By the end of the spring, FIFA is expected to name the venues for the 2026 World Cup in the United States.
We know the split in terms of matches in what will be the first 48-team World Cup: 60 games in the United States and 10 each in Canada and Mexico.
With Vancouver's designation as a "candidate host city," we know the three Canadian and Mexican cities: Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver (replacing Montreal) and Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey.
The hard part is narrowing down the U.S. cities that are candidates from 17 to the likely 10 that will be chosen as host cities.
What will it take to be picked as one of the hosts?
A lot of factors are in play, notably geography. The 2026 World Cup will be spread across the U.S. continent with games on both coasts, but Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief tournaments and events officer, says FIFA doesn't want teams (and their fans) needlessly crisscrossing the country, so it will seek out "clusters" and group venues wherever possible. (By contrast, this year's tournament in Qatar will feature eight stadiums, all within 30 miles of the capital of Doha.)
Weather is a much bigger consideration than in 1994 when the first USA-hosted World Cup featured games played in the middle of the day to accommodate European television. With climate change, it's not just the midday heat in many parts of the country, but the possibility of severe storms.
Infrastructure is a must. High-capacity airports close by. Transportation to the stadium. Plenty of hotel rooms. Top-quality training facilities (not necessarily as easy as it seems).
But one thing above all else matters: the field.
Stadium size isn't an issue. (The seating capacity of all stadiums being considered is more than 60,000.) Most have plenty of luxury boxes. Space around the stadium and nearby to host ancillary events is important, too. A roof to allow afternoon play (for European prime-time) and deal with bad weather is a big bonus.
But the field must be just right: a grass surface with dimensions of 72 yards by 115 yards -- plus sufficient space from the sidelines to the stands for team benches, match officials, photographers, security and FIFA's ever-present sign boards. (The biggest issue many stadiums face is removing sideline and corner seating -- and in some cases raising the playing surface -- to create enough surface area to meet FIFA's requirements.)
“The pitch is everything," said Canadian Victor Montagliani, the Concacaf president and FIFA vice president who represented soccer's governing body on its 2021 inspection tour, in Seattle. Added Smith, FIFA's man in charge of overseeing the stadium selection process, “Area of the pitch for us is sacrosanct. We have the best players in the world playing the best football in the world and so they deserve the best pitches in the world and that's really the heartbeat of what we look at when we go to a stadium.”
Nine of the stadiums under consideration have artificial turf. It won't be a matter of slapping grass over the turf for a couple of weeks like has been done for events like the Copa Centenario and Gold Cup.
“It’s not just grass," Smith added. "It’s the highest quality. A little bit more detail on that is the consistency of playing surface. You have many different cities and many different climate conditions. We will also have different types of grass in order to cope with those conditions, but the consistency of play on those pitches will be guaranteed. That’s what we look for.”
Smith sounded confident when he was in Atlanta, one of several cities whose stadium has a retractable roof, adding another wrinkle to growing and maintaining a new grass surface.
“There is lots of technology that exists these days,” he said. “We just need to get it right. And we have experts on our side, and we are working with multiple third-party companies and consultants as well."
Smith said what is needed is proper planning, care and a timeline to do it right.
Here is a look at the 17 U.S. candidate cities, by region.
M&T Bank Stadium
Capacity: 71,008. Grass: yes. Roof: no.
On its own, Baltimore is not given much of a chance to be named one of the World Cup 2026 venues, but concerns about FedExField in suburban Washington, first reported by the Washington Post early in the year, have pushed the Washington and Baltimore officials to consider merging their bids so matches would be played at M&T Bank Stadium and events surrounding the tournament would take place in the District of Columbia. M&T Bank Stadium had a grass surface reinstalled in 2016 though some work would likely need to be done related to playing World Cup matches at the stadium.
Gillette Stadium (Foxboro, MA)
Capacity: 65,878. Grass: no. Roof: no.
Foxboro is 30 miles from downtown Boston, but that hasn't stopped it from being a venue for matches for the 1994 World Cup and 1999 Women's World Cup and again at the 2003 Women's World Cup after the original stadium was demolished and replaced by the current Gillette Stadium. Grass was installed in the original Foxboro Stadium in 1991, paving the way for it be a 1994 World Cup venue, and it will need to be installed for the 2026 World Cup. The Kraft Sports Group owns Gillette Stadium along the NFL Patriots and MLS Revs. Robert Kraft's close ties with FIFA president Gianni Infantino make Boston a favorite to secure one of the Northeast's World Cup venues.
MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, NJ)
Capacity: 82,500. Grass: no. Roof: no.
