MOSCOW (AP) The head of North American soccer says the region’s teams need until 2026 at a home World Cup to reach their full potential.
Mexico’s traditional round of 16 loss this week left the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football (CONCACAF) without the quarterfinals place it got four years ago from Costa Rica.
“All in all, I think it’s par for the course,” CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said Tuesday of the region’s performance in Russia.
With just three teams at this World Cup compared to four in 2014, Costa Rica was last in a tough group and newcomer Panama lost all three games.
“I think you will see an improvement in four years,” Montagliani told The Associated Press in an interview, though suggesting “eight years is more realistic.”
Elected to lead CONCACAF in 2016, the Canadian official acknowledged the soccer body had too often let down its 35 FIFA member nations.
“Quite frankly, over the last 40 years CONCACAF as a confederation has not really done much to help the federations try to compete at a world level,” Montagliani said of an era tainted by corruption, and leaders indicted by the U.S. Justice Department.
Now moved from Manhattan to Miami, CONCACAF has reformed its business practices and revamped competitions for national and club teams.
A Nations League kicks off next year, designed to raise competitive standards by giving smaller national teams more fixtures and revenue in a two-year cycle.
Four places were added to the marquee Gold Cup, which the United States will host next year with 16 teams.
“Then we will see what we look like eight years from now when we host a World Cup in our backyard,” Montagliani said.
Though Mexico beat Germany 1-0 in a stunning group-stage opener in Moscow, CONCACAF had a bigger win in the Russian capital. Five days earlier, FIFA members picked the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid over Morocco to host the 2026 tournament.
That 48-team edition will give CONCACAF six guaranteed places – likely with automatic entry for all three hosts – plus two more chances in an intercontinental playoff round in November 2025. Two of six teams will advance, with Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America all sending one entry.
In Russia, CONCACAF was understrength after Honduras lost its intercontinental playoff last November, going down 3-1 in Australia after drawing 0-0 in the home leg.
“It’s really important we get a fourth team (in 2022),” Montagliani said. “I think this year it was disappointing Honduras didn’t take advantage of their home field advantage.”
Four years ago, Mexico grabbed a fourth place for the region when it surprisingly fell into the playoffs as Honduras advanced directly with the U.S. and Costa Rica.
This time, the U.S. slumped in the final qualifying group, letting in Panama which was overmatched in Russia.
“Like most debutants they saw how tough it is at this level,” Montagliani said. “The team that probably should have qualified four years ago was here this year and a little bit old in the tooth. You’re going to see a different Panama now in the next four years.”
So too will CONCACAF on and off the field, the FIFA vice president insisted.
“Our confederation will look differently by the time we get to ’22 and definitely look different by the time we host in ’26.”
For the first time in 32 years the World Cup would be coming to North America and there is euphoria that a new generation of soccer fans will appear across the three countries.
But focusing solely on the U.S. (which will host 60 of the 80 games in the expanded 48-team format), what will this mean?
A man who knows about the impact of the last World Cup on home soil better than most is Cobi Jones, the all-time appearance leader for the U.S. men’s national team with 164 caps from 1992-2004 and he played for the USMNT in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups.
There is no doubt in his mind as to how significant this moment is for the soccer landscape in the U.S. for the foreseeable future.
“It is a historic event,” Jones said. “For a nation to be able to host two World Cups. I understand it is a United bid with the U.S. being part of it having hosted in 1994 and now again in 2026, there are very few countries who are able to say they’ve hosted two World Cups. And for someone like me who grew up in the early 70s and 80s when soccer really was relevant in the United States, I didn’t think I’d see one World Cup, let alone two. It is pretty special.”
Jones, now 47, was 24 years old when the last World Cup in the U.S. kicked off.
He fondly remembers stepping out in front of over 84,000 fans to play for the U.S. against Brazil in the last 16 and wants that buzz to return in eight years time.
