(CN) — The World Cup heads to the U.S., Mexico and Canada in 2026, and on Thursday FIFA announced which cities and venues will host the 80 highly anticipated matches.
For the first time in 28 years, the international soccer championship will return to the states for 60 matches with Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Kansas City, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, and New York/New Jersey selected to host games. While it has yet to be announced which matches will be held at which venues, the quarterfinals, semifinals and final will take place in the U.S.
It will be Canada's first time hosting the men's tournament with 10 matches in Vancouver and Toronto, and Mexico will make history as the first nation to host or co-host for a third time, also hosting 10 matches in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey.
"It's going to be massive," said Sharon Cooper, who will be working her seventh World Cup this year at Atlanta's legendary soccer hub, The Brewhouse Cafe. Since she began working there in 1997, she said the sport has gained tremendous popularity over the years.
"When the U.S. played England in 2010, it was so crazy that we ran out of beer," Cooper said.
The 1994 World Cup hosted by the U.S. birthed the creation of Major League Soccer that began playing two years later, a league which continues to grow with 12 of the now 30 teams introduced just in the last decade.
"It's going to be interesting because in the U.S., soccer competes with so many other sports like football and basketball, where as in England where I'm from for example, soccer is everything," said Eddie Powell, owner of Rare and Retro Soccer, which sells and buys classic and limited edition jerseys in front of the Brewhouse Cafe.
"I think we might get a semifinal game here because of the stadium's retractable roof," Powell said.
Along with the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, AT&T Stadium in Dallas and NRG Stadium in Houston feature retractable roofs that are seen as important to FIFA, since they provide protection from rain and intense heat. It is likely the final matches will be held in these three cities because they can also host games in the afternoon, which is important since they would be in European prime time.
Georgia is using money from hotel taxes collected by the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau for a security budget. Texas also has a tax-funded program designed to help its cities qualify for funding to support huge sporting events like the World Cup.
Other U.S. cities including Minneapolis, Chicago and Glendale, Arizona, dropped out of the running in 2018, due to FIFA demanding tax breaks and other funding assistance. Georgia and Florida passed legislation in May eliminating sales taxes on tickets for World Cup soccer matches.
The capacities of all the U.S. stadiums for 2026 are all 60,000 and higher, preparing to topple the record breaking average attendance in 1994 of 68,991.
This will be the second World Cup hosted jointly by more than one nation since Japan and South Korea joined forces in 2002.
The "United" North American bid scored 402.8 out of 500 in competition with Morocco, which was given a score of 274.9 by FIFA's task force in 2018 as part of new bidding requirements that examine various infrastructural and commercial elements as well as human rights risks.
As the U.S. already has several world-class stadiums, airports, hotels and training facilities, the $11 billion expected in profits for the newly expanded 48-team format doubles the amount promised by Morocco's bid, making it a hopeful comeback for current FIFA President Gianni Infantino, after years of corruption-related arrests and the controversial 2022 World Cup in Qatar approaching in November.
FIFA has a long history of corruption, from former President João Havelange taking millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for World Cup marketing and broadcast rights in 1974, to U.S. federal prosecutors arresting nine FIFA officials in 2015 for receiving millions in bribes, which triggered several other countries to launch their own investigations as well.
Not only did three South American officials receive payments to vote for Qatar, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the 2022 host had to move the games to November due to it's extreme summer climate and thousands of migrant workers have died building billions worth in infrastructure for this year's tournament. The country also faces scrutiny for its criminalization of homosexuality.
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