Atlanta United, essentially since they joined MLS as an expansion team in 2017, have taken the league by storm.
With that platform acting as the primary driver, as announced Thursday, they’re one of 16 host cities for when the 2026 FIFA World Cup comes to the US, Canada and Mexico in four years. The quadrennial event will feature 48 nations for the first time (usually 32 nations) and act as a celebration of the world’s game across North America, a joint bid first awarded in 2018.
The environment the Five Stripes faithful has cultivated at Mercedes-Benz Stadium deserves heaps of credit, club president Darren Eales said.
“It’s almost a validation of what our amazing supporters have done in this city,” the Englishman said. “FIFA genuinely recognize that. They couldn’t believe it when they came and visited and a few of their members came to a match and they saw what was happening. That spoke a lot and I think was the intangible that really put Atlanta towards the top of the pile.”
Atlanta held the MLS single-game attendance record for several years, with their MLS Cup 2018 triumph over the Portland Timbers drawing a crowd of 73,019 onlookers. That was bested by Charlotte FC’s inaugural home match this past March, but ATLUTD games still litter the league’s attendance record books.
There’s a global resonance there, too, Eales noted.
“We already have a fervent fanbase that loves soccer,” the former Tottenham Hotspurs executive said. “This is a city that we regularly poll top-15 in the world crowds, so everybody here already gets soccer. I think it’s going to be a chance for us to showcase the city.”
Atlanta is placed in the central region for 2026 World Cup purposes alongside Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Mexico City and Monterrey. The city’s one of 11 across the US that’ll host games, while there are three in Mexico and two in Canada. The finalist pool contained 22 candidates.
Meanwhile, local officials contended that Atlanta could host a semifinal match. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which has the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons as a cohabitant, is set for a grass surface installation in February 2026 that’d temporarily replace the venue’s turf surface.
Various teams are expected to use Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground, with FIFA officials hailing infrastructure investments that MLS clubs have spearheaded. It also helps that Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a retractable roof, allowing for climate-controlled conditions when games arrive in the summer of 2026.
For now, the big hurdle is cleared.
“Atlanta United’s been excellent as far as capturing the hearts of the region,” said ATLUTD vice president and technical director Carlos Bocanegra. “Our fanbase is fantastic, so we know we have that here. Now you’re going to get people from everywhere around the world being able to experience this, hopefully putting Atlanta United on the map globally as well.”
As ATLUTD’s attendance figures have drawn headlines domestically and abroad, the US men’s national team hasn’t visited the Peach State since dropping a 2015 Gold Cup semifinal to Jamaica at the since-demolished Georgia Dome. Perhaps that’ll change in 2026, giving one of MLS’s largest markets the chance to strut its stuff.
Whichever nations roll through, the party’s just getting started.
“The World Cup in [USA] 1994 is still the most ticketed World Cup in the history of World Cups,” Eales said. “And that was before MLS even existed, so think about it now. You’ve got a chance to host it with nearly 30 years that MLS has been around, so it’s just going to be a huge party.”