The 16 cities of the first World Cup spread across three nations were revealed, and FIFA President Gianni Infantino made a bold statement summing up the goal of the 2026 tournament, to be played largely in the United States.
“By 2026, futbol — soccer — will be the No. 1 sport in this country,” he proclaimed.
Roughly four years before soccer’s showcase comes to the U.S., Mexico and Canada, there already were winners and losers Thursday: Atlanta, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle and Kansas City, Missouri, were picked after missing out on hosting the 1994 tournament.
Baltimore, Cincinnati, Denver, Nashville, Tennessee, and Orlando, Florida, missed the cut.
Arlington, Texas; East Rutherford, New Jersey; Foxborough, Massachusetts, and Inglewood and Santa Clara, California, were the holdover areas from the 1994 tournament that boosted soccer’s American prominence.
Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, which hosted the 1970 and ’86 finals and will become the first stadium in three World Cups, was selected along with Guadalajara’s Estadio Akron and Monterrey’s Estadio BBVA.
Toronto’s BMO Field and Vancouver, British Columbia’s B.C. Place were picked while Edmonton, Alberta’s Commonwealth Stadium was dropped.
Following the withdrawal of the outmoded FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, Baltimore’s omission means this will be the first World Cup with no matches in the vicinity of a host’s capital, though Infantino promised a fan fest on Washington’s National Mall.
“The story is always who doesn’t get chosen,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone said.
Infantino’s goal of reaching the top of U.S. sports appears to be quite a reach. The NFL averaged 17.1 million viewers for television and digital during its 2021 season, while the 2018 World Cup averaged 5.04 million in U.S. English- and Spanish-language television.
“I know it was giggles and laughs,” Canada Soccer Association President Victor Montagliani said of the reaction to Infantino. “He wasn’t joking.”
The 1994 tournament set records with a 3.59 million total attendance and average of 68,991 a match. The capacities of the 11 U.S. stadiums for 2026 are all 60,000 and higher.
“Will be much, much, much bigger,” Infantino said. “I think this part of the world doesn’t realize what will happen here in 2026. These three countries will be upside down. The world will be invading Canada, Mexico and the United States.”
The bid plan envisioned 60 games in the U.S., including all from the quarterfinals on, and 10 each in Mexico and Canada.
Specific sites for each round will be announced later, and Infantino said worldwide television times were a factor for the final, which makes the Eastern and Central time zones more likely. FIFA has gradually moved back the kickoff time of the final from 3:30 p.m. EDT to 10 a.m. EDT for this year’s tournament, which is 10 p.m. in Beijing.
The U.S. selections included none of the nine stadiums used at the 1994 World Cup. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and Orlando’s Camping World Stadium were the only ones remaining in contention, and they were among the sites dropped in the final round.
New stadiums were selected in five areas used in 1994. AT&T Stadium in Texas replaced Dallas’ Cotton Bowl; SoFi Stadium in Inglewood took over for Pasadena’s Rose Bowl; and Levi’s Stadium instead of Stanford Stadium.
Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, replaced torn-down stadiums that were adjacent, Giants Stadium and Foxboro Stadium.
Orlando’s Camping World was dropped among existing 1994 venues. The Detroit area, where the old Pontiac Silverdome hosted games, was cut in 2018 and Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium was dropped after FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, dropped out. Washington’s RFK Stadium was used in 1994.
Chicago, which hosted the 1994 opener at Soldier Field, refused to bid, citing FIFA’s economic demands.
In contrast to the 1992 site announcement during a news conference, the 2026 announcement was made during a televised show from Fox’s studio in Manhattan.