Ranking U.S. cities most deserving to host 2026 World Cup games
There are so many wonderful cities in these here United States, but only 10 of them can have the honor and privilege (and challenge) of playing host to World Cup games when the tournament arrives in June 2026.
The United Bid that includes three cities each from Mexico and Canada included 17 possible locations in the U.S. But now that these three nations have won the right to stage the World Cup, the American list eventually will have to be trimmed by seven. The timing on the selection has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was expected to be wrapped up by early 2021. We now might be a year away from the ultimate decision.
It’s nice to ponder, though, a time when we all expect to be able to attend big games, dine in restaurants and go to shows, shop for England or Italy or Senegal or USA jerseys, and appreciate the unbridled, global joy that accompanies a World Cup.
Former U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, noting the abundance of outstanding cities and venues, called it “a high-class problem” to pick among them.
But it is a problem. This is not a list on which one would want to rank No. 11, but somebody must.
Here's how we've ranked the U.S. cities most deserving to host World Cup games in 2026, based on amenities (accommodations, dining, other attractions), ease of access to stadium and whether the town/region has embraced soccer.
1 New York
Venue: Met Life Stadium (capacity: 87,157)
Positives: It is the most diverse, dynamic city in the United States. Any World Cup visitor to New York, whether international or domestic, will have an overabundance of entertainment and dining options as well as plenty of choices in accommodations.
Negatives: The stadium is across the river in New Jersey. Parking is ample for those driving. There is train service from Penn Station. It requires a connection, but since it’s only a one-time, gameday trek, it’s worth the inconvenience.
Soccer cred: The stadium played host to the Copa America Centenario final in 2016; its predecessor had the World Cup semifinal and quarterfinal in 1994; original Major League Soccer city (New York Red Bulls) and 2015 expansion entrant (New York City FC).
Overview: The only choice regarding the New York area is which games to give the Big Apple. It did not get the final in the 1994 World Cup because the Rose Bowl, which regularly has more than 90,000 for major events, was able to accommodate nearly six-figure crowds. That could be the deciding factor again with the final, but it appears the bid group is leaning toward NYC this time.
2 Los Angeles
Venue: Rose Bowl (capacity: 88,432)
Positives: No place is always sunny and warm, but Southern California weather is pretty reliable. There would be an overabundance of lodging and dining options for visitors. The Rose Bowl often has been celebrated as one of the most iconic venues in American sports, in a setting of beauty.
Negatives: Los Angeles traffic is no day at the beach, so to speak, and getting to/from the Rose Bowl will be a challenge for everyone who doesn’t live in the neighborhood. There is some rail service to the Rose Bowl area, although it can be time consuming depending on the origin of one’s trip.
Soccer cred: This was the site of the 1994 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy and the 1999 Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and China, as well as the soccer competition for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. One hesitates to say it is America’s “national stadium,” because it has been as welcoming to the Mexico national team as the U.S. They played each another at the Rose Bowl in the 2015 CONCACAF Cup and drew a capacity crowd. Mexico chose the Rose Bowl as the venue for its final friendly in advance of the 2018 World Cup, drawing 82,345.
Overview: The Rose Bowl’s history as a soccer venue and large capacity will make it a busy venue once again.
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Positives: The stadium is within easy reach of downtown Atlanta’s hotels and restaurant district, which have proven to be highly functional for events as diverse as the NCAA Final Four and the Olympic Games. It’s either a nice hike (1.7 miles) or an easy cab ride from there.
Negatives: As an indoor/retractable-roof stadium, it has a Field Turf surface, which means it would have to be covered with a temporary grass field. That’s been accomplished before, as with the Silverdome and Giants Stadium for the 1994 World Cup. The U.S. used a temporary grass field at CenturyLink Stadium in Seattle for a World Cup qualifier in 2013, and the surface was not praised by some who played on it.
Soccer cred: With a reputation for being a tepid sports city, Atlanta has stunned the nation by becoming the hottest soccer town we have. Atlanta United, which played its first season in 2017, has shattered attendance records, including drawing 73,019 for the MLS Cup final in 2018.
Overview: Atlanta’s embrace of the sport since becoming an MLS city is going to be rewarded with the chance to be a part of the World Cup. When the tournament was in the States in 1994, the closest venue (Orlando) was more than six hours away and the second-closest (Washington) was a 10-hour drive.
