Which US city will host the 2026 World Cup final? FIFA president visits Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium as decision nears

By | September 18, 2023

FIFA President Gianni Infantino is shown on the big screen as the Dallas Cowboys play against the New York Jets at AT&T Stadium during an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
FIFA President Gianni Infantino is shown on the big screen as the Dallas Cowboys play against the New York Jets at AT&T Stadium during an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

FIFA President Gianni Infantino strolled along the sideline of AT&T Stadium on Sunday, then settled into the front row of a luxury suite. He’s not a big fan of American football; but Jerry Jones had invited him to the palatial home of the Dallas Cowboys, and it wasn’t hard to connect some dots.

Infantino is the most powerful man in the most popular sport in the world and will soon choose the host country for the 2026 World Cup final.

Jones has proposed his building as the ideal host, and officials in the candidate cities believe a decision is close.

Infantino and FIFA officials will also visit other North American host cities in the coming weeks. His presence Sunday in Arlington, Texas, doesn’t necessarily signal that a decision has been made or that Dallas has beaten New York and Los Angeles to clinch the World Cup crown jewel. All 11 US cities await the FIFA delegation for a variety of reasons; the location of the 2026 final is just one of many nagging unknowns.

But it certainly didn’t hurt Dallas’ case. Infantino loves fun and VVIP treatment, so it didn’t hurt to see him side-by-side with Jones and meet Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons before the game. And it certainly wasn’t a coincidence that AT&T Stadium cameramen found Infantino early in the first quarter and introduced him to more than 90,000 fans via the stadium’s 160-foot-long video board.

Infantino clapped and smiled amid a smattering of boos, with FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani sitting to his right and Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks to his left. (Montagliani is the president of CONCACAF, the soccer confederation of North and Central America, and is heavily involved in planning for the 2026 World Cup. Fox Sports holds English-language television rights in the United States. Other Infantino associates, including his advisor and former U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, were also present.)

It was easy to connect the dots because AT&T Stadium is the favorite to host the final in 2026. It was the favorite even before Sunday. He’s been a top-three contender for a while now and appears to have leapfrogged New York at some point in recent years.

But MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is also still in play. SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California was also a candidate. With a final decision expected this fall, below is a breakdown of the three offers, each of which has charm but flaws.

1.Dallas | AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

The stadium is huge, modern and still being modernised. It was not built for football, but has hosted international tournaments and profitable club friendlies. Like most of the 11 US stadiums, it will have to reduce its capacity to accommodate FIFA’s desired field width and other World Cup specifications, but “it looks like we can accommodate more than 90,000 fans per game,” the president said of FC Dallas Dan Hunt. who presides over the Dallas bid, told Yahoo Sports last year.

It also has an adjacent entertainment district, Texas Live, and two other adjacent stadiums that could host watch parties or related events. “So you could have another 100,000 people having some sort of World Cup experience out there in Arlington,” Hunt said.

One concern is the heat — the final will be played in July, when Dallas temperatures regularly top 100 degrees and almost always hit 90 — but the stadium itself, with its retractable roof, is climate-proof.

The main drawback, frankly, is the city’s relative lack of glamour, and the perplexed looks of this choice Dallas Above THERE AND New York would arouse. On the surface, it’s not the natural choice.

But, above all, it is the choice that best satisfies the billion people who will watch the show around the world. And while the opening of the World Cup is more about the destination – because it becomes a physical gathering place for the entire world of football – the final is more about the spectacle that those billion people see on TV.

2. New York | MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey

New York was the early favorite, for obvious reasons. Way back in 2017, the North American bid committee proposed that MetLife host the final, with semifinals in Dallas and Atlanta. That original projection may yet come to fruition.

But it would leave FIFA susceptible to the nightmare scenario: a mid-July storm that sweeps through North Jersey and leaves the billion television viewers sitting, waiting, wondering when a suspended World Cup final will resume.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - JULY 22: A general view of MetLife Stadium, home of the NFL teams the New York Giants and Jets, ahead of the US summer friendly match between Arsenal and Manchester United at MetLife Stadium on July 22, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
A general view of MetLife Stadium prior to the summer friendly between Arsenal and Manchester United on July 22, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

It’s an unlikely scenario, of course, but when there are other great options that are storm-proof and would protect players from the summer heat, why take the risk?

“We obviously have to take into account the weather conditions, the stadiums, the ones that have a roof, the ones that are closed, where maybe you can play earlier in the afternoon,” Infantino said last year shortly after naming the 16 host cities.

And the final, by the way, will almost certainly take place in the afternoon, on Sunday, so that Europe, FIFA’s priority market, can watch it in prime time.

3. Los Angeles | SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California

Los Angeles, perhaps even more than New York, has an obvious charm. The weather is splendid. It has unparalleled splendor. It has probably the most beautiful stadium in the world, which could probably earn FIFA its biggest profit of the day.

But there seem to be two main problems:

  • That stadium isn’t big enough for football. It will reportedly require one of the most significant adjustments to host a World Cup ground, which could even bring its capacity below the 80,000-seat benchmark that FIFA lists as a requirement to host a World Cup final male. (Though of course FIFA could easily make an exception.)

  • Los Angeles is nine hours ahead of Western Europe. So the match should probably start at noon or 1pm local time at the latest – which is doable but not ideal. (The 1994 World Cup final started at 12.30pm at the Rose Bowl. The seven men’s World Cup finals since then have started at 9pm, 8am, 8am, 8.30pm, 4pm, 6pm and 6pm)

The New York Times reported Friday that FIFA has narrowed its choices to Dallas and New York. Others believe Los Angeles is still a candidate, but it’s more likely to be a destination for the opening game – or one of many opening day games – than the finals.

The complete World Cup calendar is coming soon

All this and more will be announced in the coming months. A full schedule, with dates and locations for all 104 games, could be released before the end of the calendar year.

Among the many unknowns is how FIFA will move across the continent. There was talk of geographic “pods” or “clusters” in the group stage. Knockout stages sites must also be respectful of teams and fans. “Obviously you don’t want a team playing in the semi-finals to have to get on a plane and fly five hours to go and play a final,” Montagliani said last year.

The original proposal was for the round of 16 to move from west to east as they progressed. If Dallas hosts the final, however, there could be a western portion of the bracket (with a semifinal in Los Angeles) and an eastern portion (with a semifinal in New York or Atlanta), with the two converging on Texas to crown a champion.

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