Friday Newsletter: I Handicap the U.S. Field for World Cup 2026 Host Cities
Plus My Answers to Your Mailbag Questions
The host cities for World Cup 2026 in the U.S., Canada and Mexico are now expected to be announced at the earliest in mid-June in New York City after the men’s FIFA window is over. I made some calls this week to people who are informed about the process so I could get a better sense of which cities are likely to land World Cup games.
Nothing is certain yet, obviously, but I came away with a much better sense of the landscape right now.
One thing everyone agrees on is that the bid city committees are all suffering from fatigue and the overly long nature of the process. World Cup ‘26 was awarded to the three co-host countries in June 2018, so there was plenty of time to get things moving before Covid hit hard in March 2020. That didn’t happen, however.
Fútbol with Grant Wahl is a reader-supported soccer newsletter. You can sign up (free or paid) to get my posts in your inbox. Quality journalism requires resources. The best way to support me and my work is by taking out a paid subscription now. Free 7-day trials are available.
What’s more, this is the first World Cup in which there won’t be a formal local organizing committee (LOC). Instead, FIFA is overseeing everything from Zurich and calling the U.S.-based organizers, for example, “the local FIFA subsidiary in the United States.” That group recently announced the hiring of two former U.S. Soccer officials: Former CEO Dan Flynn as senior executive advisor (a full-time job) and former vice president of events Amy Hopfinger as chief strategy and planning officer.
The problem is the same FIFA group organizing ‘26 is already busy with this year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar and next year’s women’s World Cup in Australia/New Zealand. As a result, ‘26 things keep being pushed back. Until recently, the announcement of the ‘26 host cities was expected this month. Now it’s June. We’ll see if that ends up happening.
LET’S BREAK IT DOWN
There are expected to be 16 overall host cities: 10 in the U.S. and three each in Canada and Mexico. Canada and Mexico are expected to host 10 games each, while the U.S. is set to host the remaining 60 games, including everything from the quarterfinals onward. (Remember, the men’s World Cup is expanding from 32 to 48 teams for 2026.)
In the official bid book, North American organizers proposed the opening game be held in either Mexico City or Los Angeles; that the three host countries’ teams play their first games on the opening day of the tournament; that the semifinals would be in Dallas and Atlanta and the final in New York/New Jersey. But in the end, it will be FIFA’s call on all those things.
Mexico is easy: The host cities are going to be the big three of Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey.
Canada has been a bit more complicated. Montreal pulled out in July 2021 after the Quebec government announced it wouldn’t financially support the bid. Just recently, Vancouver (the hometown of CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani) came back into the picture after deciding not to bid before that. Toronto and Edmonton are also in the running. The most likely scenario is the trio of Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton, though one person I spoke to wondered if Edmonton might get scratched since it’s not as appealing a destination as the other two. Another person told me they couldn’t imagine Edmonton being cut, saying that would be “a slap to the Canadians.”
That brings us to the United States. Who’s not even bidding? Chicago, the home of U.S. Soccer, which hosted the opening game of World Cup 1994 but decided it didn’t want to cover the expenses and corporate welfare giveaways that FIFA demands of host cities.
FIFA could decide to go with 11 U.S. host cities, but the most likely scenario is 10. Here are the 16 candidates: Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore/Washington D.C., Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle.
So six U.S. bid cities aren’t going to get World Cup games. From my calls this week, a consensus emerged that these cities likely won’t get games:
Cincinnati. Not a great facility with Paul Brown Stadium. Bid hasn’t had much traction.
Denver. Underwhelming host committee. I thought Denver would be a lock since it’s the only city bidding from the Mountain time zone, but I’m told that’s not a major factor after all.
Nashville. The Music City was at one point thought of as a near-lock, but the decision to pursue building a new NFL stadium that wouldn’t open until the 2026 season threw a major wrench into things. One person I spoke to said they wouldn’t be surprised to see Nashville be awarded the World Cup draw.
Orlando. The feeling is that just one Florida city will get games, and while I’m told Miami’s presentation was surprisingly unconvincing, it’s still Miami, and it’s likely to get the nod over Orlando.
