Whenever FIFA is involved, there are no certainties. None.
The infamous farce that was the 2010 vote, which awarded World Cups to Russia and Qatar, taught us so. The past seven years of shady politicking, criminal charges and resignations have done nothing to alter perceptions. So when the FIFA Congress convenes next June to select a host for its 2026 main event, anything could happen. Prepare thyself.
But if those in power have any sense to them – and if they do not have bags of money shoved down their expectant throats – the United States, Canada and Mexico will band together to host the grandest tournament in the history of soccer. It will incorporate 48 teams, will draw crowds the likes of which FIFA has never seen, and revenues the likes of which the Fédération Internationale de Football Association dreams of every night.
The joint bid has a single competitor, Morocco, but the dream already feels real. FIFA’s representation structure prevents the June vote from being nothing more than a formality, but giddy North American confidence is warranted. The World Cup is coming to our shores – probably.
And that is why excitement built earlier this week when the United Bid Committee announced a list of 44 cities and 49 stadiums across the three countries that “will be considered for inclusion” in the official bid submitted to FIFA early next year. The mere size of the list speaks to the quality of the bid.
It also, however, presents difficult decisions to the UBC, which “plans to include 20-25 venues in its final bid to FIFA.” At least 12 cities, and probably many more, would ultimately stage games. With the tournament expanding to 48 teams for the first time in 2026, and with 80 games crammed into the same month-long time frame as previous editions, the list of hosts sites will be extensive. But likely less than half of the 49 candidates will make the cut. So which will be included? Which will be left out?
That’s what we set out to determine. No final decisions have been made yet, of course, but a long list of factors — location, city size, stadium size, stadium soccer adaptability, prior hosting responsibilities, soccer culture, and so on — can be used to assess every site on the list. So we decided to rank those sites, from 1 to 49, and place them into eight tiers based on the likelihood each would be selected as a World Cup host, should the United Bid be successful.
The rankings also consider:
- The proposed format: Sixty of the 80 games would take place in the United States; Mexico and Canada would get 10 each. The list, therefore, includes 37 potential American sites for 60 games; nine potential Canadian sites for 10 games; and three potential Mexican sites for 10 games. Canada has said it hopes to ultimately select four of its nine; Mexico will presumably select two or three; the U.S. could presumably use anywhere from eight to 20.
- FIFA regulations stipulate that stadiums must seat at least 40,000 to host any match, 60,000 to host a semifinal, and 80,000 to host the opener or the final.
- Even though the vote is less than a year away, the actual tournament is almost nine years away. A lot can change in nine years. A lot will change in nine years. Projecting ahead was part of our process, and it is part of the process the bid committee, not to mention the FIFA Congress, will use to make decisions as well.
Without further ado, let’s get to the rankings:
TIER 1: THE UNTOUCHABLE, 100 PERCENT NO-DOUBTER
1. Mexico City | Estadio Azteca — Mexico could select all three of its proposed stadiums; it could select two; it could select one. None of that matters; Azteca will get a sizable chunk of the pie. The Mexican national team hasn’t played a meaningful match on home soil outside of Azteca in almost a decade. It’s the country’s most famous stadium, its biggest and its most intimidating. It’s in the capital. Barring a literal disaster, it will be chosen.
TIER 2: THE NEAR-CERTAINTIES
2. New York | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.) — It is very difficult to envision a World Cup without the nation’s biggest city involved. The games wouldn’t actually be in that city, of course, but MetLife has hosted the Copa America Centenario final and all kinds of notable friendlies. And its predecessor, Giants Stadium, hosted games in 1994. It’s a no-brainer choice.
3. Chicago | Soldier Field — Chicago is the home of U.S. Soccer headquarters, the nation’s third-largest city, and the host of the 2013 Gold Cup Final, a Centenario semi, and much, much more. Couple all that with its location, and you might even be able to argue it’s the soccer capital of the U.S. Plus, unlike other top options – *cough*newyorklosangelessanfranciscodallasboston*cough* – Soldier Field is actually in Chicago.
