On Thursday, FIFA began unveiling its plans for a men’s three-nation World Cup in 2026 by announcing host cities for the biggest football championship ever. The tournament, which will be hosted jointly by the United States, Mexico and Canada, will be the first to have 48 teams, an increase from the current 32, and will take place in cities across North America.
“This part of the world does not realize what will happen here in 2026,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said at a press conference in Manhattan following the televised announcement.
The choices, 16 cities selected from a list of 22 finalists, were revealed in three regional clusters, blocks representing the East, Center and West regions.
Winners included legendary football venues such as Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, which hosted two World Cup finals. They included metropolitan areas with previous World Cup hosting experience such as Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, and Guadalajara, Mexico. They included newcomers like Toronto, Philadelphia, Miami, and Seattle. They included smaller cities like Kansas City, Mo.
The final groupings:
EAST: Toronto (BMO field); Boston (Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts); Philadelphia (Lincoln Finance Field); Miami (Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida); and New York / New Jersey (MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ).
CENTRAL: Kansas City, Mo. (Arrowhead Stadium); Dallas (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas); Atlanta (Mercedes Benz stadium); Houston (NRG stadium); Monterrey, Mexico (BBVA stadium, Guadalupe); Mexico City (Estadio Azteca).
WEST: Vancouver (BC place); Seattle (bright field); San Francisco (Levi Stadium, Santa Clara, California); Los Angeles (SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, California); and Guadalajara, Mexico (Estadio Akron, Zapopan).
The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. – which hosted the final in 1994, the only other time the World Cup has been held in the United States – has been ruled out. But so was a combined offering representing Baltimore and Washington, DC, meaning the U.S. capital won’t play a role in the nation’s largest sporting event in 2026.
“This was a very difficult choice,” said Colin Smith, FIFA chief tournaments and events officer. “You can’t imagine a World Cup coming to the United States and the capital doesn’t play an important role.” (Infantino said a fan party will be held at the National Mall in Washington.)
Most of the 80 World Cup matches will be played in the United States, following an agreement made by the associations of the three host countries when applying to host the tournament in 2017 and confirmed by FIFA’s choices. Of the 16 cities chosen, 11 were in the United States, three in Mexico and two – Vancouver and Toronto – in Canada. Mexico will become the first country to host the World Cup three times, while Canada will do so for the first time.
Infantino said some of the latest decisions on host cities weren’t made until Thursday. But there are still many choices to be made, such as organizing the match schedule, assigning the cities that will host the most important matches and figuring out how to reduce travel and avoid the worst of the summer heat in cities where the stadium is without a roof.
“In a region as large as North America, we need to be particularly concerned with this, to make sure teams play in groups that fans don’t have to travel insane distances and teams too,” said Infantino. If we look at this, we have to take into account the weather conditions, the stadiums, who has a roof and who is closed and maybe can play earlier in the afternoon and those where you have to play in the evening “.
Victor Montagliani, president of Concacaf, the governing body of football in North and Central America and the Caribbean, said the process of deciding which city will host the World Cup final – and also major matches such as the debut or those in the knockout stage – has not started yet. He said that the capacity of the stage for the final will be the main factor for many.
When asked about specific sites, such as Mexico City or the New York region, as the host for the final, Infantino was shy. He joked: “New York is definitely a candidate, as are the other 15 cities.”
As many of the selected stadiums were built for NFL teams, they have great capabilities. But in order to accommodate a larger football pitch in a smaller space designed for football, Smith said some seats will need to be removed in some stadiums “grip points”. But he insisted it “has no material impact on capacity”.
He later added: “The ’94 World Cup holds the current attendance record and will be swept away given the capabilities we have in these stadiums.”