Yesterday, FIFA named New York City as one of the 16 hosts for the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The announcement was big news in other cities, and in the footballing world, but it hardly made a ripple in the Big Apple.
While others celebrated with public events that inspired passionate headlines (“Successful World Cup bid belongs to entire Seattle soccer community,” “‘Excited’ Atlanta leaders speak on city’s successful 2026 World Cup hosting bid,” “Bruce Arena excited about 2026 World Cup coming to Foxboro, mentions ‘permanent grass field’”), New York City let out a collective yawn, then turned on ESPN to watch the Golden State Warriors embarrass the Celtics in Boston.
That lack of enthusiasm for making the cut doesn’t mean there’s a lack of interest in the World Cup: This is a soccer town through and through, from the youth leagues that meet on the piers to the pickup games that take place on too-small turf fields in public parks. When 2026 rolls around the city will be decorated with flags, the bars will be packed, and the viewing parties will be legendary. Just as important: The streets and subways will be packed with people wearing a dazzling variety of national jerseys, reflecting the incredible diversity of this place. There will be no better place on Earth to watch World Cup matches than New York City.
But this present disinterest can be linked to the fact that it’s no surprise that New York City was named a host. It was always going to happen. Or, to put it more bluntly, New York City was always going to be named a host even though the games will be held in New Jersey at MetLife Stadium, which is easily one of the worst arenas in the NFL, if not the world.
In some ways, MetLife stadium reflects New York City: It’s big, with a capacity of 82,500, and it’s expensive, with eye-watering prices. But for the most part it is the anti-New York City, a soulless place stranded next to one of the largest and ugliest malls in the world, an isolated building that almost totally ignores public transportation — it is convenient to nothing. It's as if the designers of the $1.6 billion complex worked hard to copy the worst characteristics of other major stadia, and replicate the biggest mistakes of the multipurpose arenas from the 1970s and 1980s, while steadfastly ignoring what makes being in the stands on game day so thrilling. They put an impressive amount of work and money into making sure MetLife would be no fun.
It’s not pleasant down there. MetLife Stadium keeps company with Washington DC’s FedEx Field, which is so roundly despised that when the city submitted a bid to FIFA it instead partnered with the pleasant if outdated M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore — events were to take place in DC, but the games were to take place 40 miles away. That proved to be too much of a logistical puzzle for FIFA, which rejected the bid.
The one-hour drive from the Mall to downtown Baltimore isn’t so far off from how long it will take you to get from Midtown Manhattan to the Meadolwands. So why pick New York City over DC? The answer is right there in the question: It's New York City, baby.
FIFA was never going to pass over New York City, and the opportunity to broadcast images of the Beautiful Game being played in the Big Apple — never mind that the matches will actually be in New Jersey. It's a branding dream: There will be rallies in Times Square, staged kick-arounds in Central Park, photo ops at the Brooklyn Bridge. The most visible and visited city in North America will be saturated with ads for Coca-Cola, Wanda, adidas, and other World Cup sponsors.
More important, the selection lets FIFA fat cats give their expense accounts a New York City workout, with weeks-long fact-finding stays at the Mandarin Oriental or the Four Seasons, and dinner at le Bernardin or Eleven Madison Park, and drinks at Overstory or The Grill. They were never going to pass on the chance to have a spa day at the Aire or the Peninsula, then take a care to Forest Hills Stadium and watch Bryan Ferry play from a stage-level suite. FIFA is one of the most corrupt, greedy, and self-serving institutions in the world, and the kind of people who rise to top of that org list enjoy spending other people’s money in New York City.
The local viewing event for Thursday’s announcement was telling. While other cities threw watch parties filled with anxious people counting down the minutes until the announcements were to be made, New York and New Jersey held an rally at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan but nearly impossible to reach without a car. No matter — they bussed in youth league players to fill out a crowd that was positioned in front of Instagram-ready views of the Statue Liberty. The MLS Cup that NYCFC won was there, which was nice, but this was a spectacle made for video broadcasts and internet posts — it was more a photo-op for the organizers than a gathering for New Yorkers.
If the competition was fair, and all the candidate cities in contention were judged solely on the merits of their bids and the passion of their citizens, then the viewing party would have been held in a park in the Bronx where thousands would have shown up to show their support and agonize over the announcement — and the many, many faults of MetLife Stadium might have torpedoed New York City’s chances. But it wasn't, and it didn't, because the fix was in from the start.
We can only hope that the World Cup Final will be held at the excellent SoFi Stadium in Southern California, a state-of-the-art facility that’s easier for a New Yorker to reach than MetLife Stadium. But it will probably be in New Jersey because the time zone here is easier on the television audience in Europe.
See you in 2026.