Built at a cost of $1.5 billion and opened in 2010, MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands is considered a lock to host matches. In 1994, Giants Stadium lost out to the Rose Bowl for the final. This time, MetLife Stadium is considered one of the contenders to host the final along with AT&T Stadium outside of Dallas and the new SoFi Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. When MetLife Stadium hosted the 2016 Copa Centenario final between Chile and Argentina, a grass surface was installed over the artificial turf on the which the football Giants and Jets play. Grass will again have to be installed for the World Cup. Historically, the issue for big events at the Meadowlands has been the limited capacity of public transportation, though there been discussions about coming up with new methods of transporting large volumes of fans in and out of the stadium area.
Lincoln Financial Field.
Capacity: 67,594. Grass: yes. Roof: no.
The Linc has grass, which it is committed to keeping in place through the 2026 World Cup. It hopes that its experience working with grass will work in its favor. Then-Philadelphia bid chief David L. Cohen (now the U.S. ambassador to Canada) told the Philadelphia Inquirer that “for every expert that FIFA had on the phone, we had an Eagles expert to match and to be able to have a dialog with them on a highly technical level.” Philadelphia has other things working in its favor. It is home to Comcast, owner of Telemundo, which holds the U.S. Spanish-language FIFA rights through 2026. (Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Telemundo chairman Beau Ferrari made presentations to FIFA inspectors last fall.) History buffs will know that 2026 will be the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. In 1976, ahead of the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Team USA (with Pele, Bobby Moore and other NASL stars) played England at Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Stadium in the Bicentennial Cup.
FedExField (Landover, MD)
Capacity: 82,000. Grass: yes. Roof: no.
RFK Stadium hosted games at the 1994 World Cup and 2003 Women's World Cup while Fedex Field was a venue for the 1999 Women's World Cup, including the memorable quarterfinal doubleheader (USA-Germany and Brazil-Nigeria with 12 goals between them) that drew 54,642 fans. But Fedex Field is probably the most maligned of the U.S. venues under consideration, hated by players and fans alike. Earlier this year, a railing over a player tunnel collapsed, sending fans tumbling while an Eagles player passed by. FIFA would love to have Washington involved in the World Cup, but it will likely pass on the Washington stadium.
Capacity: 71,000. Grass: no. Roof: retractable.
The issue will be getting grass to grow indoors. Grass was ruled out in 2013 when Mercedes-Benz Stadium was in the planning stage. Atlanta host officials believe they'll get grass to work, at least for the 2026 window. Atlanta could get games through the semifinals and is under consideration to be the site for the tournament's International Broadcast Center. Factors such as Mercedes-Benz Stadium's location near downtown hotels and convention facilities and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport serving as a major hub for airlines work in Atlanta's favor.
Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, FL)
Capacity: 65,326. Grass: yes. Roof: no.
The stadium opened in 1987 as Joe Robbie Stadium. Joe Robbie, a Minnesota attorney who owned the Dolphins, was involved in the old NASL, so he made sure the surface area was wide enough to accommodate soccer. Indeed, Joe Robbie Stadium was the first of the new NFL stadiums built with soccer in mind, though conflicts with baseball ruled out its use at the 1994 World Cup. Baseball is no longer an issue -- the Marlins moved into their own ballpark, Marlins Park, in 2012 -- so Hard Rock Stadium, a frequent venue for South American teams, makes Miami a favorite to be named a host city.
Capacity: 69,143. Grass: yes. Roof: no.
Have the recent reports of discussions about building a new NFL domed stadium for the Titans diminished the Music City's hosting chances? The issue is that renovations on Nissan Stadium, which opened in 1999, are expected to cost so much -- $1 billion -- that the Titans are looking at state funding to build a new stadium that could be finished by 2026. (A recent report on World Cup-related work put the cost of renovations to the field's drainage system and widening the corners of the field at a manageable $15 million.) Nashville is an outsider, but it got very positive reviews from those on last September's FIFA tour.
Camping World Stadium
Capacity: 65,000. Grass: no. Roof: no.
FIFA could not go without a Florida venue in 1994 and went with Florida Citrus Bowl, now known as Camping World Stadium. The stadium was built in 1936 and renovated in 2014. It hosts the Citrus Bowl -- the Vrbo Citrus Bowl to be exact -- and something called the Cheez-It Bowl. Hosting World Cup games in 1994 was a big deal for Orlando, which wasn't the city it is today. Teams that played in Orlando included the Netherlands and Ireland, whose fan bases created huge parties at Church Street Station. Orlando's huge tourism footprint gives it an edge in terms of meeting FIFA's hosting requirements, but it's hard to image that FIFA will go with three venues in the South, Atlanta, Miami and Orlando.
Paul Brown Stadium
Capacity: 65,535. Grass: no. Roof: no.
