The 2026 World Cup is coming to North America. Specifically, to the United States, Canada and Mexico. And the natural follow-up question is: Where exactly in the United States, Canada and Mexico will games be played.
For the U.S.’s neighbors, the decision has already been made. Canada will spread its 10 games around to Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton. Mexico will put its 10 in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey.
But as for the 60 games stateside? They’re still up in the air. The United Bid submitted a list of 17 potential U.S. host cities to FIFA. That list will have to be cut down to 10 over the next three years.
“We’re blessed with world-class facilities,” U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said on a conference call with reporters after winning the bid. “Some iconic, some brand new, cutting-edge, and everything in between. … This is not a decision I’m looking forward to, because it’s going to be very, very hard.”
So how will the bid committee and FIFA go about doing making those decisions?
Here’s what former bid chairman Sunil Gulati, the chief architect of the project, told Yahoo Sports earlier this month:
Gulati insisted on submitting more candidate cities to FIFA than was customary or preferred by the governing body. Because that way he could barter for grassroots soccer investment.
“We want to be able to talk to cities and say, ‘Hey, you don’t have to build any [stadiums or hotels] here, but let’s have an after-school program,’” Gulati says.
If the bid is successful, the cities hoping to host will compete by demonstrating their commitment to soccer at every level. How many season tickets does its NWSL team sell? How many fields have been built in the inner-cities lately? Is soccer part of the public school curriculum? That sort of thing.
“It’s building a soccer infrastructure,” Gulati says. “Not a building infrastructure.”
All of which is to say that the eventual selection of U.S. host cities will depend on some factors that are impossible to predict. It will depend on decisions by mayors and city councils, not merely a city’s size, location, soccer culture, etc.
And in general, a lot can change in eight years. Could cities such as Chicago that pulled themselves out of the running jump back in? Could Vancouver replace Edmonton north of the border? Could the North American organizing committee ultimately choose 12 cities instead of 10? Perhaps.
Which means the following tiered ranking of the 17 cities, from most to least likely to host games in 2026, is somewhat speculative. But based on the North American bid book, other documents, and common sense, we can make fairly educated guesses:
Tier 1: The locks
1. New York | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. — It’s the proposed site of the World Cup final. It’s adjacent to the country’s biggest city. It could serve as FIFA’s headquarters for the tournament. It’s a certainty.
2. Los Angeles | Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif. — The United Bid has tabbed the Rose Bowl as the likely stage for the USMNT’s opening match. It’s the one American stadium with genuine soccer history, and it’s a short drive from the west coast’s biggest city. Both the stadium and Los Angeles will play a starring role in 2026. Unless …
In fine print in the bid book, the United Bid mentions the “new 70,000 (expandable up to 100,000) seat stadium under construction in Inglewood.” So there’s still a chance that stadium – which will be home to the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams – replaces the Rose Bowl. But either way, Los Angeles is getting games.
3. Atlanta | Mercedes-Benz Stadium — Atlanta has exploded onto the soccer scene. The stadium is resplendent. It’s a preferred semifinal site, one of two International Broadcast Center candidates, and was one of two American cities – the other being New York – visited by FIFA’s bid inspection team in April.
4. Dallas | AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Tex. — Jerry World is gargantuan and luxurious and excessive. It screams FIFA. It’s a proposed semifinal site, and also a candidate for the IBC or FIFA HQ.
Tier 2: The favorites
5. Washington D.C. | FedEx Field, Landover, Md. — The nation’s capital will surely play a part … right? FedEx Field’s location is less than ideal – OK, a lot less than ideal – but it’s nonetheless listed as one of four potential semifinal hosts. It would seemingly be second behind New York in the northeast pecking order.
6. San Francisco Bay Area | Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. — Levi’s has hosted several major soccer matches – competitive and non-competitive – and is surely the second west coast pick. San Francisco, along with Los Angeles, is one of two proposed locations for the World Cup draw. Levi’s itself is imperfect, but the Bay Area should be involved.
7. Boston | Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. — Gillette isn’t a great soccer venue, and the city/region haven’t taken to MLS (though that’s more on the franchise, less on the fans). But if the bid committee selected Boston ahead of Philadelphia as a potential semifinal site – presumably the fourth of four choices, but nonetheless … – it’s clearly a favorite.
8. Philadelphia | Lincoln Financial Field — The 2026 World Cup will mark the country’s 250th birthday. If there’s a quarterfinal on July 4, how could it not be in Philadelphia?
Tier 3: The contenders
9. Miami | Hard Rock Stadium — Miami has become an increasingly attractive soccer destination, especially with MLS arriving (somewhat) soon. Hard Rock Stadium seems like an ideal venue. The Latino community is flourishing. It’s a travel hub for anybody coming to and from South America, Central America or the Caribbean. There may only be room for one Florida site, but Miami is the favorite to be that one.
10. Seattle | CenturyLink Field — Seattle might be the most soccer-mad city in the United States – or at least MLS-mad. That’s its main pitch. Whether it gets games will likely depend on how organizers consider its location. Does its status as the only Pacific Northwest candidate – Portland was never considered, Vancouver withdrew – make it a necessary inclusion? Or problematic for travel purposes?
11. Houston | NRG Stadium — The pros: Easy travel to and from the Mexican sites; a grand stadium that has successfully hosted soccer in the recent past; a massive city; diversity. The cons: Would organizers really put two of the 10 sites in Texas? And if not, there’s almost no chance Houston beats out Dallas.
12. Orlando | Camping World Stadium — Miami is presumably the favorite among the two Florida cities, and it seems unlikely organizers would select both. But that could definitely change.
13. Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium — KC has a tight-knit, passionate MLS community. But does it have the international flavor and the grandiosity to host World Cup games? With Chicago and Minneapolis out, though, it’s probably the top Midwest candidate.
14. Denver | Mile High Stadium — Denver has the size and the sports infrastructure. It doesn’t have the soccer culture. The determining factor, again, will likely be how organizers view its location: As too detached from other sites, or as a connector between other major tournament hubs?
15. Nashville | Nissan Stadium — MLS is coming. The stadium is adequate. And Nashville’s location is convenient. But with Atlanta a certainty, is it redundant from a location perspective? Much of Nashville’s bid could depend on how the city takes to soccer over the coming years.
16. Cincinnati | Paul Brown Stadium — Chicago’s withdrawal from contention helps Cincinnati’s case. So would rousing MLS success once FC Cincinnati joins the league as an expansion team in 2019. But Cincy, as a city, just doesn’t measure up to many of the other candidates.
17. Baltimore | M&T Bank Stadium — With New York, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia among favorites and all in the northeast, Baltimore would appear to have the longest odds.
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More coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• U.S., Canada, Mexico win right to co-host 2026 World Cup
• All you need to know about a World Cup in North America
• Schaerlaeckens: Successful bid marks start of U.S. Soccer 3.0
• 2018 World Cup preview hub