“It was pride,” Jones reflected. “The moment I was able to walk out on July 4 into Stanford Stadium, walking out against Brazil and seeing them walk out right next to me as a young man and I’ve got Romario and Bebeto doing their holding hands walk out into the center of the field… then looking up at that moment and seeing a full stadium with the majority being American fans. That was a moment of pride for a sport no-one thought would be successful in the United States. People from all around the world looked down on soccer in the United States. And to see that, it gave incentive to soccer to continue to move forward and grow.”
Many still look back to the 1994 World Cup as the seminal moment for the domestic game in the U.S. as it launched not only Major League Soccer but whole industries around the sport when it came to media, business and infrastructure.
It was the moment the world seemed to realize that soccer in the U.S. had potential.
“That World Cup impacted me the same way it impacted so many more. It was a wonderful surprise,” Jones explained. “It was an inspiration for more investment in the sport in the United States and maybe a little more respect form overseas. I think as well we saw the legacy that it left behind and you have the United States, basically the 1994 World Cup built from the top down. You had the establishment of MLS and that top down development and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m hoping that with such a long run-up we see the investment from the ground up. More investment into infrastructure into that side of things where we see a grow into youth levels. That would be a logical use of money in my mind.”
The landscape of soccer in the U.S. is very different now compared to 1994.
MLS has grown to 26 teams. Every major league across the world is available to watch on television or online, plus huge summer friendly tournaments pack out stadiums as well as the rapid growth in popularity of the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams.
What’s the next step?
“I would say now soccer has got the full acceptance. I still think we are in a little bit of a transition and everyone is still trying to get a grasp of where soccer is at in this country,” Jones said. “When I was growing up nobody gave soccer any kind of respect and you were an outsider if you were into the sport. It grew into the fact where you got the development that now it’s like ‘okay, you’re cool and hip’ if you like soccer because it’s a little different. Now I think we’re at a point where we are just on the cusp of where it is starting to turn and on the edge of where it could be mainstream. We are seeing full stadiums, MLS is growing soccer-specific stadiums non-stop. But I still think there needs to be a transition where it is a day-to-day topic amongst the general population.
“We have it already if you ask people ‘do you watch MLS or such and such team?’ and people will say ‘oh no, I don’t, I’m not a fan of that’ or ‘oh yeah, I’m a fan.'” Just the fact that it’s not ‘oh, what’s that?’ is a massive change in this country!” Jones chuckled. “People know now. You could say ‘LAFC’ and people will say, ‘that new team in LA!’ and that’s a change. That’s big. Now we have to get it to the point where it’s on a daily basis where people are talking and there’s no hesitation at all about saying ‘did you see the game today?’ and that’s the next big step for soccer in the U.S.”
Whether or not the 2026 World Cup will bring the sport into the mainstream conversation on a permanent basis remains to be seen, but one area Jones believes cannot be neglected is attracting players and interest from communities which have previously been left out.
With kids currently at the age of nine or ten possibly able to play for the USMNT at the 2026 World Cup as a teenage star a la Christian Pulisic, no community in the U.S. should left out of what promises to be an exhilarating eight-year journey.
“Off the field, we have got a long runway [until 2026] and as resources are put towards the growth for the game, I’d like to see more in the youth game but particularly into those undeserved communities or whatever you’d like to call it. The urban population. Just to expand the reach of soccer into those communities and possibly bring others who don’t have the chance to even just play the game or even just to build the sport more,” Jones said. “Let’s not forget, what we are starting to see in this day and age, a perfect example is someone like Pulisic, going into the national team at aged 17 or 18, and showing that they can play well. If that happens and the timing happens to be just right, basically a nine-year-old today will be able to play in the 2026 World Cup.
“We need to make sure our reach, our coaching, our philosophy, it’s the youth today and along that whole runaway up to 2026. The journey starts now and don’t leave people behind. Don’t leave those underserved communities behind. Let’s make sure the diversity is there. And by diversity I mean making a concerted effort to get into areas where people wouldn’t normally reached by U.S. Soccer because the thought of ‘oh, they’ll find us’ that isn’t working anymore. You’ve got to go out and find those players and show them what they need to do and where they need to go.”
