FIFA president Gianni Infantino sauntered down the sideline at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, then settled into the front row of a luxurious suite. He is not much of an American football fan; but Jerry Jones had invited him to the palatial home of the Dallas Cowboys, and it wasn’t difficult to connect a few dots.
Infantino is the most powerful man in the world’s most popular sport, and will soon choose a host for the 2026 World Cup final.
Jones has been pitching his palace as the ideal host, and officials in bidding cities believe a decision is near.
Infantino and FIFA executives will visit other North American host cities over the coming weeks as well. His presence in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday does not necessarily signal that a decision has been made, or that Dallas has beaten New York and Los Angeles to the World Cup’s crown jewel. All 11 U.S. cities are awaiting FIFA’s delegation for a variety of reasons; the site of the 2026 final is just one of many irksome unknowns.
But it certainly didn’t hurt Dallas’ case. Infantino loves hobnobbing and VVIP treatment, so it didn’t hurt to have him rubbing shoulders with Jones and meeting Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons pregame. And it certainly wasn’t coincidental that AT&T Stadium’s cameramen found Infantino early in the first quarter, and introduced him to 90,000-plus fans via the stadium’s 160-foot-long video board.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino is at Cowboys-Jets game, his appearance on the video board drawing a smattering of boos. World Cup tournament is coming to this venue in 2026. Team hopes to host the championship. pic.twitter.com/Lw7IEmJOFS
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 17, 2023
Infantino clapped and smiled through a smattering of boos, with FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani seated to his right and Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks to his left. (Montagliani is the president of CONCACAF, the North and Central American soccer confederation, and heavily involved in 2026 World Cup planning. Fox Sports has the English-language U.S. TV rights. Other Infantino associates, including his adviser and former U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, were also in attendance.)
It was easy to connect dots because AT&T Stadium is the favorite to host the 2026 final. It was the favorite even before Sunday. It has been one of three contenders for a while now, and seemingly leapfrogged New York at some point over the past few years.
But MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is also still in play. SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, has also been a candidate. With a final decision expected this fall, below is a breakdown of the three bids, each of which has allure but flaws.
1. Dallas | AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
The stadium is massive, modern and still modernizing. It wasn’t built for soccer, but it has hosted international tournaments and moneymaking club friendlies. Like most of the 11 U.S. stadiums, it will have to cut its capacity to accommodate FIFA’s desired field width and other World Cup specifications, but “it looks like we can do 90-plus thousand fans a game,” FC Dallas president Dan Hunt, who chairs the Dallas bid, told Yahoo Sports last year.
It also has an adjacent entertainment district, Texas Live, and two more adjacent stadiums that could host watch parties or related events. “So you could have another 100,000 people having some kind of World Cup experience out there in Arlington,” Hunt said.
One concern is heat — the final will be played in July, when Dallas temperatures regularly top 100 degrees and almost always top 90 — but the stadium itself, with its retractable roof, is climate-proof.
The main drawback, frankly, is the city’s relative lack of glamor, and the puzzled looks that choosing Dallas over LA and New York would elicit. On the surface, it’s not the natural choice.
But, crucially, it’s the choice that best accommodates the 1 billion people who’ll watch around the globe. And whereas a World Cup opener is more about the destination — because it becomes a physical gathering place for the entire soccer world — the final is more about the spectacle that those 1 billion people see on TV.
2. New York | MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey
New York was the initial favorite, for obvious reasons. Way back in 2017, the North American bid committee proposed that MetLife would host the final, with semifinals in Dallas and Atlanta. That original projection could still come true.
But it would leave FIFA susceptible to the nightmare scenario: A mid-July thunderstorm that rolls through North Jersey and leaves the 1 billion TV viewers sitting around, waiting, wondering when a suspended World Cup final will resume.
It’s an unlikely scenario, of course, but when there are other great options that are storm-proof, and that would protect players from summer heat, why take the risk?
The counterargument is that, uh, it's New York. The nation's biggest, most multicultural city is the ideal backdrop for a memorable finale. Iconic landmarks and Times Square would sparkle; a watch party in Central Park would fill.
But the game itself is paramount. “We have of course to take into account the weather conditions, the stadiums, those who have a roof, those who are closed, where you can maybe 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 be in the afternoon, on a Sunday, so that Europe — FIFA’s priority market — can watch in primetime.
3. Los Angeles | SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California
Los Angeles, perhaps even more so than New York, has obvious appeal. It has brilliant weather. It has unparalleled glitz. It has arguably the world’s finest stadium, which could probably fetch FIFA the largest matchday profit. It has Hollywood next-door.
But there appear to be two main problems:
That stadium isn’t wide enough for soccer. It will reportedly require one of the most significant adjustments to accommodate a World Cup field, which could even bring its capacity below the 80,000 benchmark that FIFA lists as a requirement for a men’s World Cup final host. (Though of course, FIFA could easily make an exception.)
LA is nine hours ahead of western Europe. So the game would probably have to kick off at noon or 1 p.m. local time at the latest — which is feasible but not ideal. (The 1994 World Cup final kicked off at 12:30 p.m. at the Rose Bowl. The seven men’s World Cup finals since have kicked off at 9, 8, 8, 8:30, 4, 6 and 6 p.m.)
The New York Times reported Friday that FIFA had whittled its choices down to Dallas and New York. Others believe LA is still a candidate, but it’s more likely a destination for the opener — or one of multiple opening-day games — than the final.
The full World Cup schedule is coming
All of that and more will be announced over the coming months. A full schedule shell, 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 navigate the continent’s size. There has been talk of geographical “pods” or “clusters” in the group stage. Knockout-stage sites must be considerate to teams and fans as well. “Obviously you don't want a team that's playing in the semifinal have to get on a plane and fly five hours to go play a final,” Montagliani said last year.
The original proposal was for the knockout rounds to move west to east as they progressed. If Dallas hosts the final, instead, there could be a western side of the bracket (with a semifinal in LA) and an eastern side (with a semi in New York or Atlanta), with the two converging on Texas to crown a champion.