The United States won’t play a match in the 2018 World Cup, but it will play host to a flurry of international games within the next decade.
A day before the World Cup commences in Russia — without the U.S. men’s national team, which failed to qualify — a FIFA vote Wednesday awarded the 2026 tournament to a joint bid led by the United States that also includes Canada and Mexico.
And Kansas City could be a part of it.
Sixty of the 80 games in the 2026 World Cup will take place domestically, including every match from the quarterfinals onward, with Kansas City in the mix to serve as a host for the largest sports tournament in the world, contested every four years.
Arrowhead Stadium is on a short list of potential American venues released earlier this year by the United Bid Committee. During a press conference Wednesday among representatives from the Kansas City bid coalition, there was evident optimism about the stadium securing a spot on the final list, which is expected to be announced in 2020.
“I feel very confident,” said Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission. “As a team, we feel great about our options.”
“When you start to compile all these aspects of Kansas City, I think we feel very bullish about the opportunity,” Sporting Club president Jake Reid said.
David Ficklin, the director for the local bid, said Arrowhead Stadiuim could host as many as five World Cup matches, including a potential quarterfinal game. Ficklin called Arrowhead an “ideal venue for a quarterfinal.” It is not in the running to host the championship or semifinal matches. The final is widely expected to be played in the New York area.
The North American bid was awarded the 2026 World Cup by a 134-65 vote over Morocco, a surprisingly wide margin. Morocco had thrown itself into the mix on the last day possible last year and then tried to garner support by denouncing the United Bid and, more specifically, President Donald Trump and his immigration policies.
“On behalf of our United Bid, thank you so, so very much for this incredible honor," U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro said after the vote in Russia was announced early Wednesday morning. "Thank you for entrusting us with this privilege.”
U.S. Soccer has spent the past decade trying to return the World Cup to this country for the first time since 1994. It lost the 2022 bid to Qatar before FIFA bribery scandals became more publicly known. As part of the rehabilitation process, FIFA allowed every nation to vote on the 2026 location, whereas the prior process allowed the input of only the federation’s major players.
Early Wednesday morning, after its 15-minute presentation to FIFA members focused on revenue and existing infrastructure, the vote fell to North America, which projected revenues of $11 billion for FIFA.
Will the next major development include Kansas City?
Arrowhead Stadium is one of 23 sites across the continent included in the joint bid’s official tendering to FIFA, including 17 in the United States. As many as 16 host cities will be selected across the continent.
The United Bid Committee will take the onus of those final decisions. It is thought to be looking at MLS-established cities and sites that can help grow the game.
Location will also play a factor. No other potential landing spot is within a seven-hour drive of Kansas City. Absent its selection, a noticeable hole would remain in the center of the North American landscape.
“They’re looking to make a legacy impact and to grow the game. I think you need a foundation for those things,” Reid said. “So I think all those things are really, really good for us.”
The Kansas City bid is a collaborative effort that includes the Chiefs, Sporting KC, the Kansas City Sports Commission and Foundation and mayors and city managers and officials from both sides of the state line.
Collectively, their submission includes a request for more than World Cup matches. It has offered to serve as a hosting site for international friendlies in the days leading up to the World Cup, games that would be played at Children’s Mercy Park. It remains in the mix to house the pool and bracket draws for the qualification and the tournament itself.
More recently, the officials have used Pinnacle, Sporting KC's new state-of-the-art training center, as a tool for persuasion. The facility has the capability to host four national teams and perhaps even serve as a longstanding training ground for them.
All of the sites have been approved by FIFA, though Arrowhead Stadium would likely need some adjustments to host the 2026 tournament, which will be the first World Cup to expand to 48 teams. Ficklin said Arrowhead Stadium would likely need to be trimmed to a rectangle shape rather than the existing curvature along the corners, requiring the temporary removal of some of the football stadium’s seats.
“That’s absolutely in consideration,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said. “This isn’t about changing the stadium for a match. It’s about changing the stadium and then changing it back. Clearly, in 2026, we’re going to have some preparation discussions with our season-ticket members who are in those seats that may be affected by it. There are a lot of discussions about stadium renovations as a whole. So all that will factor into it.”
Donovan referred to the potential for Arrowhead Stadium to house a World Cup match a “legacy of Lamar Hunt.”
The other American sites still on the short list are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
In order to join that group, Kansas City Major Sly James said the plans for a new, single-terminal airport were a necessity. During the bid process, James said the local committee encountered the question, “What about your airport?” James later added, “It is exactly for this reason that you needed to do that.”
The most significant hurdle remaining figures to be public transportation, though FIFA gave Kansas City a passing grade for its proposal that includes shuttles hauling people from different areas of the city to games.
Nelson said the Kansas City alliance expects to receive its next cue from the United Bid Committee in the coming months. It will likely include FIFA officials touring the city and its proposed sites.
“We see this as a great day to celebrate,” Donovan said. “But we also see this as a step in the process. And we’re excited about the opportunity to convince the world that Kansas City and Arrowhead Stadium is the right place to host a World Cup in 2026.”