Although there is plenty of focus on 2026 and having a U.S. team able to compete and do well, Jones is eager to remind everyone that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar comes before that.
Jones believes the USMNT cannot afford to miss a second-straight World Cup and expects his former teammate Earnie Stewart to focus on the here and now as well as the future in his new role as General Manager.
“There is going to be a lot of excitement about it being here in the United States [in 2026] but we have to remember that 2022 is right around the corner. There will be a focus on the players and the general plan going forward. That entails the next 18 months. The next World Cup doesn’t start four years from now. It starts two years from now,” Jones said. “We do not want to skip over this World Cup. The last thing the United States needs is the disappointment of not being at two World Cups. We need to start the focus now on the short-term and the long-term, and that’s part of the reason why the addition of a GM and Earnie Stewart being hired in that new job, he can keep the focus on both.”
What should USMNT fans being hope for from their team in 2026?
Jones was part of the 2002 World Cup squad which reached the quarterfinals before being harshly knocked out by Germany. In the modern era that is the USA’s best-ever finish in a tournament.
If the future USMNT replicate that finish, then surely the fans from all over the U.S. who are attracted to watching a team on home soil will stick around for a lot longer.
“On the pitch I’d like to see the U.S. do well and at that point if they can get beyond the quarterfinal stage and get into the semis,” Jones said. “We have a great crop of talent who are actually playing on a consistent basis in Europe and in the U.S. with the likes of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, all of these type of players who I feel can contribute on the pitch in the future along with some of the older players you see now. You will see a good U.S. side that won’t disappoint. I would like to see them go beyond the quarterfinals. That would be a success.”
Reports ahead of the final vote claimed that Trump sent several letters to FIFA’s member associations reassuring them over fears regarding visas and immigration during the tournament, even though he wouldn’t be in office even if he won a second term as president of the U.S.
Below is Trump’s message in full.
Thank you for all of the compliments on getting the World Cup to come to the U.S.A., Mexico and Canada. I worked hard on this, along with a Great Team of talented people. We never fail, and it will be a great World Cup! A special thanks to Bob Kraft for excellent advice.
Given the huge distances between potential host cities, the envy of certain stadiums being on the list of 23 potential venues is very real across some parts of the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
But with that initial list of 23 cities set to be whittled down to 16 in the coming years, and the likes of Vancouver and Chicago not even making that final list as both pulled out, it is a ridiculously tough decision to finalize where the World Cup games will be played.
Here is a look at the potential host cities for the 2026 World Cup in the USA, Mexico and Canada.
This current list of 23 will be whittled down to 16 for the tournament
Below is a ranking of the potential 23 host cities, with seven to miss out.
With the joint bid involving the USA, Mexico and Canada but 60 of the 80 games to be played in the U.S., you would think that a fair distribution of 10 U.S. cities and three each for Mexico and Canada is what the bid is looking at as their aim is to reach as many people as possible across all three countries.
But, when you think about it, maybe 12 U.S. cities and two each from Mexico and Canada would work a little better. With that in mind, we have two scenarios below as the geography of spreading the games out across North America is extremely tough.