TIER 3: THE VERY GOOD BETS
4. Dallas | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Tex.) — Would you be surprised if FIFA took the planet’s biggest sporting event, the World Cup final, to Jerry’s World? We wouldn’t. The Cowboys’ colossus is the only stadium on the list that seats over 100,000, and it might be the most luxurious too. Interestingly, though, it hasn’t been the site of too much soccer recently. It held a 2017 Gold Cup semi, but missed out on Copa America Centenario, and hasn’t been a part of the ICC extravaganzas. That’s the only thing that raises questions.
5. Seattle | CenturyLink Field — Seattle possesses the most distinct and extensive soccer culture in the United States. CenturyLink is the rare football stadium that successfully doubles as an MLS stadium. It has hosted important USMNT World Cup qualifiers, Centenario matches and various friendlies. It’s not as modern or glamorous as other near-sure bets, but any rationale for excluding Seattle is flawed.
6. San Francisco | Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.) — Levi’s has its drawbacks – the turf, the location, the traffic — but none of them have prevented it from hosting the Centenario opener, the 2017 Gold Cup Final, and at least one high-profile ICC game each of the past three summers. Plus, the tech boom has made San Francisco one of the most attractive cities in the U.S. Something would have to go terribly wrong for it to miss out.
TIER 4: THE PROBABILITIES
7. Houston | NRG Stadium — NRG is almost too grand for a Gold Cup. But when the big names come calling – Manchester United and Manchester City this summer, a Centenario semi last summer – it has been called upon. There’s no obvious reason it wouldn’t be called upon again for the World Cup.
8. Philadelphia | Lincoln Financial Field — Philadelphia isn’t just a pretty good bet; it’d be a safe one for the bid committee. It (and its stadium) might not be as charming or extravagant as other options, but it’s the sixth-largest city in the country, and Lincoln Financial Field has proven its worth as a soccer venue. It’s one of only two stadiums to be a part of all three major tournaments held on U.S. soil since 2015.
9. Phoenix | University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.) — Phoenix is the other. And it’s the fifth-most populated city in the U.S. Oh, and since it opened in 2006, U of P Stadium has hosted three college football national title games, two Super Bowls and a Final Four. It has been a fixture for consideration for big events, and will be again for the World Cup.
10. Miami | Hard Rock Stadium — The 2016 stadium renovation (and rebranding) has seemingly made Miami a strong candidate. Hard Rock staged the first Clasico on U.S. soil last month, as well as a second 2017 ICC match between Juventus and PSG. And although you can count the number of competitive matches it has hosted over the years on one hand, Miami has long been a home for soccer the U.S. It was a site for nine consecutive Gold Cups from 1998 to 2013 — it’s just that the go-to ground used to be the Orange Bowl (University of Miami). But now Hard Rock is on top, and is firmly in the mix for World Cup hosting duties.
11. Atlanta | Mercedes-Benz Stadium — Mercedes-Benz Stadium was built with soccer in mind, and not just with MLS’s Atlanta United in mind. It could turn out to be an outstanding soccer theater for games big and small. It also seems likely that organizers will seek out one more southern city, at minimum, on top of at least one in Florida and potentially two in Texas. Especially given the MLS side’s immediate success, there is no reason Atlanta shouldn’t be that city.
12. Boston | Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.) — Gillette is terrible as an MLS stadium. But it has been awarded games and competitions ranging from Gold Cups to the Centenario to prominent USMNT friendlies to the ICC to the 1994 World Cup, and seemingly remains a strong contender for 2026.
13. Los Angeles | Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.) — You might have scrunched up your eyebrows when you noticed the Rose Bowl’s absence in the top three tiers. But it was absent because its situation is easily the most interesting of all 49. Los Angeles will undoubtedly host games if the North American bid wins the 2026 rights, but there are three L.A.-area stadiums on the list of possibilities. It would be blasphemous to hold a World Cup in the States without the Rose Bowl involved, but you can bet FIFA is salivating at the thought of the new Los Angeles Rams stadium at Hollywood Park, which will be able to expand to hold 100,000 for major sporting events. So could there be two L.A. stadiums involved? Or – *gasp* – could Pasadena be controversially excluded?