Which cities are a lock? From my conversations, it’s fair to say the four U.S. cities mentioned in the original bid book to host the opener, the two semifinals and the final are in. That means:
Los Angeles. The main question at this point is whether FIFA will choose to use two LA stadiums: SoFi Stadium and the Rose Bowl. SoFi would require significant efforts to widen the current field and make it appropriate for the World Cup. (Why on earth would you build a multi-billion-dollar new NFL stadium these days and not make it wide enough for the World Cup?)
New York/New Jersey. MetLife Stadium is a lock. It’s the New York City area.
Atlanta. Maybe not as dead-solid a lock as LA or NY/NJ, but it’s almost certainly going to happen. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a futuristic stadium like SoFI, would have grass installed, as would any other artificial turf stadium for the World Cup.
Dallas. Jerry World has been close to a lock from the start.
Speaking of Texas, the people I spoke to think the state will get two host cities, both Dallas and Houston, home of another 21st Century NFL stadium that has hosted major soccer games in the past.
I was also told that in general terms you need to think in terms of where people from FIFA’s member associations will want to go. The San Francisco Bay Area is high on that list, so you should consider Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., a likely choice.
So is Miami. See above. It’s interesting to hear how poorly received Miami’s presentation was, but I’m told it’s still likely to happen.
So now we’re at seven of the 10 host cities. The biggest question at this point is how much sway do two long-time NFL owners who helped start MLS have on the process? We’re talking about Bob Kraft (Boston) and the Hunt family (Kansas City). Kraft was the honorary chair of the World Cup bid itself, and a few months ago he was spotted talking with FIFA president Gianni Infantino at an NFL game. I’m also hearing that Dan Flynn is pushing for the Hunt family and Kansas City based on the Hunts’ history with soccer.
But it’s a tough call. Based on what I’ve written so far, three of these five cities would be chosen:
Baltimore/Washington D.C. (now a joint bid)
Which is the most likely? I’ve been hearing different things from different people, but Seattle seems likely. It’s a huge soccer city, and it has a terrific downtown stadium. Some people are wondering if the reentry of nearby Vancouver hurts Seattle, but nobody I talked to thought it would eliminate the Emerald City.
Philadelphia, too, has generated some good buzz due to a well-organized bid that is also already well-funded. They came into the process stating they had already raised significant funding and weren’t just promising to do so, like most of the other cities.
At that point, choosing between Baltimore/Washington D.C. (with games being played in Baltimore), Boston and Kansas City could be a crapshoot, I’m told. If I absolutely have to lean toward one, it would be Kansas City, where the stadium isn’t as far from downtown as in Boston/Foxboro or the distance from Washington D.C. to Baltimore.
So here’s what I’ve landed on (for now):
Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle.
You can share your thoughts in the comments below!
OPENING THE MAILBAG
Why is the USMNT playing a June friendly against Morocco in Cincinnati? I went there for the Mexico game and enjoyed it, but this is just a friendly so shouldn’t it be played in an area of the country that hasn’t had a chance to watch the team lately?
I get exactly what you’re saying. What I’m told by U.S. Soccer is that they heavily prioritized the training facilities in Cincinnati, where they will be spending their largest chunk of time together before the start of the World Cup. But you’re right: There have been a LOT of U.S. games in the state of Ohio over the past year.
There are no hotels available in Doha for the World Cup. Deserves a story tbh re: how fans with tickets are stuck in limbo and cannot make any travel plans. (Also - can I stay with you?)
Ha! I just finalized my housing plans for the World Cup, where I’ll be staying in a villa with my journalist friends Guillem Balague and Raphael Honigstein (and probably one other person). Stick with me on the article front. I’m likely to write something about World Cup logistics before long here. I was in Doha a month ago, and one of the big takeaways for me was that it felt really small to be hosting an entire 32-team World Cup with fans, media and everyone else who comes along. Doha is like a slightly larger version of Hartford, Conn. From my understanding right now, hotels may not be available on those hotel websites, but FIFA has cornered those blocks and will be making them available to ticket holders at some point. Still, from visiting there, I have a hard time thinking there will be enough hotel rooms for everyone in Qatar.
What would be your starting XI for the USWNT for qualifying this summer?
It’s a tough one to call, considering several players are out injured or pregnant right now. But here’s mine:
I'd be interested in your thoughts on the U.S. Open Cup as it moves to the Round of 32. How do you see it as a competition in the U.S.? It hasn't happened in a couple of years. Has that lessened its role on the U.S. soccer scene, whether for fans, journalists or teams?
