Boston among 23 cities in North American bid for 2026 World Cup

Gillette Stadium
New England Revolution opening day against the Colorado Rapids at Gillette Stadium. –Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

FIFA’s World Cup will return to the New York area, Los Angeles and Mexico City — and could visit Miami, Toronto and Seattle for the first time — if a combined North American bid wins the hosting rights for soccer’s showcase event in 2026.

Those six cities — and 17 more — are on a final list the bid committee representing the United States, Mexico and Canada will submit to FIFA on Friday, the deadline for completed proposals. FIFA will choose the 2026 host in June, in a vote of its 211 member associations. The only other country bidding for the event is Morocco.

The list announced Thursday, which will be pared down further if the bid succeeds, includes three cities in Mexico (Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey) and three in Canada (Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto), but the vast majority will be in the United States. Under the bid’s previously announced structure, the United States will host 60 of the tournament’s 80 games.

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The U.S. markets that made the cut span the North American continent: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington in the East; Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando and Miami in the Southeast; Cincinnati, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston and Denver in the Midwest and Mountain West; and Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle on the West Coast.

The announcement also contained several surprises in its omissions: Vancouver, British Columbia, which hosted the 2015 Women’s World Cup final, and Chicago, home to matches in the 1994 World Cup as well as the U.S. Soccer Federation, both withdrew from contention this week. In each city, political leaders cited discomfort with the terms of the agreement host cities must sign, saying that even though Vancouver and Chicago have World Cup-sized stadiums in place, the contract included too many “unknowns” related to tax breaks for FIFA and the host cities’ potential liability for cost overruns and security.

On Thursday morning, Minneapolis, which had been on a list of 32 finalists, said it, too, had declined to bid for similar reasons.

The list of proposed venues is the largest for any World Cup — South Korea and Japan used 20 cities when they co-hosted in 2002 — but a necessity given the 2026 tournament’s expansion to 48 teams from its current 32. And not every city included in the bid book is guaranteed to get matches; if the North Americans win in June, FIFA and the bid committee will consult over the next two years to narrow the options, most likely by the middle of 2020. A final list of 16 cities — likely the three each in Mexico and Canada, leaving only 10 in the United States — will be finalized in 2021, the bid’s executive director, John Kristick, said.

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While the list released Thursday identified only proposed World Cup markets, Kristick said the bid book has chosen specific stadiums in each market, a group that includes MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey (New York); Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts (Boston); AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (Dallas); and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California (San Francisco).

“All of our facilities exist today — the stadiums, the training sites, the airport/transportation infrastructure,” Kristick said. “And that’s something that puts us in a very fortunate position.”

From the start, North American officials have taken pains to stress the ready-to-wear nature of their proposal.

But Kristick, a veteran of the losing U.S. bid in 2010, knows how fast new arenas can pop up so he is keeping some options open. He cited Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Levi’s Stadium as two venues that did not exist when he was part of the 2010 bid but that could host games today. For another example, the Rose Bowl is the listed Los Angeles site in the bid book, but the book also mentions a proposed NFL stadium in Inglewood, California, in making the city’s case.

“Inglewood is not being bid to host the World Cup,” Kristick said. “It’s being built as an NFL stadium, and they are making it available to be a possible stadium for the World Cup.”

North American bid officials are expected to stress to FIFA voters the joint nature of the effort and what Kristick labeled the “certainty” of their bid’s pre-existing infrastructure. The United Bid last week reorganized its leadership, installing the soccer federation presidents of the three bidding nations as co-presidents to project a spirit of unity and cooperation in what had been seen, probably correctly, as a U.S.-dominated effort.

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The moves were widely viewed as tactical — three co-presidents could lobby more FIFA voters than one could — but also as political: part of an effort to de-emphasize the United States’ role before a vote to FIFA members still angry about a Department of Justice investigation that, since 2015, has led to the ouster of FIFA’s top leadership and criminal charges for dozens of former soccer executives.

Morocco is expected to submit a 2026 proposal to FIFA by Friday’s deadline, but its plan is far more theoretical at this point. Morocco did not reveal even the basics of its bid until earlier this year, and the very nature of the expanded 2026 event makes it a monumental challenge for a single country.

Moroccan bid officials, for example, announced in February that they want to use as many as 14 stadiums for the tournament. But the country currently has only six that might be up to the task, and several of those facilities would need major improvements to meet minimum standards for capacity and safety set by FIFA for the World Cup.