Venue: AT&T Stadium
Positives: AT&T Stadium might be the world’s best modern stadium. It is huge, with excellent sightlines even for many in higher elevations, with every amenity a visitor could wish. Plus it can handle a bigger crowd than pretty much every venue of recent vintage. Dallas is an excellent city for visitors, although it can feel a bit spread-out. Everything’s bigger in Texas, you know.
Negatives: When the Final Four was held in the Dallas area in 2014, the bus ride from hotels either in or near downtown was interminable. That’s going to make getting visitors to the venue a challenge. There also will be the issue of the artificial turf surface.
Soccer cred: AT&T Stadium has been the venue for games of the Mexico national team and the International Champions Cup friendlies involving top European clubs on preseason tours, including 2018’s AS Roma vs. FC Barcelona match. The Cotton Bowl was host to multiple games in Groups C and D during the 1994 World Cup, including a 3-2 thriller between Germany and South Korea in which a 30-year-old veteran forward named Jurgen Klinsmann scored twice for the Germans. FC Dallas was an original member of MLS and won the 2016 Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup.
Overview: The chance to draw Texas-sized crowds to the World Cup in an off-the-charts stadium outweighs the downside of the stadium being so far removed from downtown Dallas.
5 Kansas City
Venue: Arrowhead Stadium
Positives: Kansas City is an increasingly dynamic city that revitalized its downtown area by building up the trendy Power & Light District — and continues to work at making it appealing rather than resting on its initial success.
Negatives: If the stadium were not a 10-mile drive from downtown, KC would rank even higher on the list. Parking is expensive and the public transit options are not exceptional.
Soccer cred: Sporting Kansas City is one of MLS’ premier franchises, a founding member and a smash hit since moving to Children’s Mercy Park in 2011. KC has been a venue for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers for the U.S. men and women.
Overview: The World Cup can’t just belong to the coasts, and Arrowhead’s grass surface gives it an advantage over some of the other middle-America options.
Venue: Lincoln Financial Field
Positives: Philadelphia is one of America’s most appealing tourist cities for lots of reasons: history, shopping, restaurants. Where else can you see the Liberty Bell and the Rocky statue?
Negatives: For all the city of Philadelphia has to offer, its stadium complex is removed from most of it. That means you’re either driving or taking a subway. It’s a lot easier to take Philly’s Broad Street Line out to stop near Lincoln Financial than to make the trek from downtown Dallas to AT&T Stadium, but it’s less convenient than the stadium situations in some cities.
Soccer cred: Philadelphia became a late addition to Major League Soccer, but its Sons of Ben is one of the most prominent supporter groups in the league. The Union rarely have given their fans a highly competitive team, which has suppressed interest. But the Philadelphia area was home to the NCAA men’s College Cup in 2017, and Philly was the site of three games in Copa America Centenario and has been a site for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Overview: Philadelphia’s proximity to Eastern population centers should make it a lock to be selected.
Venue: CenturyLink Field
Positives: Seattle is one of the top tourist cities in America, with a beautiful, walkable downtown area and waterways that make the views spectacular. CenturyLink is less than a mile walk from downtown, and an occasion such as the World Cup — or a regular-season Sounders game — can make that walk an event.
Negatives: It’s hard to understand why so many great American outdoor stadiums opted for artificial turf over natural grass. That’s really the only downside here, having to place a temporary grass surface over the field.
Soccer cred: Seattle’s entry into Major League Soccer in 2009 became an instant sensation, and the Sounders continue to draw crowds that would create envy among many clubs in more established leagues. Seattle won MLS Cup in 2016 and 2019 and the U.S. Open Cup four times. It has been home to World Cup qualifying, as well.
Overview: Especially with Vancouver not involved in Canada’s portion of the bid, it would make no sense not to include one of the cities in soccer-mad Cascadia.
Venue: Hard Rock Stadium
Positives: The beach. The nightlife. The culture. Did I mention the beach? That’s true whether you’re staying in Fort Lauderdale or Miami Beach or somewhere in between. Hard Rock also might be the best plus-sized American stadium for soccer. Its seating area is compact and mostly covered, and the playing surface is actually alive.
Negatives: The weather could be extremely problematic, given that most games will take place in the afternoon to benefit European television. The average high temperature is 84 degrees, and it isn’t rare for it to go far beyond that. Hard Rock isn’t really close to Fort Lauderdale or Miami. It’s almost halfway between the two, in a place called Miami Gardens. This is one of those venues that will require a car, although that’s pretty much the travel culture in most of Florida. You visit, you rent a car.