I actually think the Open Cup is getting a bit more buzz this year than in the past, which is a great thing (though I realize it’s anecdotal). The games are available to watch on ESPN+, which has a dynamite user interface that allows you to watch four games at once on your screen. However, I still wish ESPN would do a whip-around show on Open Cup matchnights. I’ll be curious to see if Turner offers something like that when it takes over the U.S. Soccer rights next year. I hope they do. There’s still a lot of big growth potential in the U.S. Open Cup.
How do you see the EPL and the new Chelsea owners dealing with the outstanding loan to Abramovich? I know he doesn’t want it back, but that would be an outrageous financial gain for a club that’s otherwise troubled by his ownership.
I think they’re going to go along with it. What other options do you have? Forcing the new Chelsea owners to pay back part of a giant loan that Abramovich says he’s willing to forgive?
With Dortmund getting Süle, potentially Schlotterbeck and maybe Adeyemi, are they finally going to challenge Bayern for a title? Or is Leipzig going to solidify their place as the 2nd-best team in Germany?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think Dortmund is that close to really challenging Bayern Munich for the title, so I would be very surprised if they did that next season, new additions notwithstanding. Leipzig is an interesting one. Domenico Tedesco has righted the ship there, and if I had to pick one of Leipzig or Dortmund to challenge Bayern next season, it would be Leipzig.
Would like your thoughts on whether MLS Next Pro really needs to exist given USL. Wish MLS Next Pro guys had been asked to justify how it’s better than USL or what the plan is to coexist/compete.
Yeah, I probably should have asked them directly about that, so my mistake. But the MLS Next Pro guys have said publicly already that they don’t plan to target independent USL teams to poach them for their league. So we’ll see if they continue to honor that. They’re well aware that the history of lower leagues debilitating each other in the U.S. is a long one, and MLS still has a pretty good relationship overall with the USL. It’s clear that the MLS owners decided it was important for them to control their own league at this level and reap the benefits that come with that. I’m not even sure they need to justify that it’s somehow better than the USL, though. Remember, MLS Next Pro is Division Three, while the USL Championship is Division Two and USL League One is Division Three.
Has soccer/football always been at a precipice of disaster? It seems like the coverage these days is doom and gloom all the time, and perhaps rightly so: Qatar, Abu Dhabi/Saudi/Russian ownership in EPL, American owners trying to change the game, the Champions League reformatting for no good reason, the rich getting richer, the Welsh league struggling with Brexit, Man City getting Haaland, etc.Is the coverage (of which you are a brilliant part) getting further away from "the beautiful game" we all love, or was soccer/football always in crisis, and the coverage is more amplified now? Or are we smart enough, as Americans, to understand all of the rotating aspects of the global game in ways we were immune to before? Your thoughts?
Good question. I think there’s a wide variety of things happening around the soccer world right now, some good, some bad, and more of it gets covered globally than ever before. I try to have a balanced tone in my coverage so it doesn’t skew too much. For example, the men’s UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, the Barcelona women’s team, the U.S. Open Cup and Seattle’s run to the CCL final are all feel-good stories that are happening as we speak. But yes, there are a lot of stories that you mentioned that raise huge concerns about where the sport is right now. It’s all part of it.
Have a good weekend!
Grant: In the pod you all rant a bit about NFL stadiums not being wide enough for WC26. When I voted to approve the demolition of the otherwise totally fine Kingdome, and then build on that spot what is now Lumen Field, my vote exclusively relied on the commitment made by the Seahawks group to build a stadium that could host a World Cup game. And indeed at the time it appeared that the reason the ballot measure was (very narrowly) approved was a function of soccer votes like mine. To wit: It was a material factor in why King County voters approved that stadium.
I will find it personally devastating should Seattle not be selected. (And, BTW, I am super angry Vancouver has been allowed to reenter at this late stage - that is bush league and I am really worried that will screw up Seattle's bid. I am boycotting Maple Syrup!)
Thank you Grant! As a Bay Area person I am excited that the Santa Clara stadium might actually happen. The Bay Area has a pretty great history hosting soccer and Levi's Stadium is probably an upgrade from those matches at old Stanford Stadium...
Also, as someone with friends in Edmonton, I think Edmonton's a pretty good destination--especially when it's not the middle of winter!