By JACK BELL
The view from the 102st floor of One World Trade Center was breathtaking, as was the much-anticipated news that the United States, Mexico and Canada have agreed to submit a joint bid to host the expanded 2026 World Cup.
“This is extraordinary place this building means a lot,” said Sunil Gulati, the head of US Soccer said, as he was seated on the dais between Victor Montagliani, the president of Canada’s federation and the head of CONCACAF, and Decio de Maria, the leader of Mexico’s federation. “From here you can see New York and New Jersey, Red Bull Arena and MetLife Stadium. We said goodbye to Copa Amárica a few months ago. Now we’re saying hello to the 2026 World Cup.”
The three soccer supremos signed official documents that will be submitted to FIFA, which is not expected to make a host selection until sometime in 2020. But the bid, even now, nine years from the tournament, is considered a favorite since a hosts from South America, Europe, which have hosted recently, and Asia, which will host in 2022. In addition, the 2026 World Cup will be expanded to include 48 teams, up from the current 32.
With an 80-game event in North America — some are calling it the NAFTA World Cup — a key question is how the matches will be allocated. The answer: The U.S. will get 60 with Mexico and Canada each hosting 10. Gulati said that all games from the quarterfinals to the final would be played in the U.S.
“Yes, it’s going to be 10 games in Mexico, but also games in Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Chicago and Phoenix,” de Maria said, “For us, it’s home.”
Gulati said that the principals have been discussing a joint effort for several years, “dreaming of a World Cup in North America and sharing it.”
With an expanded field, perhaps only the United States, with a plethora of state-of-the-art stadiums and hotel accommodations, could handle a 48-team event. And though the U.S. was the odds-on favorite to land the tournament after finishing second in the vote for 2022 (which went to Qatar), the election of Donald J. Trump as president and his views on immigration and Mexico have been cause for concern. But Gulati said that soccer officials had been contact with Trump through a third party and that the president is on board.
“We have the full support of the U.S. government,” Gulati said. “The president is fully supportive and in the last few days we’ve received even more strong encouragement from President Trump. He is especially pleased that Mexico is involved, as for what he said, I’m not going to address that.”
The next step is submitting the bid to FIFA at its coming congress in Bahrain.
Under the new format, FIFA will allocate six berths to teams from CONCACAF, and it is expected that all three hosts will gain automatic entry. How the remaining spots for the region will be doled out will be up to FIFA.
If the three-part bid wins approval, and there is little reason to believe any one nation or nations from Africa or even Australia, could match it — a North American World Cup would be only the second time more than one nation has hosted the event. That was in South Korea/Japan in 2002.