By RONALD BLUM AP Sports Writer
AT&T Stadium in Arlington, home of the Dallas Cowboys (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)
NEW YORK (AP) — 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, soccer — or futbol — will be the No. 1 sport in this part of the world,” 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 among the cities picked after missing out on hosting the 1994 tournament.
Baltimore, Cincinnati, Denver, Nashville, Tennessee, and Orlando, Florida, missed the cut.
Eleven U.S. stadiums were taken, all from the NFL. Arlington, Texas; East Rutherford, New Jersey; Foxborough, Massachusetts, and Inglewood and Santa Clara, California, were holdover areas from the 1994 tournament that boosted soccer’s American prominence.
Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, which hosted the 1970 and ’86 finals, will become the first stadium in three World Cups, selected along with Guadalajara’s Estadio Akron and Monterrey’s Estadio BBVA.
Toronto’s BMO Field and Vancouver, British Columbia’s BC Place were picked for Canada’s first time hosting, while Edmonton, Alberta’s Commonwealth Stadium was dropped.
Following the withdrawl of outmoded FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, Baltimore’s omission means this will be a rare World Cup with no matches in the vicinity of a host’s capital.
“You can’t imagine a World Cup coming to the U.S., the capital city not taking a major role,” said Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief competitions and events officer.
Infantino promised a fan fest on Washington’s National Mall, and locations across the three nations are in play for training sites.
“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 on U.S. English- and Spanish-language TV.
“You are leading the world in many areas,” Infantino said about North America, “the objective must be that you will be leading the world, as well, in the world’s No. 1 sport.”
“I know it was giggles and laughs,” North and Central American and Caribbean Confederation President Victor Montagliani said. “He wasn’t joking.”
Infantino defended FIFA’s financial demands on bidding cities and states, which included sales tax exemptions. He said World Cup revenue supports FIFA’s 211 members and 75% could not sustain operations without the money.
“This is something which is definitely a fair compromise, taking into the account the interest of sport and the interests of the host countries,” he said.
The 1994 tournament set records with a 3.59 million total attendance and average of 68,991. The capacities of the U.S. stadiums for 2026 are all 60,000 and higher.
“I think this part of the world doesn’t realize what will happen here in 2026,” Infantino said. “These three countries will be upside down. The world will be invading Canada, Mexico and the United States.”
The bid plan selected in 2018 envisioned 60 games in the U.S. for the first 48-nation Cup, 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 world-wide television times will be a factor for the final, which makes the Eastern and Central times 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 in 1994. 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 negotiations with stadiums and cities that continued until right before the announcement.
New stadiums were selected in five areas used in 1994. AT&T Stadium in Texas instead of Dallas’ Cotton Bowl, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood for the Rose Bowl and Levi’s Stadium for Stanford Stadium.
Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, replaced torn-down sites that were adjacent, Giants Stadium and Foxboro Stadium.
Three U.S. venues have retractable roofs and SoFi has a fixed roof. All of the U.S. stadiums but Miami and Kansas City opened in 2002 or later.
Venues have a broader array of pricey seats than in 1994 — the bid book listed a total of 3,757 luxury suites and 76,317 club seats, even before the opening of SoFi, which hosted this year’s Super Bowl.
Eight of the 11 U.S. stadiums have artificial turf and promised to install temporary grass. Dietmar Exler, chief operating officer of AMB Sports & Entertainment, whose NFL Falcons and Major League Soccer team play at Mercedes-Benz, said growing lamps will be used.
“We will study very carefully with FIFA how we can handle and make sure we have the best natural turf available,” he said. “That’s one of the high priority areas for us to focus on.”
Some venues, notably SoFi, cannot currently fit a 68-x-105 meter (75x-115 yard) field and would need renovations to remove seats near sidelines. FIFA made similar demands ahead of 1994 but backed off and allowed some narrower surfaces.
“We have to move out some of the pinch points,” Smith said. “It doesn’t have any material aspect on capacity.”
The Detroit area, where the old Pontiac Silverdome hosted games, was cut in 2018 and Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium was the capital area’s contender after FedEx dropped out in April. Washington’s RFK Stadium was used in 1994.
Chicago, which hosted the 1994 opener at Solider Field, refused to bid, citing FIFA’s demands.
In contrast to the 1992 site announcement during a news conference, the 2026 announcement was made during a show broadcast from Fox’s studio in Manhattan.
“It’s grown so much in my lifetime,” U.S. star Christian Pulisic said, “and I’m hoping that it can even take that next step.”