Soccer cred: Hard Rock Stadium played host to a rare El Clasico event outside Spain in the summer of 2017, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid playing one of the numerous major-club friendlies that have visited the Miami area. There also have been international friendlies (Colombia-Mexico, England-Ecuador, Peru-Croatia).
Overview: One of the Florida cities figures to be involved, and Hard Rock’s appeal as a soccer venue makes it the winner.
Venue: Paul Brown Stadium
Positives: Cincinnati’s downtown and downtown-adjacent areas have improved rapidly in recent years, but a lot of long, hard work (and unappealing political squabbling) went into the amazing development of The Banks district between PBS and Great American Ballpark, as well as the gentrification of the trendy Over-The-Rhine neighborhood. Cincinnati’s appeal is the ability to walk everywhere, from downtown hotels/restaurants to the stadium nearby.
Negatives: The issue is how many people would be able to take advantage of Cincy’s convenience. Downtown Cincinnati has less than half the rooms of, say, Indianapolis, and those across the pedestrian bridge in Northern Kentucky only increases that number by a smidge. For as rarely as it’s used, PBS should have a grass field. But it doesn’t. If not for the artificial turf, its position might be stronger than KC’s.
Soccer cred: Cincinnati kept its love for soccer well hidden until getting a team in the USL in 2015. It since has shown itself to be one of the most dynamic soccer cities in the U.S. — so much so MLS quickly granted an expansion franchise that ranked third in the league in attendance in 2019, FC Cincinnati’s initial season.
Overview: With Chicago not in the running, it’s hard to imagine this being a World Cup in which only one venue will be chosen in the Midwest. That gives Cincy a fighting chance.
Venue: M&T Bank Stadium
Positives: The Stadium is a reasonable walk from the Inner Harbor complex that gives Baltimore its character and draws an abundance of visitors to the city each year. The Inner Harbor is a picturesque area featuring restaurants, hotels, museums, shops and even historic ships one can tour.
Negatives: Baltimore itself is much more lacrosse territory than a soccer hotbed.
Soccer cred: OK, so there isn’t much — unless one ties it into Washington D.C., which the committee ought to do. In that case, RFK Stadium was a venue for the 1994 World Cup, including a game in the Round of 16, and D.C. United was a founding member of Major League Soccer — and champion its first two years. RFK also was a frequent site for U.S. national team World Cup qualifiers.
Overview: Baltimore is a better option for a venue near the capital, but it’s not as near and it’s not masquerading under the “Washington” listing so it won’t get that benefit. Keep in mind Landover is only 25 miles closer to the White House than Baltimore is.
Venue: FedEx Field
Positives: Washington might be the most underrated American city to visit. One can spend a week there and still leave with much left undone. FedEx Field does have a grass playing surface, an advantage over many others bidding.
Negatives: The distance from D.C. to FedEx Field removes a lot of the appeal here. You’re not going to have a World Cup without games in the capital city — but yes, we are, because Landover, Md., is not the capital. By the time the World Cup was at RFK Stadium in 1994, the place was a dump. But at least it was D.C.’s dump. The Redskins’ stadium is not admired (Sporting News ranked it last among NFL venues) and it’s not easy to reach. If the team replaced this stadium with something closer to downtown before 2026, D.C. would be top-3.
Soccer cred: D.C. United is a longstanding member of MLS, and RFK was host to World Cup games and qualifiers. FedEx Field was a site for several games of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, has commonly been used for international club friendlies and for a couple games by El Salvador’s national team.
Overview: Do I think the selectors will bypass Landover for Baltimore? No. But they should.
Venue: Nissan Stadium
Positives: Nashville has become one of the hottest tourist cities in the U.S., with the music and food scenes there drawing visitors.
Negatives: Nashville has become about as expensive in high season for hotel space as the nation’s biggest cities, and one can imagine a World Cup pushing the more limited space available here to considerable heights.
Soccer cred: Nashville joined Major League soccer this season. Nissan Stadium has been host to friendlies for both the U.S. women and men, although it’s never drawn exceptionally well for either.
Overview: There is much to like about the idea of putting the World Cup in the Mid-South, but there’s the question of whom Nashville would replace and whether the city has responded well enough to the game to earn it.
