United 2026? World Cup needs new final venue

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The FIFA Men’s World Cup will return to North America in 2026 and as a soccer fan, I — along with millions of others across the continent — could not be more excited for the upcoming tournament. I am literally planning my life, six years in advance, to ensure I end up at a World Cup match.

Needless to say, I am anticipating the competition greatly.

Beyond my anticipation, though, there is a lot to like about the United 2026 FIFA World Cup, in which Mexico, the United States and Canada will host 48 teams from every continent. It is the first world cup where it is guaranteed that a team from every continental confederation will make the final tournament.

The diffused nature of the hosting format, coupled with the fact that no new stadiums are being constructed specifically for the tournament, will hopefully mitigate some of the negative effects that hosting international competitions can have on the communities in which they take place and potentially provide an example for.

But nothing is perfect, and United 2026 is no exception.

After 80 matches, the two best teams in world football will clash outside New York City. Billions will watch with bated breath as the most talented players on the planet likely walk into MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

The U.S. will be saved from the ironic tragedy of hosting a World Cup Final in a stadium with a corporately sponsored name by FIFA regulations and the venue will still attract a massive audience, but it still doesn’t bely the fact that there are venues across the continent that should be hosting the game instead.

There is a list of cities across the country with better fans. Seattle, Atlanta and Los Angeles have established or are rapidly establishing strong soccer cultures. LAFC, Atlanta United, the L.A. Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders have well-attended games with fans who create an atmosphere which is far more entertaining and meaningful than their counterparts in New York.

The Rose Bowl hosted the 1994 Men’s World Cup Final and California is home to many U.S. soccer players. On the other hand, Seattle and Atlanta have unparalleled soccer fans and their respective MLS teams have built impressive dynasties, but have never hosted a World Cup. Reward those cities and those fans.

Or, better yet, host the final in a stadium which has presided over the World Cup Final not once, but twice. Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca is one of the world’s great footballing venues and has witnessed a treasure trove of icons. Pele led a Brazil team which is arguably the best to ever grace a field to a then record third World Cup at the Azteca in 1970. Diego Maradona scored the “Goal of the Century” and “Hand of God” en route to Argentina’s 1986 triumph.

Fans? Check. An atmosphere unlike any other? Look no further. Forget about any part of the U.S. being significant to the history of the sport, because Mexico is unquestionably the center of North American soccer. It is no exaggeration to say that the Estadio Azteca is the most famous soccer stadium in North America. The fact that the stadium won’t even host a quarterfinal is a travesty and speaks to larger issues in the distribution of matches at the tournament.

The United 2026 World Cup will see 60 of the 80 total matches take place in the United States, leaving Canada and Mexico with the other 20, none of which will take place after the round of 16. While there are reasons for a nation like the U.S., which already possesses much of the necessary infrastructure for putting on the tournament, to stage more matches, hosting 75% of those games seems disproportionate. Is it really a “United” World Cup?

This format marginalizes co-hosts Canada and Mexico, to an extent, by staging a majority of the games in the United States — including the final. If this is United 2026, then all three hosts should be clearly and equally united in 2026. Canada should host a semifinal. Mexico should host the championship game.

2026 could see the Estadio Azteca become the first venue to host three World Cup Finals. It would be a legendary match on a legendary field in the heart of Mexico City. Instead, MetLife is the proposed host. While New Jersey and New York should absolutely stage a World Cup game, there are many venues more deserving in hosting the most important soccer match on the planet, and that list starts in Mexico.

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].