There’s good news and bad about FIFA’s 2026 World Cup.
It’s great that WC-2026 will likely be played in the US, Mexico and Canada. The three CONCACAF neighbors are making a shared bid to host global soccer’s premier event. Where President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and actions seem destined to push North America’s three largest countries apart, WC-2026 will provide the NAFTA nations the opportunity to partner together in welcoming the soccer world.
Although unlikely, it’s worth mentioning that a potential stumbling block to the bid is if the US does institute broad bans on travelers from specific countries or regions. FIFA’s primary incentive is always to maximize profit and a WC in North America will provide the biggest bonanza ever. But there are limits to what the governing body can swallow.
A North American country is “due” to host the WC. FIFA’s current rules exclude from consideration confederations that have hosted the previous two WCs, which means Europe (Russia/2018) and Asia (Qatar/2022) are out. So for 2026, CONCACAF is the default option.
The host nation(s) must provide adequate infrastructure, including venues, transportation and accommodations. No problem here. Mexico has twice hosted WCs, both memorable, with Pele leading Brazil’s “best ever team” to the title in 1970 and Maradona hoisting the cup for Argentina in 1986.
The US was the venue for the 1994 tournament which still boasts the highest attendance in history (69,000 per-game average, topping 53,000 in both Germany and Brazil). Canada successfully hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2015.
With the lure of record dollars, ready-to- go facilities and over-the-top exposure, the CONCACAF trio will readily pass FIFA’s scrutiny. That said, there will be some internal squabbling, as the preliminary plan calls for 60 of the tournament’s 80 matches to be played in the US, with just 10 each for Mexico and Canada. Worse for El Tri and Canucks supporters could be that all games from the quarterfinals on are penciled in on US soil. If this stands, it will especially irk Mexicans who remain rightfully proud of WCs ‘70 and ’86.
Sharp readers are now asking themselves, “But wait … what’s this about 80 WC matches?” That’s the bad news. World Cups since 1998 have fielded 32 teams playing a total of 64 matches. But in a blatant grab for more revenues, FIFA will expand the field to 48 countries in 2026. This scheme sucks and will have an egregious impact on the quality of games, both before and during the WC event.
The preliminary rounds of each World Cup, the “qualifiers”—which start about six months after the tournament final—create crucial, closely-watched matches. For instance, the US men are currently fighting for their lives to reach the top three of the six-team Hex qualifying round. No such excitement in 2026, when CONCACAF will be awarded at least six WC slots. For teams such as Mexico and the US, WC qualifying will be virtually automatic.
Making matters worse, FIFA will reserve two spots to be filled basically AFTER the qualifiers, through a six-team playoff of the top teams that failed to qualify. This is designed to prevent the repeat of inglorious failures in recent decades of top international teams—England, France, Netherlands, Sweden and Uruguay come to mind—to qualify for a WC.
During the WC itself, the result of 48 teams will be watered-down competition, cautious play and snoozers. The extra games will increase the prospect that injury or red and yellow cards will be determinant. The initial round will involve 16 three-team groups; with just two matches to dictate which teams advance to the knockout rounds, the element of chance will multiply.
Finally, FIFA has always touted its goal of expanding soccer opportunities to smaller or third-world countries. See South Africa in 2010 and Qatar in 2022. But these countries can struggle to provide the necessary infrastructure, and end up servicing huge debt after the fact for useless venues. See South Africa and Brazil. The expansion to 48 teams with increased facility needs makes FIFA’s “goal” all the more cynical.