The 16 venues picked to host World Cup matches in 2026
A look at the 16 venues hosting soccer matches at the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada:
AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, is the largest venue in the NFL. The stadium, which opened in 2009, has a retractable roof and an artificial surface. Its capacity is about 93,000, but the stadium set an attendance record of more than 105,000 for an NFL game the year it opened. It also hosted the 2010 NBA All-Star Game. The nearby city of Dallas hosted games at the 1994 World Cup at the Cotton Bowl.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is one of three NFL-MLS venues. The Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United both play home matches at the stadium, which opened in 2017 and seats about 75,000. The stadium has a retractable roof and an artificial surface. It was set to host college basketball’s Final Four in 2020, which was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY
Just across the Hudson River from New York, MetLife Stadium opened in 2010 as a replacement for Giants Stadium. Both the New York Jets and New York Giants play NFL games at the venue, which has a seating capacity of about 87,000 and has an artificial surface. The previous stadium hosted several matches at the 1994 World Cup and the 1999 Women’s World Cup.
The Boston suburb of Foxborough hosted games at the 1994 World Cup, but Gillette Stadium is a different venue, built near the old Foxboro Stadium. The new venue opened in 2002 and has a seating capacity of about 70,000. The stadium, which has an artificial surface, hosts home games in football for the New England Patriots and in soccer for the New England Revolution. The town is about 30 miles south of Boston and 21 miles north of Providence, Rhode Island.
Used mostly for soccer, the Estadio Akron opened in 2010 and hosted the Copa Libertadores finals that year and the opening ceremony of the Pan American Games in 2011. Mexican soccer club Chivas plays its home matches at the venue, which has a capacity of about 48,000 and a grass surface. The city hosted matches at both the 1970 and 1986 World Cups, but at a different stadium.
NRG Stadium hosts football, soccer and even some rodeo. The stadium, which opened in 2002, is the home of the Houston Texans and has staged World Cup qualifying matches for the United States. But it also serves as a home venue for some Mexican national team friendlies. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo also is held annually at the stadium, which has a seating capacity of about 72,000 and an artificial surface. Its retractable roof and air conditioning will be important given the area’s summer heat and humidity.
Built on the site of the Hollywood Park RaceTrack and opened in 2020, the stadium hosts both the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers of the NFL. It has a seating capacity of about 70,000, an artificial surface and a fixed roof. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena hosted games in 1994, including Brazil’s victory over Italy in the final.
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI
Arrowhead Stadium is the home of the Kansas City Chiefs. The stadium opened in 1972 and has been renovated several times, last in 2010. The seating capacity is about 76,000, making it the sixth-largest NFL stadium. The stadium is famous for its noise records, with opposing teams sometimes struggling to communicate because of the racket. It has a grass surface.
Estadio Azteca became the first stadium to host two World Cup finals when Argentina beat West Germany 3-2 in the 1986 title match. It previously hosted the final for the 1970 tournament, when Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 — with Pelé scoring the first goal. Perhaps even more famous was the 1986 quarterfinal match at the stadium between Argentina and England, when Diego Maradona scored a goal by punching the ball into the net. The stadium opened in 1966 and has a capacity of about 87,000 with a grass surface. The venue’s record attendance for soccer, however, is said to be 119,853.
MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA
Located in suburban Miami, Hard Rock Stadium hosts both NFL and college football games. The Miami Dolphins and the University of Miami both play at the venue, which has a seating capacity of about 67,000, a grass surface and a roof that covers spectators but is open over the field. The stadium opened in 1987 and also hosts tennis tournaments.
One of the newer stadiums in contention, Estadio BBVA opened in 2015 and has a grass surface. Mexican club Monterrey plays it home matches at the stadium. Seating capacity is about 53,000. Three matches at the 1986 World Cup were held in Monterrey, but at Estadio Tecnológico.
Lincoln Financial Field opened in 2003, and its first event was a soccer match between Manchester United and Barcelona. The stadium serves as the home venue for the Philadelphia Eagles and Temple University. The 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup final was played at the stadium, with Mexico beating Jamaica 3-1. The stadium seats nearly 70,000 spectators and has an artificial surface.
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA
Located about 40 miles south of San Francisco, Levi’s Stadium opened in 2014 and has hosted several major football games since, including the Super Bowl in 2016. It serves as the home stadium of the San Francisco 49ers. The stadium has a capacity of about 71,000 and a grass surface. Stanford Stadium, not far away, staged matches in 1994.
Lumen Field is the home stadium of two professional soccer teams and the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL. The stadium, which opened in 2002 and has a capacity of about 69,000, hosts the Seattle Sounders of MLS and the OL Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League. The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network records shaking in the stadium caused by the crowd. The stadium has an artificial surface.
BMO Field is the home of the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL and Toronto FC of MLS. Originally constructed as a soccer venue, it has hosted several international events since opening in 2007, including under-20 World Cup games for both men and women and rugby matches. In 2010, it became the first venue outside the United States to host the MLS Cup. The stadium also hosted matches for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. It has a capacity of about 28,000 and a hybrid surface, and the bid envisions an expansion to about 45,000.
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Opened in 1983, BC Place has served as the home of the BC Lions of the CFL since its inauguration. The stadium also hosts home games for the Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS. The stadium has a capacity of about 54,000 and was last renovated in 2011. It has an artificial surface.