World Cup bid - possible host cities

Their exhausting campaign came to a successful end when FIFA awarded the 2026 World Cup to the United States, Canada and Mexico on Wednesday. But for those in charge of organizing the tournament, the work is only just beginning.

Potential commercial opportunities, practical legal hurdles involved with throwing a huge event in three separate, large countries and a litany of other questions must be answered in the buildup to the 2026 tournament, which will be the first World Cup to feature an expanded field of 48 teams.

Two of the more pressing issues on the docket? Where, exactly, the World Cup will be played, and whether all three host nations will automatically qualify for the tournament.

The United Bid co-chaired by U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, Canada Soccer Association chief Steven Reed and Mexican federation head Decio de Maria (trio pictured above) includes 23 cities across the three countries, 16 of which will end up hosting World Cup matches.

Sixty of the 80 games in the tournament, including every match from the quarterfinals on, will be played in the US. Canada and Mexico will each host 10 games. The split of potential venues reflects that breakdown. Seventeen American cities remain in the running to host games, while Canada (Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto) and Mexico (Guadalajara, Mexico City, Monterrey) have just three cities each in contention.

Four current MLS stadiums (Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Gillette Stadium outside of Boston, Seattle’s CenturyLink Field and BMO Field in Toronto) are in the mix for World Cup matches. Olympic Stadium, used occasionally for home matches by the Montreal Impact, is also a contender to host games. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a proposed semifinal site, as is AT&T Stadium outside of Dallas. The United Bid listed MetLife Stadium outside of New York City as its proposed site for the final.

Watch: What impact will the 2026 World Cup have on soccer in North America?

“We’re blessed with 23 really world-class facilities, stadiums. Some iconic, some brand new, cutting-edge and everything in between,” Cordeiro told reporters on a conference call with Reed and de Maria after Wednesday’s vote. “I think it will be a very difficult decision that we will all have to make, the three of us in conjunction with FIFA when we have to determine the final 16, but it’s a high-class problem. It speaks to the quality of the facilities we have. And this is not a decision I’m looking forward to, because it’s going to be very, very hard. But we’re very excited.”

Added Reed: “In our country of Canada we’ve got three wonderful host cities that have had great success in the past in hosting international sporting events, including the [2015] Women’s World Cup, [2014] Women’s Under-20 World Cup, [2007] Men’s Under-20 World Cup. They have had great success with all of those events, and I think all of those host cities are really excited to be part of the process. And again, Carlos was talking about it, there’s going to be some disappointments, unfortunately. But hopefully we can have the most successful World Cup of all time and it needs all people from all three of our countries.”  

It’s not yet clear whether the US, Canada and Mexico will all automatically qualify for the 2026 World Cup or if they’ll have to compete with other Concacaf countries for a spot. Host nations have always been granted automatic berths into the tournament, including in the lone previous World Cup that was co-hosted by multiple countries (2002; Japan and South Korea).

Some confusion arose on Wednesday when FIFA president Gianni Infantino told reporters that it would be up to Concacaf to decide if the US, Canada and Mexico receive auto-bids to the World Cup. Cordeiro contradicted Infantino’s statement on the conference call, saying that the decision will be made by FIFA.

FIFA determines how many spots in each World Cup are given to each confederation. It’s then down to each individual confederation to determine its own qualifying competition for its allocation of World Cup berths. Those decisions, along with the question of automatic qualification for the co-hosts, will presumably be made at a future FIFA congress.

The US failed to qualify for this summer’s World Cup, missing the tournament for the first time since 1986. Mexico last missed the tournament in 1990, while Canada hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since making their lone appearance in 1986.

“The issue about who will get automatic bids to the ‘26 World Cup, if that’s the question, that is not Concacaf’s decision that’s FIFA’s decision and that will be made in the passage of time,” Cordeiro said.