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FIFA sets schedule for 2026 World Cup venue selection

Seattle is one of 17 U.S. cities still in the running to host games.

Mike Russell / Sounder at Heart

With the end of the Covid-19 pandemic slowly coming within view, formal planning for the 2026 World Cup is also getting ready to restart.

It has been more than a year since we’ve had anything like a formal update on the process, but FIFA is now getting ready to do virtual tours of the bid cities in February before starting in-person tours in July with the hope of selecting the final slate by the end of the year.

“Bearing in mind the constantly changing circumstances with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, FIFA and the host associations are aiming to start the venue visits in the candidate host cities at the beginning of July 2021,” FIFA press release said. “In keeping with FIFA’s policy of following the recommendations of the health authorities in the context of the pandemic, the visits will only take place if the health and safety situation in the host countries allows FIFA to do so.”

As you may remember, Seattle is among 23 cities still in the running to host matches during the event that will be spread across three countries. The United States, Canada and Mexico submitted a joint bid to host, beating out Morocco for the hosting rights. In addition to be the first World Cup to be played in three countries, it will also be the first to feature 48 teams.

Three Mexican, three Canadian and 17 cities in the United States were on the list.

For Mexico, Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey were shortlisted. Canada’s three cities were Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto – not Vancouver, though, after opting out.

For the United States, the list has been narrowed down to Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C. Of those, 10 or 11 are expected to be selected.

This will mark the second time the United States has hosted, but Seattle was not among the cities to make the cut in 1994. Mexico has hosted twice, in 1970 and 1986, while Canada has never hosted the men’s version of the World Cup. Meanwhile, the United States hosted the Women’s World Cup in 1999 and 2003, while Canada hosted the tournament two cycles ago in 2015. Mexico has never hosted a Women’s World Cup.

Seattle has hosted international tournaments before at Lumen Field. Most recently, it hosted several matches for the Copa America Centenario in 2016, a tournament between Concacaf and COMENBOL nations. Seattle hosted group stage matches and also the June 16, 2016 quarterfinal match between the United States and Ecuador.

Seattle has also been a venue city for the Concacaf Gold Cup several times.

One criticism of Lumen Field is its FieldTurf Revolution 360 playing surface. But roughly half of the venues listed in the bid have artificial turf, so that shouldn’t be anything like a disqualifying factor. In the past, temporary grass has been laid on top of the FieldTurf, but could at least theoretically be entirely replaced if that was deemed necessary.

Lumen Field is also used by the Seattle Seahawks NFL team, in addition to the Sounders of MLS. That, too, is common among the bid venues. None of the 17 U.S. venues are used exclusively for soccer and all but one of them — Orlando’s Camping World Stadium — are shared with a NFL team.

FIFA is also looking into infrastructure and accommodations for players and fans.

Working in Seattle’s favor is the local soccer fanbase and potential training facilities located in relatively close proximity. Public transit will also have an expanded footprint by then, with the Northgate extension due to come on line later this year and service to the east side of Lake Washington scheduled to start in 2023.

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