Just as the 2018 FIFA World Cup got underway FIFA announced that the U.S., Mexico, and Canada will jointly host the 2026 World Cup. It’ll be the first time that three countries have co-hosted the World Cup. It will be the first World Cup on American soil since 1994, the first for Mexico since 1986, and the first ever men’s World Cup for Canada. Hosting an event of this magnitude brings does a great deal of good for soccer in the Americas, yet also brings with it controversy. Here’s the good, bad & ugly surrounding the 2026 World Cup.
The Socio-Political Component
“We’re going to get the World Cup back on our continent,” says Hector Lozano of Univision Deportes. “It feels awesome.” Considering the current political climate in both the United States, and this region as a whole due to U.S. relations and policy, there is understandable concern as to whether or not this will be good idea eight years from now. Former U.S. Women’s National Team member Hope Solo has flat out said that the United States doesn’t deserve to host another World Cup citing equality as one of her many reasons for objecting. “In some ways humanity has not evolved as much as the calendar would suggest in certain areas, like peacefully embracing diversity,” says Cristian Moreno of ESPN Deportes Radio.
While racial and cultural issues are an issue with the sport worldwide, the United States has become a lightning rod for these issues as a whole under the current administration. While there will be a new administration in the White House by 2026, there is valid concern as how to long the scars from the current regime will linger.
“It is a social issue that people have to work with (inside themselves) to be human, many people run from it still in 2018,” Moreno says. “Hopefully it will bring us closer, historically soccer has had that effect on the masses,” adds Lozano.
Politics and social issues aside, the World Cup is a good thing for North America. The United States is looking to rebuild it’s standing in the soccer world, Canada – which is gaining a foothold in Major League Soccer – is looking to prove that they can be more than just a hockey country, while Mexico looks to add to it’s reputation of being the richest soccer nation on the continent.
2026 World Cup Changes the Game
The 2026 World Cup will expand to 48 teams from the usual 32 that we’ve all grown accustomed to. There will be 16 groups instead of eight and there will be three teams in each group. So while there will be chances for more countries to participate, it also runs the risk of watering down the event. “It definitely opens the door for more countries (who) dare make the leap and catch a shot, that is the one upside to the expansion,” says Moreno.
“It should be special to make the World Cup and play in the most prestigious of all tournaments. This will only water down the event and qualifying,” says Brian Sandalow who’s a soccer analyst that’s written for the Associated Press and the Chicago Sun-Times and author of “Chicago: America’s Best Sports Town”. “It will dilute the quality, but at the end you’re going to have the same powerhouses advancing from the group play. But it will give a chance to a lot of countries that (normally) won’t have a chance to participate,” Lozano adds.
More teams also means the possibility of more Latin American involvement. “It opens up more slots and allows more lower level teams to have a screening,” Moreno says. And according to Lozano, “CONCACAF will get another ticket, and probably another Inter-Continental playoff, and South America will get another ticket as well. You get another 14 spaces this time.”
With 48 teams playing that means that the World Cup will now need 80 matches to decide a champion. And so far it appears that 60 games will be played in the United States, with the other 20 to be split evenly between Mexico and Canada. But there is hope that the games will be more evenly split as 2026 draws closer, especially on the Mexican side.
Separate But Perhaps Unequal
“Can we really call it ‘joint’ when (the) majority (of the games) will be in the US?” asks Moreno. “In fact it feels like a joke focusing the joint venture, both countries deserve so much (more),” he added. “I understand that the stadiums in the U.S. are much newer, bigger, and have the capacity to hold over 70,000, 80,000 people. But (the lack of equal distribution) is the only thing I kind of didn’t like,” said Lozano.
While the logistics get sorted out, one positive that can be taken from this is the exposure that the host nations will get. Especially since all three will automatically qualify as per FIFA rules. Team USA, which has fielded many Hispanic players over the years, has undertaken a rebuild after not qualifying for Russia this year. The hope is that they’ll be a much better team by the time 2026 rolls around.
“I think a new direction will be very beneficial to the program, and I expect the sport to keep growing,” says Sandalow about U.S. Soccer. “Mexico has a great infrastructure for soccer. But hopefully we don’t have to wait until 2026 to win a World Cup,” says Lozano who was born in Leon, Mexico.
Whether they hoist the trophy in Russia or not remains to be seen. But the 2026 World Cup will mark 40 years since soccer’s biggest event graced Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca. To win the cup on home soil would be something that hasn’t been accomplished since France successfully defended it’s home turf back in 1998. “Mexico is always a consistently awesome venue when hosting, they are bound to deliver strong and passionately once again,” Moreno says.
Sandalow adds, “It’s a huge deal for Mexico. They can highlight their tremendous soccer culture, and if the team continues to improve, they have a real chance of winning the title. I would not want to play them at the Azteca.”
There’s also the opportunity to host the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2025. That hasn’t been decided yet but having it in the U.S. is a strong possibility. “I would love to have it here in the States,” says Lozano. “Personally I’d take it to have to chance to watch one of these games without traveling too far,” he adds.
It’s not perfect but at the end of the day it does have it’s benefits. Cheering for Team USA and Mexico at home, watching the games in our local regular time zones, and of course the economical benefits. Ticket sales, merchandise, and tourism will be the biggest money drivers, but there’s also the money that FIFA and the soccer federations will be pitching in. “The money coming in from FIFA will help the developmental side, especially for the smaller countries,” Lozano said. When it comes to sports in North America, money is always a driving factor.
We may still have eight years ahead of us but expectations are already coming together. Those expectations will continue to grow as we move closer to 2026.
“People will hate that it has 48 teams and find other stuff to complain about, but in the end there will be great soccer and the tournament will foster more growth for the sport in this country,” says Sandalow, “Hopefully by then the widespread acceptance to futbol in the U.S. is even higher to further grow the outcome of this ‘joint venture’,” adds Moreno.
At the end of the day, soccer continues to be the world’s most popular sport.