20 Sep Will MetLife Stadium be home to the 2026 World Cup finals? N.Y. and N.J. hope to score a slot with FIFA.
Five years before the 2026 World Cup, the competition has already begun.
Cities across the country are making their pitch to host games in the world’s largest sporting event — which was awarded to U.S., Mexico, and Canad. A delegation from FIFA is now on a cross-country tour to determine just where the 48-team tournament might be held when the World Cup championship begins on May 25, 2026.
On Tuesday, the soccer’s world governing body will make a stop at the 82,500-seat MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, where a joint New York City and New Jersey committee is ready to showcase the home of the NFL’s Giants and Jets in hopes of not only being named a host city, but winning the highly coveted role as the site for the World Cup finals.
Although there has long been speculation that MetLife would be picked as the site of the finals, no formal decision on where any of the 2026 games will be played has been announced yet.
The FIFA representatives are due to meet with Gov. Phil Murphy before touring the 82,500-seat stadium as well as other sites that would be designated as practice facilities, looking at team facilities, stadium and area infrastructure and transportation.
“We are incredibly excited to host the FIFA delegation and show off what we believe is the best stadium in the country,” said Murphy, an avid soccer fan who with his wife owns Sky Blue FC, now known as NJ/NY Gotham FC, a professional women’s soccer team.
The U.S. last hosted the men’s FIFA World Cup in 1994 when Giants Stadium, the former home of the NFL’s Giants and Jets, was home to seven playoff games — including a semi-final match.
“I’m thrilled about the opportunity to host the world’s greatest game on the world’s biggest stage,” said Murphy.
The site-selection delegation, headed by FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani — who also leads regional governing body CONCACAF — has already visited six of the 17 U.S. cities vying to host World Cup games. FIFA is ultimately expected to select 11 in the U.S., three in Mexico and two in Canada. A final decision on venues, and the site of the finals, is expected as soon as early next year.
The FIFA Host Cities Tour hit Gillette Stadium in Foxborough near Boston on Wednesday. They were at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on Thursday and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Friday. It was Orlando’s turn on Saturday, when Camping World Stadium was on display following a luncheon with more than 100 elected and business leaders. On Sunday, the FIFA delegation met with city leaders in Washington, D.C., and toured FedEx Field, the NFL stadium in Landover. On Monday, they were at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Baltimore Ravens play.
The delegation has so far said little about which cities stand out. At a press briefing in Washington, Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief tournaments and events officer, acknowledged Washington’s status as a capital city and a “well-rehearsed host” for large-scale events.
In Boston, he noted the group was not only looking at stadiums, infrastructure, airports, and transport, but also issues such as sustainability, waste management and accommodations as part of their assessments.
“There’s no one key area that separates it,” Smith added when asked what might elevate one stadium over another.
In Atlanta, officials there touted the advantages of its retractable-roof stadium and the city’s history of staging the Summer Olympics and the Super Bowl. They also highlighted the fact that Mercedes-Benz is just a couple of blocks from downtown and part of a complex that also includes Centennial Olympic Park and State Farm Arena.
“It just creates an atmosphere,” said Darren Eales, president of MLS club Atlanta United, who was part of the city’s contingent that met with FIFA on Friday. “I think the most memorable World Cups in the past have been in those cities where you have that stadium downtown.”
Officials here say MetLife represents the largest East Coast venue currently under consideration by FIFA, giving them hope that its size will make the stadium a top contender to be selected for the World Cup finals. At the same time, they say its proximity to New York puts it in the center of the world’s media capital, along with everything else that New York City and the region has to offer in terms of hotels, restaurants, entertainment, and access to international flights.
State officials estimated the economic benefit of the World Cup would be close to $500 million across the Metropolitan area, after accounting for costs. For the stadium itself, among those costs will include grass seed. If selected as a venue, MetLife would need to replace its artificial turf with a grass surface for the duration of the World Cup.
In addition to the stadium tour, FIFA representatives will also be visiting proposed training facilities throughout the region, including the Pingry School, Rutgers University, Red Bull Arena in Harrison, the home to the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer, and the New York City Football Club, another Major League Soccer club based in New York City.
“It’s a sales pitch,” said one administration official of Tuesday’s visit. There will be lunch, videos, talking points about the issues important to the delegation, and small-group tours.
MetLife has already been the scene of a Super Bowl and the WWE’s WrestleMania. Both, however, ended with major transit problems that might serve to cloud the New York/New Jersey bid to host the final games of the World Cup.
At Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, officials had pushed the use of trains and buses to get in and out of the stadium, largely because of a lack of parking at the stadium. Out of the normal 28,000 spaces, only about 10,000 were available because of additional media and security requirements. As a result, train ridership boosted to historic levels.
But the rail shuttle between the main rail line at Secaucus Junction and the Meadowlands Rail Station, which opened in 2009, is limited in the number of trains that can be run. Because it dead-ends at each station, its capacity cannot be easily boosted for major events. The NFL and NJ Transit had been expecting 12,000 to 15,000 people to take the train each way between Secaucus Junction to the Meadowlands Rail Station for the game. Instead, 33,000 chose that method, breaking a record of 22,000 set during a 2009 concert of the Irish rock band U2.
That led to post-game crowds waiting for hours in blocks-long lines for shuttle trains out of the stadium.
Similar problems followed WrestleMania 35 in 2019 when thousands of fans angry were left stranded in the rain for hours because the WWE event ended later than expected early Monday morning. When it did, the state-run rail system was left short-handed and because of federal regulations, could not have train employees work overtime to staff additional trains.
NJ Transit officials say much has changed since the Super Bowl, including improvements to boarding areas at the Meadowlands and a dedicated bus staging area to move more people during high-capacity events.
“NJ Transit has provided seamless transportation for hundreds of concerts and sporting events over the past 12 years,” said spokeswoman Nancy Snyder, noting that concertgoers attending the 2019 concert at MetLife by K-pop sensation BTS were able to board trains quickly despite concerns that huge crowds could cause long wait times.
She said NJ Transit now has a very close working relationship with senior officials at MetLife Stadium that have led to operational improvements.
“We have a commitment to moving high volumes of people,” she said.
Earlier this summer, the NJ Transit Board awarded a $3.5 million to HNTB Corp. of New York to come up with a new transit concept that could greatly augment or replace the rail line. The so-called “Transitway” would shuttle large crowds to both MetLife stadium and the adjacent American Dream Mall from Secaucus station by bus, rail or autonomous vehicles, possibly using dedicated roads and an abandoned railroad right of way.
The FIFA delegation will move on to Philadelphia and Miami later in the week. The remaining U.S. bidding venues — which include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Kansas City, Houston, Dallas and Cincinnati — are to be visited by the end of November, along with those in Canada and Mexico.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Ted Sherman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL
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