FIFA snubs Washington D.C., selects 16 North American cities to host 2026 World Cup

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MetLife Stadium was one of the venues selected by FIFA to host 2026 World Cup matches. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
MetLife Stadium was one of the venues selected by FIFA to host 2026 World Cup matches. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

NEW YORK — Kansas City and Boston are among the North American cities that will stage 2026 men’s World Cup matches — but Washington D.C. and Baltimore are not.

FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, revealed the tournament’s hosts on Thursday here in Manhattan. It selected three Mexican cities, two Canadian ones, and 11 in the United States — New York/East Rutherford, N.J.; Philadelphia; Boston/Foxborough; Miami; Atlanta; Houston; Dallas/Arlington; Kansas City; Los Angeles/Inglewood; San Francisco/Santa Clara; and Seattle.

It did not, however, select the U.S. capital, and one of the country's most robust soccer markets. "This was a very, very difficult choice," Colin Smith, FIFA's chief competitions and events officer, said. He acknowledged that "it's hard to imagine ... a World Cup coming to the U.S. and the capital city not taking a major role."

Washington D.C. merged its bid with Baltimore's earlier this spring to counter FIFA's concerns about FedEx Field, the oft-ridiculed home of the Washington Commanders. FIFA officials confirmed widespread negative perceptions of the stadium when they toured it last fall, sources told Yahoo Sports. In response, organizers pitched a plan to play games at M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens, while hosting festivities and VIP events in Washington.

But FIFA ultimately snubbed the joint bid, and instead chose Boston and Kansas City, two other bubble cities. FIFA officials said they made their final decisions Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Boston's candidacy was boosted by Robert Kraft, who was the honorary chair of the North American bid committee, and who has a personal relationship with FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

A FIFA spokesman also confirmed to Yahoo Sports that the Los Angeles games will be held at SoFi Stadium, not the Rose Bowl. (Organizers had considered staging games at both.)

The U.S., Canada and Mexico won the right to host the 2026 edition of the world’s most-watched sporting event back in 2018, and offered two dozen metropolitan areas as potential venues for matches. They originally proposed that there’d be 10 in the U.S., and three each in Mexico and Canada.

Instead, on Thursday, they chose 11 U.S. cities and just two north of the border. They confirmed all three Mexican candidates — Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey — but only Toronto and Vancouver in Canada. With Montreal withdrawing its bid last summer, citing hefty costs, but Vancouver then reemerging as a candidate this spring, FIFA officials turned away from Edmonton.

The four other finalists not chosen were Orlando, Cincinnati, Nashville and Denver. Nashville's hopes were torpedoed by uncertainty around the future of its NFL stadium. But those four, like the 16 match sites and other non-finalists, could still host team base camps and pre-tournament friendlies. Most participating national teams will train at colleges and MLS facilities across the U.S.

There'll also be “Fan Fests” — FIFA-sponsored outdoor watch parties — in non-host cities. Washington D.C. had envisioned one on the National Mall. When asked whether that would still happen, Smith began to give a non-committal answer, but Infantino cut him off with a smile and one word: "Yes."

U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said that her goal is "to make sure that this World Cup touches all 50 states," and "every level of this sport."

With the men's World Cup expanding to 48 teams in 2026, 60 of 80 games will likely be held in the U.S. FIFA has not said how many matches each city will host, but the North American bid committee originally proposed a minimum of five per U.S. city, including at least two knockout-round games each. A schedule shell, which "is being worked on," according to FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani, could be released as soon as next year.

There’ll likely be three games on opening day, one in each country, with venues for specific matches still to be determined. “We’ll take our time with that decision," Infantino said Thursday.

The top two candidates to host the final, according to a source familiar with the planning process, are MetLife Stadium in North Jersey and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The other stadiums will be Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia); Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Massachusetts); Hard Rock Stadium (Miami); Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta); NRG Stadium (Houston); Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City); SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, California); Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, California); Lumen Field (Seattle); Estadio Azteca (Mexico City); Estadio Akron (Guadalajara); Estadio BBVA (Monterrey); BMO Field (Toronto); and BC Place (Vancouver).

Why some U.S. cities won't be involved

Like Montreal, some U.S. cities chose not to be involved. Chicago, citing taxpayer risk and “FIFA’s inflexibility and unwillingness to negotiate,” pulled out of the running in 2018, months before the so-called United Bid had even been chosen by the 200-plus international soccer executives who comprise FIFA’s membership.

Minneapolis also withdrew due to FIFA’s demands, which include tax breaks and various local government guarantees. Host cities essentially pay to stage 3-7 games, a “Fan Fest” and other events. They welcome thousands of tourists, but FIFA collects the vast majority of revenue from the games themselves and makes a multi-billion-dollar profit.

“Specifically, we were requesting flexibility on the financial liability caps and/or stronger estimates on anticipated costs associated with the events,” the Minneapolis bid committee said in a statement. “The inability to negotiate the terms of the various bid agreements did not provide our partners, and our community, with sufficient protections from future liability and unforeseen changes in commitments.”

Like with the Olympics, host-city contracts are widely viewed as one-sided, granting FIFA widespread power to dictate the tournament while shirking financial risk. When asked about the tax breaks, and why FIFA pushes for extra money that could serve local governments, Infantino argued that cities derive economic benefits stemming from tourism, and explained that FIFA distributes its revenues to its 211 member associations, many of whom rely on the payouts to function. He defended the practice as "a fair compromise."

World Cups also come with civil concerns. They often bring heavy policing and, in some cases, displacement of vulnerable people. A coalition of labor and human rights groups wrote to FIFA late last year to demand a series of minimum rights standards around the 2026 tournament, and on Thursday “expressed concern regarding negotiations with FIFA over human rights and worker rights.” Cathy Feingold, the international director at the AFL-CIO, told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview that the human rights plans presented by the selected U.S. cities were “very uneven.” (FIFA plans to follow up on the North American bid's human rights commitments over the coming months and years.)

Host cities celebrate

Nonetheless, the 16 cities and their residents celebrated on Thursday. Many hosted downtown watch parties promoted and graced by mayors.

Tickets will likely go on sale in 2025. The tournament will likely begin Thursday, June 11, 2026, unless organizers push for an earlier start date to avoid extreme heat. Eight of the 16 cities cities regularly experience June temperatures in the 90s, and only three of those eight stadiums have roofs. Infantino indicated that those climate-proof venues could be candidates for afternoon games, while games at outdoor grounds kick off in the evening.

He also said that teams would play in "clusters," meaning the three teams in a given group would play their two first-round games in the same or adjacent regions — so as to not force them and their fans to "travel crazy distances," Infantino said.

The tournament will feature 16 groups of three, and then a first-of-its-kind 32-team knockout round. It will be the first World Cup with 48 teams, and will almost surely smash the tournament-wide attendance record — which is still held by the 1994 men's World Cup in the U.S.

This is the first men's World Cup on North American soil since that one, the first jointly hosted by three countries. Smith, considering those factors and the size of NFL stadiums, said audience could double previous highs. The 1994 mark, he said, is "gonna be blown out of the water."

"2026 will be much, much, much bigger [than 1994]," Infantino agreed. "I think this part of the world doesn't realize what'll happen here in 2026. I mean, these three countries will be upside down. The world will be invading Canada, Mexico and the United States. And they will be invaded by a big wave of joy and happiness."

A year later, the Women's World Cup could return to the United States. Cone said U.S. Soccer "definitely plan[s] on bidding" for either the 2027 or 2031 edition. But FIFA has not yet asked for bids and, according to one source, might not open the process until after the 2022 men's World Cup in November and December.

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