FIFA is currently in the process of finalizing venue selection for the 2026 World Cup, which will be played in the United States, Canada and Mexico. As you surely know, Seattle is among the cities still under consideration and the selection committee will be in town Oct. 31-Nov. 1 checking things out and attending the Sounders-Galaxy match.
In preparation for the visit, Sea2026.com was launched and the executive committee was unveiled. The Seattle Sounders are heavily represented with majority owner Adrian Hanauer, minority owners Ciara, Russell Wilson and Amy Hood. Joining them are outgoing Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Amazon Web Services CEO Adam Selipsky, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman.
While all of that is important to the bid being successful, I suspect most of you don’t really care. So let’s get to the good stuff:
Who else is in the running?
Seattle is one of 17 U.S. cities still in the running and there are officially two more cities in Canada (Toronto and Edmonton) and three more in Mexico (Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey). The other U.S. cities are Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Kansas City, Boston, Denver, Houston, Baltimore, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Nashville, Bay Area, Cincinnati, Miami and Orlando.
Why are there only two Canadian cities?
Believe it or not, Toronto is the only Canadian city remaining from the three that were originally proposed after Vancouver dropped out early in the process and Montreal a bit later. Edmonton was actually added later in the process and Vancouver has been making noise about getting back into it, but nothing is yet official.
How many U.S. cities will be selected?
That has not been officially announced and could be somewhat affected by how many non-U.S. cities are selected. Notably, this will be a 48-team tournament and even if six non-U.S. cities are selected, it’s expected that the same number of games would be played here as would have been played in a 32-team tournament.
In recent years, FIFA seems to prefer having 12 host venues, but they had 10 in South Africa, while the 2002 tournament that was played in South Korea and Japan featured a whopping 20 venues. A safe guess is that at least eight U.S. cities will be selected, but there are surely scenarios where as many as 14 could be used.
When will a final decision be made?
The goal is to wrap up the venue tours by the end of the year — there’s still at least one more batch to be done after this group of tours is finished — and for the final decision to be made in the first half of next year.
How big of a problem is not having grass?
The most common criticism of Seattle’s bid has been that we don’t have a permanent grass field here. I wrote rather extensively about this awhile back, but the TL;DR is that I don’t think that’s a particularly big problem. Half the cities under consideration don’t have permanent grass fields and if Seattle is selected, they’ll figure out how to make grass work one way or another.
What are other stadiums doing to improve their bids?
All 17 U.S. venues under consideration house NFL teams — with the possible exception of the Rose Bowl, which was presumably just a placeholder for the Los Angeles bid while SoFi Stadium was completed. The most dramatic concession any of those facilities have offered is Boston’s Gillette Stadium, where they’ve promised to re-install the permanent grass pitch that was there before they put in FieldTurf in 2006. In Dallas, Kansas City and Washington, D.C. they’ve promised to take out some seats in order to accommodate a bigger pitch.
What kind of improvements might Seattle be offering?
It’s not yet known exactly what Seattle is planning to do in order to make Lumen Field even more attractive, but it does have the benefit of having hosted not only the Sounders but numerous international matches. It was also built with soccer in mind, unlike many of these other facilities, so they shouldn’t need to remove seats or anything like that.
It will be interesting to see how they plan to install grass, however. Hanauer has previously tamped down expectations about installing a permanent grass surface, but simply rolling out sod the way they did for Copa America Centenario or the 2013 World Cup qualifier probably won’t cut it.
It has been suggested that the Sounders should try to do something like they have in Las Vegas, Phoenix or Tottenham, where a full grass surface rolls out on top of the artificial one, but that would likely require a nine-figure infrastructure investment and seems unlikely. It might be possible to install something semi-permanent on top of the current pitch since there’s at least a couple months between the end of the NFL season and the start of MLS, but that would almost certainly need to be removed when the NFL starts again shortly after the World Cup.
It’s not hard to imagine permanent seating being added to the 300 level, signage being installed that allows the stadium to feel less like the Seahawks home when they aren’t playing and maybe even a permanent soccer locker room. The last two have been on the Sounders’ wishlist for quite some time and maybe this is the excuse First & Goal needs to make it happen.
