Gregg Berhalter is a proud New Jersey native and calls it a “dream come true” that FIFA selected MetLife Stadium, which sits just 12 miles south of his hometown of Tenafly, to host the championship final of the 2026 World Cup.
If he and the US men’s national team are to fulfill their ambitions in that tournament and reach that lofty stage, they’ll spend a great deal more time in the Dirty South and on the Left Coast along the way.
The USMNT will spend most of the summer of ‘26 in and around Atlanta and Los Angeles, Berhalter explained to reporters in the wake of FIFA’s splashy Sunday announcement of the first phase of the World Cup schedule.
That’s because FIFA placed two of the United States’ three group-stage matches at SoFi Stadium in Englewood, California on either side of a game at Lumen Field, home of Seattle Sounders FC. And U.S. Soccer’s new national training facility in the Atlanta suburbs will be ready in time for the USMNT’s use in the lead-up to the tournament.
“We've done a lot of work on the base camp already. We're building a National Training Center and that will be open before 2026,” Berhalter said in a Sunday media availability. “So that's very much in our plans to utilize our National Training Center, a state-of-the-art facility. I'm thinking about the guys going there for the first time, it's going to blow them away.
“So we're going to utilize that and then somehow shift over to the west coast for the tournament, and be based there. So we see it kind of as a dual-usage type of thing, but we'll probably be based in Southern California and go out to the Seattle game and come back right after the game and finish the group in LA.”
FIFA consulted with coaches of the three host nations about their preferences before Sunday’s event, Berhalter confirmed, and his top priority was clear: Keep long-haul travel to a minimum.
“Regarding the time zone shift, it is important, that was a factor,” he said, expressing approval that the USMNT will remain on Pacific Time for at least the first two weeks of the World Cup. “It's no secret that the teams were able to give FIFA some input in terms of the venues, and our main piece of advice was about the travel – trying to minimize travel, minimize time zones, because we know the wear and tear that can take on your body during a major tournament.”
Technically speaking, the US also operates training facilities in Southern California, having been co-inhabitants of Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson with the LA Galaxy since that venue opened in 2003. That site only offers limited space for national team programming, however, necessitating the push for a standalone federation facility spearheaded by current USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone and CEO JT Batson.
Their efforts, powered by a $50 million funding pledge from Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank, resulted in last autumn’s selection of a 200-plus-acre site in Fayette County, Georgia for the NTC. Berhalter hopes his side will make a deep enough run in ‘26 to have the chance to return to the ATL for one of the three knockout-round matches set for Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“When you think about this long window, it is a lot more time between games; we will have to split up our time,” said the coach, alluding to the longer rest periods between matches that organizers have promised ‘26 participants.
“So we will most likely be using Atlanta prior to the start of the World Cup, which will be great to be in our own facility. Then we head out west for the tournament, and hopefully we'll get back to the Atlanta area for the semifinals. So it's going to be a lot of planning that needs to take place, but just really excited about it.”
LA & Seattle await
Berhalter and his squad will get a taste of ATLUTD’s home this summer, when they meet Panama at MBS in a Group C encounter during the 2024 Copa América. That said, there’s no small measure of irony in the fact that once the long-awaited 2026 showcase on home soil finally arrives, the USMNT will spend lots of time in places they mostly avoided during the past quarter-century of home qualifiers.
The Yanks have only very rarely visited Georgia for competitive matches in their long history, and have for decades steered clear of hosting Concacaf opponents in Southern California due to the region’s large expatriate populations and their tendency to blunt US home-field advantage. And despite Cascadia’s rich soccer culture, the USMNT have played just two WCQs in Seattle all-time, and just one in this century, with Eastern locales often preferred to minimize the jet lag for European-based players.
“We're happy with how it turned out, and we look forward to being in LA. I mentioned about the stadium being probably one of the best stadiums in the world and we get to play there twice in the group stage,” said Berhalter.
“Then go up to the Pacific Northwest, where I haven't been personally as a coach, and I'm looking forward to it. Because I remember the days of playing against Seattle Sounders [during his tenure in charge of the Columbus Crew] and the amazing crowd support that they have, and I mentioned about the march to the stadium. I'm just picturing us in the team bus and going through the city and seeing all the people and the smoke and everything and just, I'm getting goosebumps talking about it now. So it's really exciting.”
While the rest of the world is just beginning to wade into the long, winding process of qualifying for this dramatically expanded World Cup, co-hosts Canada, Mexico and the US already know their group-stage schedules and can begin to plan accordingly – even if important details remain unannounced, like which part of the knockout round bracket they might drop into, and where those games would take place.
From the quarterfinals forward, most of the action will shift into the Eastern and Central time zones, so Berhalter wants to visualize his team moving from west to east as the tournament unfolds, rallying the entire country to their cause as they advance. Whatever that path turns out to be, it’s a far cry from their 2022 Mundial, which played out in a matter of miles thanks to the compact dimensions of Connecticut-sized Qatar.
“We're definitely getting on a plane, right? We can’t change that,” said Berhalter. “That's something that'll be different. But the other thing that's most important is about the competition and the guys. Our group, we had 25 of the 26 players made their World Cup debut in 2022. So now, going into 2026, we'll have guys that have been there before. And that's the most important thing: Understand what these games are like, what the level’s like, understanding the fine line between success and failure. And those are all key elements of the World Cup that we needed to learn.
“When we think about not just where we're playing, not just Los Angeles or Seattle, just having the whole country behind us when we're playing, having them tuned in, just is an amazing feeling. We know how Americans get behind their teams in international events, we know how Americans can host international events. So when you add those two things together, it's going to be an incredible environment for our team.”