U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati Q&A on the United Bid to Host the 2026 FIFA World Cup

“We’re excited about this World Cup, especially the fact that we’re doing this with Canada and Mexico. Bringing our peoples together, bringing soccer countries together, it’s a great vision for North America and for CONCACAF. "

Morocco has also decided to bid for the 2026 World Cup. What does that mean for the U.S., Mexico and Canada bid?

“We’ve always been prepared for the fact that there’ll be other people who are interested in this. It shows how valuable and important the World Cup is. Regardless of whether other countries were bidding, we would treat this as a competition. Whether it was in the nature of a time trial where other people aren’t on the track or when there’s other runners on the track, in this case other competitors. So we’re going to treat every part of the bid application very, very seriously and exceed all of FIFA’s standards and make it impossible for them to say “why not the U.S., Mexico and Canada?”

What are the immediate next steps in the bid process?

“In a way, starting tomorrow, we’re going to continue the work that’s been going on for several months here in New York, in Canada, Mexico, and across the United States. That means talking to cities, talking to stadiums, talking to various government agencies and departments, talking to hotels, talking to perspective places that we might have an international broadcast center to get them all on board. In the next few months, by March then, we’ll submit a bid. But that all is already started and we’ve been preparing for today for quite a long time.”

What will it take to ensure that the U.S., Canada and Mexico will be selected to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup?

“We’re confident that we have the facilities and the infrastructure - everything. Now what it’s about is convincing the rest of the world that our vision for the sport, our vision internationally for the sport, is in line with what they believe and also that a World Cup in the United States, Canada, and Mexico will be extraordinarily successful. A big part of FIFA’s revenues come from this one event and we think we can put on a spectacular event and one that’s very, very financially successful as well.”

 What do the cities that want to be part of the bid have to show to be selected?

“The first and most important characteristic, of course, is a proper stadium that meets World Cup criteria. But then it’s all the things that fit around that, which frankly, most American, and Canadian, and Mexican, big cities have those things. Good transportation, good telecommunications, good hotels, and all of those things. We’ve got to document all of that, we’ve got to secure contracts for all of that, but, maybe more importantly, the cities that are going to be finally selected have to show that they’re supportive of the World Cup project and the vision we have for the sport, and the sport more generally - not just for 31 days in the summer of 2026, but over the next eight years and then beyond. That’s a big part of what we want to do - is build the game here. This World Cup for us is two things: putting on a spectacular tournament that the world will be proud of, but also everything you can do for the sport in the United States.”

Have you started to talk to cities about being part of the bid?

“This is going to be a great process over the next 10 months and then beyond. We’ve talked to a number of cities across the country and in Canada and Mexico and they’re excited about the World Cup. So there’ll be a little bit of friendly competition here to be one of the final selected venues. We’ve talked to many of those cities already. They’re excited, they’re enthusiastic, they want to be part of the World Cup. As some of them have said to us, ‘We weren’t really ready seven years ago because we didn’t see the big picture about what this was all about.’ Now they’ve seen what happened in South Africa, they’ve seen what happened in Brazil, and they’re excited about it. And that’s true in the U.S., it’s true in Canada, and Mexico, our two partners in this thing.”

What impact will hosting the 2026 World Cup have in North America?

“Well, I think it would be extraordinary, not only for the sport, but when we talk about this tri-hosting concept for the three countries. It would bring some solidarity in a very divided world these days and so I’m particularly excited about that. We’ve got great relationships with Canada and Mexico, both culturally and from a soccer perspective. We’re excited about partnering with them and looking forward to it. I think it helps us bring those countries together in a very positive way.”

What does it mean to do this bid as a combined effort between the U.S., Mexico and Canada?

“We’re excited about this World Cup, especially the fact that we’re doing this with Canada and Mexico. Bringing our peoples together, bringing soccer countries together, it’s a great vision for North America and for CONCACAF. We’ve always had great relationships with our soccer colleagues in Canada and Mexico. This will bring us even closer together and bring the countries a little bit closer together.”

What has the support been like with the U.S. government?