13 Santa Clara
Venue: Levi’s Stadium
Positives: Levi’s is one of the top soccer stadiums in the nation in terms of sightlines, amenities, surface. The weather during the tournament should be ideal.
Negatives: It’s so hard to get there. So hard. The traffic is terrific, as Perry Como might have sung, but by terrific he’d mean terrible. And access can be confusing, as well. There is light rail service, although that doesn’t cover the entire Bay Area.
Soccer cred: The city was host to the opening U.S. game in Copa America Centenario, one of four from that tournament that were played there. It also has hosted international club friendlies and international games such as the Mexico-Iceland match that served as World Cup 2018 prep for both.
Overview: It would be no surprise to see San Jose included, and it wouldn’t be a mistake, either.
Venue: Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Positives: Denver’s summer climate is among the most appealing in the U.S. Its downtown area is vibrant and inviting.
Negatives: Mile High is not within walking distance of downtown, except for those looking for a workout. But there is light rail service.
Soccer cred: The Colorado Rapids have been a part of MLS since the league’s inception and won MLS Cup in 2010. Mile High hosted a game between Manchester United and Roma that drew more than 54,000 in July 2014. The Denver area was the site of the famous (or infamous) “Snow Clasico” in 2013, when the U.S. defeated Costa Rica in a March World Cup qualifier played on a field of snow.
Overview: Snow would not likely be an issue in June, and Denver is a wonderful place that likely would respond well to the World Cup. It’s just that other cities seem to be a better fit.
Venue: NRG Stadium
Positives: NRG is a first-class stadium, with a ton of parking and light-rail transit to help with access.
Negatives: The stadium is far from the downtown area, which has improved dramatically in recent years but is not on a level with many of the cities under consideration. Houston tried for a while to use natural grass for NFL games, but it wasn’t popular with players, so the field is synthetic.
Soccer cred: Houston has been a tremendous soccer city — except when it comes to its own team. The 2010 MLS All-Star Game drew more than 70,000 to watch the league’s best against Manchester United. A USA-Mexico men’s friendly drew another crowd that large. NRG was the site of multiple games in Copa America Centenario. The Houston Dynamo has not been among the best-supported clubs, despite a relatively new stadium.
Overview: Houston’s support for big soccer events gives it a chance, but it’d be a surprise if two Texas cities got in — which means Houston might have to pull a major upset.
Venue: Camping World Stadium
Positives: Orlando has proven itself to be a vibrant soccer community at every opportunity, and obviously, with the various theme park attractions around the area, it would have an overabundance of downtime options and hotel rooms for visitors.
Negatives: With games likely to be played in afternoons for the benefit of European television, the June heat and humidity could be problematic for participating teams. A group game between Ireland and Mexico in the 1994 World Cup saw temperatures hit 100 degrees; a retrospective report in the Irish Examiner called that “inhumane.”
Soccer cred: Orlando joined Major League Soccer in 2015, after strong community support captured the league’s attention. Orlando was host to the final U.S. home qualifier in the CONCACAF hex and was the site of World Cup 1994 Group E and F games and a Round of 16 matchup between the Netherlands and Ireland.
Overview: Camping World Stadium, although refurbished on several occasions, is one of the oldest U.S. stadiums under consideration. It also changed to an artificial surface in 2010. It seems unnecessary to have two Florida options out of just 10 likely U.S. cities, and Miami has the far superior facility.
Venue: Gillette Stadium
Positives: Boston is one of America’s most charming and appealing cities. So much history, culture — and those chocolate cannoli you can get in the North End? You’d need to play 90 minutes to burn off one or two of those, but it’s worth it.
Negatives: It’s listed as Boston in the bid, but I’m almost as close to Boston sitting here writing this — from the Indianapolis suburbs — as I’d be if the World Cup were granted to Boston and I attended one of the games. Without traffic, it’s a 35-minute drive. On game day? Forget about it. Oh, and it’s one more place that would need temporary grass.
Soccer cred: The New England Revolution were an original Major League Soccer franchise, although they ranked 18th in attendance in 2019. One of the largest crowds for an MLS Cup game was drawn there, when the Revs played the LA Galaxy and 61,316 attended. Foxborough has been the site of U.S. World Cup qualifiers.
Overview: Revs owner Robert Kraft was honorary chair of the United Bid. So what do you think is going to happen?