The U.S. men's national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but American soccer just received a massive boost: On the eve of the sport's biggest spectacle, FIFA members voted to award the 2026 World Cup jointly to the United States, Mexico and Canada.
The North American countries won with 134 votes, or 67 percent, against an upstart campaign from Morocco, which garnered 65 votes, in the Wednesday morning vote in Moscow.
The United States last hosted the men's World Cup in 1994. That event set attendance and television viewership records and helped kick-start the rapid growth of men's professional soccer in the country. The 1994 World Cup ― which Brazil won in front of 94,000 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California ― also led to the creation of Major League Soccer, the American professional league that began play in 1996.
After considering separate bids for the 2026 World Cup, the federations that govern soccer in Mexico, Canada and the United States decided to launch a cooperative effort to host the tournament in April 2017. Under the terms of the bid, Canada and Mexico will each host 10 matches. The United States will host the remaining 60, including the final.
Mexico has twice hosted the World Cup, in 1970 and 1986. Canada has never hosted a men's World Cup, though it was the site of the 2015 Women's World Cup.
The joint North American bid was considered a heavy favorite from the outset and earned high marks from FIFA's bid evaluators because it will, in theory, require less construction and lower costs than the Moroccan bid, which carried an estimated price tag above $15 billion.
That, along with the promise of major revenues from North American sponsors and television networks, was appealing to FIFA, an organization that has been beset by global corruption scandals, concerns over exorbitant costs related to previous tournaments, and allegations of widespread labor and human rights abuses around the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
President Donald Trump supported the joint World Cup bid, though he also drew a rebuke from FIFA in April after he tweeted that "it would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid."
Before the joint bid was conceived, FIFA President Gianni Infantino warned that Trump's efforts to ban immigrants and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries could derail American efforts to host the World Cup, and there had been speculation that the president's subsequent actions ― including his rhetoric about immigrants from Latin American countries and his belittling of African nations and Haiti as "shithole countries" ― could cost the North American bid crucial votes.
In the closing days before the vote, Trump ― who won't be president during the 2026 World Cup, even if he wins re-election in 2020 ― promised that visiting players and fans would not face visa problems around the tournament. American soccer officials downplayed the influence of politics on the bid.
"This shouldn't be a geopolitical discussion or decision," U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro said this week, according to the Los Angeles Times. "It should be based on the merits of the bid. The merits of the bid, we feel we have a compelling proposal."
"No one has said to us they're not voting for us because of who we have in the White House. Categorically, nobody," Cordeiro said.
The United States was defeated in the final round of voting to determine the 2022 World Cup host. The 2026 tournament will be the first hosted by multiple countries since the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Willa Frej contributed reporting.