“We’ve had tremendous support from President Trump and the government in general and we’re excited about what this can do for international relations in a positive way.”

What are some of the strengths of the U.S., Canada and Mexico bid?

“We have got extraordinary infrastructure, extraordinary stadia, Mexico’s hosted two World Cups, we’ve hosted three World Cups (men and women), Canada’s hosted the Women’s World Cup. Those are extraordinary results and all those tournaments went very well. You’ve got a population of 500 million, an economic giant with stadiums ready to roll tomorrow, so we think we’ll have a very, very compelling bid.”

What will hosting the World Cup in North America do for the sport in the region?

“We think a World Cup with 48 teams and 80 games, the first one of that size, will be a huge success here. It’ll show the entire world that football has arrived in a big way, especially in the U.S. and Canada - Mexico’s got a more well-known traditional history. We think it will be a tremendous success financially. Full stadia, a big party. But equally important for us, is that it’ll be a launching for the second part of what we want to do with American soccer, with Canadian soccer, and continuing the great success of Mexican soccer.”

How prepared is the U.S., Canada and Mexico to host a World Cup with 48 teams?

“We believe we will have the best bid. I don’t think there are many countries in the world that have the infrastructure in place. And one of things that we promised FIFA is we’re not in a situation where we need to build anything. We don’t need to build stadiums. We have to build one thing: the sport. And that’s what our bid is about. There won’t be any issues about meeting deadlines for stadiums that aren’t ready or may be ready or highways that haven’t been quite finished or any of those concerns for FIFA. This will be a very easy World Cup for FIFA in many ways and challenging in other ways because of the larger scope and three countries. But in our case, the building is about the sport, not about infrastructure.”

How much of an impact did the 1994 World Cup have on the growth of the sport in the United States?

“When I think about what 1994 meant to us and what’s happened after, can you imagine knowing what we know now about the last quarter century and looking forward what a World Cup could do? In 1996, we have the birth of Major League Soccer, now 21 years in and still growing with expansion around the corner. We’ve got the NASL and the USL, the growth of the youth game, the growth - we have a women’s professional league, all of those things. Those are all going to be an important piece of the puzzle: their growth, their stability in what we’re trying to do. Across the board: adult soccer, youth soccer, better referees, coaching, we’ve got a target date for the start of the World Cup. That’s a target date for all of our developmental programs. But the key date is really the day after the World Cup. What does it look like? What does the United States look like? And to me, that’s a stronger professional league and professional leagues. It’s more kids playing. It’s a women’s league that is solid. It’s all of those things. It’s more people involved in the game that have learned through the game. We’ve got so many people who were part of this in 1994 who are still working in the game.  MLS has been a great partner to even the bid committee. Our offices are at Major League Soccer Headquarters and Don Garber and the league have been extraordinarily supportive of everything we’ve done. Don is on our board and we look forward to a continued cooperation with them and so many other members of U.S. Soccer.”

What will hosting the World Cup in North America do for the sport in the region?

“Starting today, this thing is really four separate periods. One is the period between now and June where we have to lock this down and make sure we’re awarded the World Cup. Then there’s the period between being awarded the World Cup (and hopefully that’s in next June) to the actual World Cup. All the things we can try to do to build the sport to get our team and the country ready. Then there’s the actual 31 days of the event, putting on a spectacular party that we’ve been working toward for the last eight and a half years. But in a sense, what’s really the most important is, “What does the soccer landscape in North America, in this case the United States, Canada, Mexico specifically, look like the day after? Is it a higher level? Did we take advantage of everything the World Cup and the magnificent party that is the World Cup brings together?”

What will be the most important thing about hosting the 2026 World Cup?

“The most important part of this in many ways is what happens after the World Cup. Have we used the period, the eight and a half years that we’ll have before the World Cup, to build the game to take advantage of this spectacular event that will take place in the summer of 2026 and where is the sport after? Have we risen the level of the sport? Is MLS bigger and stronger? Is the quality of play of our national teams better? Is the professional structure under Major League Soccer stronger? Are there more kids playing in a safe environment? All of those things, that’s the key us, what does it look like the day after the World Cup?”