14. Los Angeles | L.A. Stadium (Hollywood Park) — In theory, it has it all. It has the location; it will have the modernness; it will have the size. It is already slated to host the 2021 Super Bowl. It won’t be completed until 2019, and must compete with the aura and history of the Rose Bowl, the one stadium in the U.S. with a genuinely rich soccer history. But man, it’s enticing. The more you think about it, the more it feels like the only option is to have two separate Los Angeles-area sites.
15. Washington, D.C. | FedEx Field (Landover, Md.) — FedEx’s location is less than ideal, but no World Cup has ever been put on without a capital city as a host. (Tokyo didn’t have games in 2002, but Seoul did; Brasilia didn’t have games in 1950, but it didn’t become the Brazilian capital until 1960.) That doesn’t automatically qualify D.C., but, coupled with the ICC matchups and heavily hyped USMNT friendlies it has received in recent years, its case is very compelling.
16. Vancouver | BC Place — BC Place was the site of the 2015 Women’s World Cup final. Its strong soccer record coupled with its size make it a very solid bet to top Canada’s list. At the very least, it should be second or third.
17. Montreal | Olympic Stadium — The Stade Olympique currently has no permanent tenants, and hasn’t since 2004. But Montreal has to get games — French Canada has to be represented — right? So, unless Stade Saputo promises to double in size between now and 2026, the nation’s largest stadium (and its second-largest city) will host.
18. Monterrey | Estadio BBVA Bancomer and 19. Guadalajara | Estadio Chivas — How magnanimous will the committee be in spreading games around Mexico? If it shares the love among three cities, Guadalajara and Monterrey are both in. If it sticks to two, there will be a choice to make, and the choice is far from clear-cut. Guadalajara is the bigger municipality, but Monterrey has the newer and bigger stadium. Both hosted friendlies against European foes this summer, but neither city has hosted a Mexican national team game over the past 10 years. Our guess: Both get two or three matches, and Azteca gets between four and six.
TIER 5: THE MAYBES
20. Denver | Sports Authority Field — Now is probably a good time to discuss the geographic elements of the committee’s decision. It could stage a very successful World Cup by only taking it to U.S. states that border either water or Mexico. But will it be comfortable ignoring large swaths of the country? For various reasons, including travel distances, probably not. And that makes Denver, the biggest market in the remaining states, attractive.
21. Nashville | Nissan Stadium — A similar argument could be made for Nashville. It’s a smaller market – barely top-30 in the U.S. – but it boasts an up-and-coming soccer culture and a stadium that housed both Gold Cup and ICC games this past summer. It also offers a middle ground between the coast, the South and the Midwest that might be geographically appealing.
22. Minneapolis | U.S. Bank Stadium — If the true Midwest is going to have a second World Cup home after Chicago, it might just be the Twin Cities. U.S. Bank Stadium, the new Minnesota Vikings home, is more than suitable for the occasion. And with Minnesota United joining MLS this past spring, there would already be a soccer presence in town.
23. Charlotte | Bank of America Stadium — Bank of America Stadium would provide wonderful entertainment, and Charlotte has been a popular ICC destination and hosted Gold Cup games in 2015. It’d be a possibility.
24. Orlando | Camping World Stadium (Citrus Bowl) — Orlando probably deserves games more than any other city in this tier. The main issues: Its stadium isn’t massive, and Miami is probably ahead of it in the pecking order. With two probabilities in Texas, already one in Florida (plus two in California, three in the Northeast, etc.), would organizers balk at a second Florida site?
25. Edmonton | Commonwealth Stadium — Like Mexico, Canada has 10 games to work with. Unlike Mexico, it has nine potential venues on its list. So it will surely choose at least three, and probably four. After Vancouver and Montreal, Toronto would be the logical third option; but if we think about it in terms of stadiums, after BC Place and the Olympic Stadium, Commonwealth Stadium might be third in line. It hosted the Women’s World Cup opener, a semifinal and the third-place match two summers ago, and is one of only three outdoor venues in Canada that currently holds over 40,000.