Here’s a look at where we think the games will be played during the 2026 World Cup but, of course, a lot can change in the next eight years…
Scenario 1 – (10 U.S. cities, 3 Mexican cities, 3 Canadian cities)
New York/New Jersey – MetLife Stadium
Mexico City – Azteca Stadium
Toronto – BMO Field
Los Angeles – Rose Bowl
Boston – Gillete Stadium
Miami – Hard Rock Stadium
Dallas – AT&T Stadium
Washington D.C. – FedEx Field
Atlanta – Mercedes Benz Stadium
Montreal – Olympic Stadium
Monterrey – Estadio BBVA Bancomer
San Francisco/San Jose – Levi’s Stadium
Guadalajara – Estadio Akron
Kansas City – Arrowhead Stadium
Seattle – CenturyLink Field
Edmonton – Commonwealth Stadium
Seven cities to miss out
Philadelphia – Lincoln Financial Field
Houston – NRG Stadium
Baltimore – M&T Bank Stadium
Cincinnati – Paul Brown Stadium
Denver – Mile High Stadium
Nashville – Nissan Stadium
Orlando – Camping World Stadium
Scenario 2 – (12 U.S. cities, 2 Mexican cities, 2 Canadian cities)
MOSCOW (AP) The United States was able to celebrate a World Cup victory in Russia after all. Thanks to assistance from the host nation at a FIFA Congress addressed by President Vladimir Putin.
For all the geopolitical tensions between the superpowers, Russia had no qualms about pressing the electronic keypads to select the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico over Morocco in the 2026 World Cup hosting vote in Moscow on Wednesday.
“Football is separate from politics,” said Alexander Alayev, acting president of the Russian football federation. “Morocco prepared a very strong and interesting bid, but the unified bid was much stronger in all aspects.”
Maybe, finally, some sports officials made decisions based on existing merits and what is best for the game, rather than following political agendas.
“This should not be about geopolitics,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro said. “This was not a vote in the United Nations.”
The U.S. may have hoped for a vote from North Korea after the rapprochement between the nations during an extraordinary summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. North Korea instead opted for the Moroccan proposals that were dismissed by FIFA inspectors as high-risk in three areas and overwhelmingly rejected by the football world.
Morocco wasn’t even able to harness unanimous support from Africa, with 11 federations voting against their continental counterpart.
Despite his country voting for Morocco, Cameroon federation official Kevin Njomo accepted the World Cup would be “more profitable in America.”
Morocco also didn’t get full support from other Muslim-majority nations, with Afghanistan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia among the 134 backers of the North American bid.
Has there really been an outbreak of common sense at a governing body where the specter of wrongdoing has hung over decisions in recent years? The 69 majority for North America meant FIFA avoids a fifth consecutive risky, tricky World Cup after South Africa, Brazil, Russia, which opens on Thursday without a U.S. team, and Qatar in 2022.
Where Morocco needed to spend billions of dollars building or renovating all 14 proposed stadiums, North America could host the World Cup almost immediately if needed.
Ultimately, Morocco’s record on human rights and lack of protections for the LGBT community, which were criticized by FIFA, might have helped to swing the decision.
Unlike the contentious dual votes in 2010 for Russia and Qatar, this time the inspection reports of each bid were a guide for voters from FIFA’s full membership.
In an unexpected late intervention after presentations on Wednesday, FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura gave the North American bid one final push before the ballot when she summarized the review task force’s verdict that saw Morocco fare so poorly.
Not only did she remind delegates about Morocco’s lack of infrastructure but highlighted the North American bid’s ability to deliver double the revenue at $14 billion.
Obviously, money talks.
“We tried to make the case of what’s best for FIFA,” Cordeiro said. That means swelling the coffers from FIFA’s signature tournament to allow President Gianni Infantino to distribute cash to the around the world to member federations.
The only real stumbling block on the campaign for the North Americans was concern about the impact of Trump’s push for immigration restrictions and a leaked White House outburst about African nations.
The bid team believed it wasn’t insurmountable.
“The politics of today may not be the politics of next year or five years or eight years down the road,” Canada’s federation president Steven Reed said.
Indeed, the U.S. passed this global test of popularity, aided by the inclusion of Canada and Mexico on the ticket.
“The unity of the three nations came together to offer what no one nation including my own can provide today,” Cordeiro said. “I think that was a powerful message. That is something we repeated and repeated over again. I think it made the difference at the end.”
No wonder Infantino described himself as a “happy man.” FIFA, it appears, got just what it wanted.