time.
Toronto: BMO Field is a nice little lakeside stadium, but to accommodate the World Cup, it will need to expand attendance to 45,000 from 30,000. Rogers Centre (retractable roof) is not under consideration because of scheduling conflicts with baseball's Blue Jays.
Seattle: The Pacific Northwest is the heart of soccer in the United States, and with CenturyLink Field offering a downtown setting, it's hard to imagine FIFA snubbing the Emerald City. Grass is necessary.
S.F. Bay Area: Levi's Stadium is in San Jose, not San Francisco, and has had regular problems with the conditions of the grass field. But it represents a massive metro area. In 1994, FIFA used Stanford Stadium.
Philadelphia: Lincoln Financial Field is a nice grass venue, but with Boston, New York and Washington higher on the list, Philly has an uphill fight. Geographic considerations would help, but four venues in the Northeast's I-95 corridor might not fly.
Montreal: Plans to renovate Olympic Stadium include a new retractable roof, and the city's European vibe will add to the World Cup spirit.
Denver: The Mile High City is among three contenders at altitude, joining Mexico City (7,350 feet) and Guadalajara (5,100). Three are perhaps too many. And is it fair for teams to play group matches at a high elevation before heading to sea level for the knockout stages?
Orlando: Camping World Stadium, formerly the Citrus Bowl, was a 1994 venue, but with Miami in the running, central Florida's best hopes might rest in geographic pairings.
Baltimore: Pinched between Washington and Philadelphia, Charm City is likely out of luck.
Edmonton: If Canada gets all three proposed venues or if Montreal or Toronto stumbles . . .
Nashville: Cool city, good stadium, but too much competition for limited slots.
Kansas City: Arrowhead Stadium is appealing, but there are too many superior choices.
Cincinnati: Perhaps an upset in the making? Not likely.