The announcement Thursday that Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara will be one of 16 North American venues for the 2026 World Cup tournament returns men’s world championship matches to the Bay Area for the first time since Stanford Stadium was among 1994 venues.
The news brought cheers from local officials and the huge regional soccer fan base that's cheered Santa Clara University women’s two-time NCAA champions and the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer over the years.
"This is a really big deal ," two-time World Cup champion Brandi Chastain, a San Jose native and former Santa Clara player and coach, told SFGate on Thursday. "We're grateful that we're going to show the world why the Bay Area is the place for the World Cup to be. And we will do once again what we did in 1994, which is host an amazing games and activities that will happen outside of the stadium and show the world how beautiful our community is."
“The Bay Area has a proud tradition of hosting world-class soccer with the San José Earthquakes and from the acclaim of Copa America Centenario in 2016 and FIFA World Cup in 1994," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said last year. "Welcoming the world at the 2026 World Cup would be an incredible opportunity for our region.”
FIFA on June 16 began unveiling its plans for a sprawling, three-nation men’s World Cup in 2026 by announcing the host cities for soccer’s biggest-ever championship. The tournament, to be hosted jointly by the United States, Mexico and Canada, will be the first to have 48 teams, an increase from the current 32, and take place in cities throughout North America.
“This part of the world doesn’t realize what will happen here in 2026,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said at a news conference in Manhattan following the televised announcement Thursday afternoon.
The choices, 16 cities selected from a list of 22 finalists, were revealed in three regional groupings, blocs representing the East, Central and West regions.
The winning bidders included legendary soccer venues like Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, which has hosted two World Cup finals. They included metropolitan areas with previous World Cup hosting experience like Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, and Guadalajara, Mexico. They included newcomers like Toronto, Philadelphia, Miami and Seattle. They included smaller cities like Kansas City, Mo.
The final groupings:
- EAST: Toronto (BMO Field); Boston (Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.); Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field); Miami (Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.); and New York/New Jersey (MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.).
- CENTRAL: Kansas City, Mo. (Arrowhead Stadium); Dallas (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas); Atlanta (Mercedes Benz Stadium); Houston (NRG Stadium); Monterrey, Mexico (Estadio BBVA, Guadalupe); Mexico City (Estadio Azteca).
- WEST: Vancouver (BC Place); Seattle (Lumen Field); San Francisco (Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.); Los Angeles (SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, Calif.); and Guadalajara, Mexico (Estadio Akron, Zapopan).
The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. — which hosted the final in 1994, the only other time the World Cup was held in the United States — was left out. But so was a combined bid representing Baltimore and Washington, D.C., meaning the United States’ capital will not play a role in the nation’s biggest sporting event in 2026.
“This was a very difficult choice,” said Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief tournaments and events officer. “You can’t imagine a World Cup coming to the U.S. and the capital city not taking a major role as well.” (Infantino said a fan fest will be held on the National Mall in Washington.)
The bulk of the World Cup’s 80 games will be played in the United States, following an agreement made by the three host countries’ federations when they bid to stage the tournament in 2017 and confirmation by FIFA’s choices. Of the 16 cities chosen, 11 were in the United States, three in Mexico and two — Vancouver and Toronto — in Canada. Mexico will become the first country to host the World Cup three times, while Canada will be doing so for the first time.
Infantino said some of the last decisions on host cities were not made until Thursday. But there are still many choices left to make, such as organizing the schedule of games, assigning which cities will host the most important games and figuring out how to reduce travel and how to avoid the worst of the summer heat in cities where the stadium has no roof.
“In such a big region like North America, we need to care about that in particular, to make sure that teams are playing in clusters that the fans don’t have to travel crazy distances and the teams as well,” Infantino said. “When we look at that, we have to take into account the weather conditions, the stadiums, those who have a roof and those who are closed and maybe can play earlier in the afternoon and those where you have to play in the evening.”
Victor Montagliani, the president of Concacaf, the governing body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, said the process for deciding which city will host the World Cup final — and also marquee matches like the opener or those in the knockout stage — has not begun yet. He said the capacity of the stadium for the final will be the primary factor of many.
Asked about specific sites, such as Mexico City or the New York region, as hosts for the final, Infantino was coy. He joked, “New York is definitely a candidate, and so are the 15 other cities as well.”
Because many of the stadiums selected were built for N.F.L. teams, they have large capacities. But in order to accommodate a wider soccer field in a narrower space designed for football, Smith said some seats will have to be removed in certain “pinch points” of some stadiums. But he insisted it “doesn’t have any material impact on the capacity.”
He added later, “World Cup ’94 holds the current record for attendance and that is going to be blown out of the water given the capacities we have in these stadiums.”
Asked when and where the 2026 World Cup final will be held, Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, demurred and said, “We will take our time with the decision.” Officials from the joint New York/New Jersey bid had a feeling they would be one of the 16 cities selected, and they are already prepared to push for the right to host the final.
Interesting: Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, said some of the last decisions on host cities were not made until Thursday. The decisions, he said, were made "to ensure fans did not have to travel too far, to ensure everyone has a fantastic experience."
In an interview Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey Murphy said the N.Y./N.J. group’s understanding was that FIFA would not reveal the package of games assigned to each stadium, including the final, until next year.
San Jose Inside contributed to this article. Copyright, The New York Times.