Where are the teams going to train?
My understanding is the Virginia Mason Athletic Center (VMAC) will be one of the primary training facilities. I suspect the University of Washington and Seattle University will also be leveraged. But the crown jewel could end up being a new Sounders training facility. The Sounders have been talking about a need to upgrade Starfire since at least 2015, when GM Garth Lagerwey supposedly nixed expansion plans that would have better accommodated S2 and the academy. The Sounders have gone back and forth about the pros and cons of upgrading Starfire versus finding a new facility ever since, but it seems like they’re finally close to making an announcement. I would expect to hear more about that by the end of the year.
Where might that be?
I suppose it’s possible that they’ll stay at Starfire, but the reality is that there’s not a ton of space there that’s going unused. The two sites that I’ve heard speculated about are both in south King County, one at the Kent Midway Landfill site that nearly became the Sounders’ home in 2003 and the other being the old Weyerhaeuser Corporate Campus in Federal Way. But those are really just guesses. What I’m fairly certain of is that the Sounders will want it to be visible, ideally have good access to mass transit, and provide some commercial opportunities.
What non-soccer improvements are being planned?
I don’t know if anything is planned expressly around the World Cup potentially coming here, but there are a lot of things already in the works that will make the bid even stronger by 2026. Most notable is the ongoing Link light rail expansion, which will stretch north to Lynwood, south to Federal Way and east to Redmond by then. Between now and 2026, there are supposed to be at least 19 new stations opened and it will be one of the biggest municipal rail systems in the country.
Light rail will be within reasonably easy walking distance of the stadium, airport and most of King County’s 45,000 hotel rooms, nearly 15,000 of which are in the downtown core.
There’s also a pretty significant waterfront reconstruction and expansion that is currently underway and will likely be done by 2026. The highlight of that project will be the Overlook Walk.
Is this good for Seattle?
I’m not going to pretend that doing business with an organization like FIFA is devoid of drawbacks. There will certainly be some accommodations made that rub locals the wrong way. I suspect tickets are going to be super expensive, and we’ll all probably have to tolerate a level of disruption that is annoying.
But there’s also reason to think that this tournament could speed up some of these long-planned projects and, at the very least, we’ll get a Fan Fest. I’ve only been to one in Germany, but it was a pretty awesome way to enjoy the games without having to spend a bunch of money.
How likely is Seattle to be selected?
Most journalists who have been handicapping the process seem to think that Seattle is among the favorites. It’s hard to beat our soccer culture, we’ve got ample space to put everyone and getting around the region will be relatively easy, at least compared to many U.S. metro areas.
What’s going to be the excuse if we aren’t selected?
Maybe the biggest drawback is that Seattle is relatively isolated. Assuming Vancouver is out, the next closest venue might be Edmonton, which is more than 500 miles away. FIFA is also a pretty massive wildcard, and they might just not like whatever it is we’re selling.
But if it’s all decided on merit, it’s hard to see Seattle getting passed over.
2026 U.S. bid cities
|Bid cities||Type of surface||Capacity||Year opened|
|Bid cities||Type of surface||Capacity||Year opened|
|Baltimore||Tifway 419 Bermuda Grass||71,008||1998|
|Bay Area||Tifway II Bermuda Grass||68,500||2014|
|Cincinnati*||Shaw Sports Momentum Pro||65,515||2000|
|Dallas*||Hellas Matrix Turf with Helix Soft Top||105,121||2009|
|Houston*||Hellas Matrix Helix||72,220||2002|
|Kansas City||Latitude 36 Bermuda Grass||76,416||1968|
|Los Angeles*||Matrix Turf||100,240||2020|
|Miami||Tifway 419 Bermuda Grass||64,767||1987|
|Nashville||Tifsport Bermuda Sod||69,143||1999|
|New York/New Jersey*||Fieldturf||82,500||2010|
|Orlando*||AstroTurf RootZone 3D3||65,194||1936**|
|Seattle*||FieldTurf Revolution 360||72,000||2002|
|Washington, D.C.||Latitude 36 Bermuda Grass||82,000||1997**|