TIER 6: THE WILD CARDS
26. Toronto | BMO Field and 27. Toronto | Rogers Centre — Could Canada really co-host a World Cup and leave Toronto off its guest list? Probably not. Toronto missed out on the Women’s World Cup in 2015 because of a conflict with the Pan-American Games, but it’s the most populous city in Canada by a significant margin. The dilemma is the stadium. Rogers Centre and soccer just aren’t agreeable, and BMO is small. The latter could get to the required minimum of 40,000 if necessary, but “required minimum” doesn’t equal “optimal size.” One of these two will almost certainly get games; it’s just a question of which one.
28. Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium — Soccer support in KC is rabid – Sporting Kansas City has sold out 99 consecutive home games – and if the city could combine the favorable features of its American football and soccer grounds, it would be in Tier 4 on this list. But Children’s Mercy Park, home of SKC, seats less than 20,000, and the last time Arrowhead hosted a notable soccer match (Mexico-Paraguay in 2015), it was half-full; there were also multiple arrests. As is the case with Orlando, MLS’s success in KC warrants consideration, but the rest of the plan just doesn’t seem like it would fall into place.
29. Las Vegas | Las Vegas Stadium (Raiders) — This would be the most FIFA-y of FIFA moves. And it’s not totally unrealistic. The Raiders’ $2 billion monstrosity will be completed in 2020, it’ll have a roof, and it’s a wild card here. Don’t count it out.
30. Los Angeles | Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — There’s nothing wrong with the Coliseum … except that it seems unlikely there would be three L.A.-area sites.
TIER 7: THE IMPROBABILITIES
31. Cleveland | FirstEnergy Stadium — It hosted a USMNT 2017 Gold Cup game, but what exactly is the appeal?
32. San Antonio | Alamodome — The Alamodome had a U.S.-Mexico friendly a few years back. But three host cities in Texas? Probably not.
33. Jacksonville | EverBank Field — Almost certainly third (or fourth) on the Florida shortlist, despite hosting a couple of USMNT friendlies over the years.
34. Tampa | Raymond James Stadium — Almost certainly fourth (or third) on the Florida shortlist, despite its Gold Cup involvement.
35. Detroit | Ford Field — Is this harsh on Detroit, the host of the USMNT’s 1994 World Cup opener? Maybe. But if the 2026 edition is going to a second Midwestern city, as discussed above, Minneapolis is probably the best option, and Cleveland is likely second. That puts Detroit third…
36. Indianapolis | Lucas Oil Stadium — … and Indianapolis fourth …
37. Cincinnati | Paul Brown Stadium — … and Cincinnati fifth. It’s not even the best option in Ohio.
38. Baltimore | M&T Bank Stadium — Tough to see both D.C. and Baltimore getting games. Also tough to see Baltimore getting games ahead of D.C.
39. Pittsburgh | Heinz Field — Heinz hosted an ICC game back in 2014, and its riverfront location is awesome. But other than that …
40. Dallas | Cotton Bowl — Surely Dallas won’t get two sites, and surely AT&T will be picked ahead of the Cotton Bowl.
41. New Orleans | Mercedes-Benz Superdome — The U.S. women’s national team played here in 2015, but other than that, the past 30 years of Superdome history are pretty bereft of soccer.
42. Green Bay | Lambeau Field — A World Cup game at Lambeau would genuinely be cool. It would also be a huge risk. How many of those 81,000 seats would be filled for a group stage game between Cameroon and New Zealand?
43. San Diego | Qualcomm Stadium — We have absolutely no idea what Qualcomm Stadium, which no longer houses a professional team, will look like in 2026 – or if it will even exist.
44. Calgary | McMahon Stadium — The stadium would need to expand; it currently holds under 36,000.
45. Montreal | Stade Saputo — Ditto. It would need to add almost 20,000 seats.
46. Ottawa | TD Place Stadium — Ditto again. It would need to add around 16,000.
TIER 8: NO
47. Birmingham | Legion Field
48. Salt Lake City | Rice-Eccles Stadium
49. Regina | Mosaic Stadium
– – – – – – –
Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.
More soccer coverage from FC Yahoo:
• How Zidane’s Real Madrid broke both Barcelona and world soccer
• USMNT’s Brooks out three months with with right thigh injury
• Liverpool earns valuable away win in Champions League play-off