Paul Brown Stadium is another relatively old NFL stadium -- it opened in 2000 -- and what work will be done on the stadium is part of negotiations that will take place between the Bengals and Hamilton County. (The current lease expires in 2026.) As far as the World Cup goes, the stadium will need to have a grass surface installed and four lower corners of seating removed -- similar to work needed at other NFL stadiums -- to meet FIFA's requirements.
GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium
Capacity: 76,416. Grass: yes. Roof: no.
Arrowhead Stadium definitely has the seating capacity and it has a grass surface, though like most venues it will need to remove seats in the corners of the lower level, and the ventilation system will need to be upgraded. In addition, more space for VIP and media seating will have to be added. The Missouri legislature is already working on the "comprehensive tax exemption" FIFA requires on ticket sales. In the last decade, Kansas City has grown into a big soccer town, offering FIFA plenty of facilities to choose from, including the Compass Minerals National Performance Center, home of U.S. Soccer's national coaching education center.
Empower Field at Mile High
Capacity: 76,125. Grass: yes. Roof: no.
In 2001, the Broncos opened Empower Field at Mile High, which was used for last year's Concacaf Nations League final four, the first major international soccer event held in the United States after play reopened following the Covid-19 pandemic. Denver is pitching its location as the only city in the Mountain time zone and less than three hours by plane from the possible Texas and West Coast venues as a plus.
AT&T Stadium (Arlington, TX)
Capacity: 100,000. Grass: no. Roof: retractable.
Jerry World isn't owned by Jerry Jones -- he leases it from the City of Arlington -- but it is associated with the Cowboys owner, who paid for the constructions costs of the stadium ($1.15 billion) with help of city bonds and an NFL loan. "The number of club seats and luxury suites, the economics are different than anything FIFA has ever seen before," boasted FC Dallas president and Dallas 2026 committee chairman Dan Hunt in an interview with Axios at a recent World Cup 2022 draw watch party. The stadium will need a grass surface and seats will need to be taken out on the corners to widen the surface area. (The stadium is so big that additional seating might be created elsewhere.) When FIFA officials visited last year, the corners were elevated to different heights to show how much might be taken out.
Capacity: 72,220. Grass: no. Roof: retractable.
Houston feels NRG Stadium's fully retractable roof gives it a huge edge, allowing games to be played at all times of day -- afternoon matches will reach European television audiences in prime time -- and in all weather conditions. The stadium has a history of hosting big events -- Super Bowls in 2004 and 2017 -- and lots of soccer -- the record soccer crowd is 70,858 for the USA-Argentina semifinal at the 2016 Copa Centenario -- and the surrounding NRG Park with a convention center and arena -- and metro stop -- provides the infrastructure FIFA covets.
SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, CA)
Capacity: 70,240. Grass: no. Roof: free-standing.
SoFi Stadium, Stan Kroenke's privately funded stadium in Inglewood built at a cost more than $5 billion, hosted the 2022 Super Bowl with FIFA officials on hand to see its many wonders, including the largest video scoreboard in professional sports. The stadium is attractive in many ways -- its 260 luxury suites and its location close to Los Angeles International Airport -- but it has a problem. Like at many other NFL stadiums, the surface is artificial turf, but on top of that the surface area for the field -- width and length -- is not enough to meet FIFA's requirements. Fixing the problem won't just involve cutting out corners of the stands but also raising the field.
Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA)
Capacity: 90,888. Grass: yes. Roof: no.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Rose Bowl is the oldest stadium in the mix of possible U.S. World Cup venues and has a long soccer history. It hosted the 1994 World Cup and 1999 Women's World Cup finals as well as 1984 Olympic men's soccer, whose popularity turned heads at FIFA about the United States as a big-event soccer country. The problem is, the Rose Bowl is rarely used and simply doesn't offer the amenities available at SoFi Stadium, which wasn't yet built when FIFA made its decision on the 2026 hosts in June 2018.
Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, CA)
Capacity: 68,500. Grass: yes. Roof: no.
Opened in 2014, Levi's Stadium immediately became a favorite of international soccer organizers, hosting the opening game of the 2016 Copa Centenario and final of the 2017 Gold Cup. The Bay Area is attractive as a popular tourist destination -- though San Francisco is 30 miles north of Santa Clara -- and the distance of the stadium from Mineta San Jose International Airport is just 5.6 miles, the shortest of any stadium to a major airport other than new SoFi Stadium.
Capacity: 68,740. Grass: no. Roof: no.
The lack of grass at Lumen Field has long been an issue in rainy Seattle. Grass was laid over the synthetic turf for the Copa Centenario in 2016 but a more durable surface will be needed for 2026. Seattle is a gateway to Asia, making it an attractive location. With Vancouver back in the mix as a likely 2026 World Cup, that gives FIFA two possible venues just 122 miles apart, another plus for Seattle's case.