From Trump to the MetLife: How United Bid won the 2026 World Cup, and what’s next

With the US, Mexico and Canada confirmed as hosts of the 2026 Fifa World Cup, SportsPro looks back over a race that looked closer than expected – until it wasn’t.

From Trump to the MetLife: How United Bid won the 2026 World Cup, and what’s next

The United States, Mexico and Canada will jointly host the 2026 Fifa World Cup after their United 2026 bid was chosen ahead of Morocco.

The campaign from the Americas was the choice of 134 member associations of world soccer’s governing body at the Fifa Congress in the Russian capital, Moscow, convened ahead of the start of this year’s tournament. 65 votes went to the African bid, with a single ballot cast for ‘none of the above’.

After the controversy of a 2010 vote that yielded Russia and Qatar as 2018 and 2022 hosts – a vote left to the auspices of Fifa’s 24-member executive committee, two of whom were barred from the ballot and 17 more of whom have since been implicated in corruption scandals – the decision was thrown open to all members.

The bidding countries and associated territories were excluded from the ballot but that still left scores of votes on the table. In the event, it was a contest between a technically and financially powerful bid and a romantic outsider.

What was the United 2026 pitch?

The United bid was built around three things: unity, money and certainty.

Togetherness and diversity were natural touchstones for a three-country proposition but there were other reasons to put up a collective front.  The chaos wrought by Fifa’s corruption scandals of 2015 and 2016 were most keenly felt in the Americas, and much was made in the early going of the United bid as presenting a new image for Concacaf, the North and Central American confederation.

The three men who launched the bid in April 2017 were well connected within international soccer politics: outgoing Canada Soccer president Victor Montagliani, also the president of Concacaf; US Soccer president and Fifa Council member Sunil Gulati; and Decio de Maria, the veteran president of the Mexican Football Federation (FMF). 

Victor Montagliani, Sunil Gulati and Deco de Maria present the United Bid before both Gulati and Montagliani left their roles as co-chairmen of the bid committee. 

Fifa’s financial difficulties of recent years have been exacerbated by those scandals, with legal fees and a tarnished brand compounding its problems. But there is little doubting the impact of Fifa’s choice of Russia, with its sluggish economy and declining international reputation, and the wealthy but tiny market of Qatar as its next two World Cup hosts.

Commercial performance has not hit the heights that might have been expected.. Newly created regional partner slots have proved a tough sell, although the fervent interest of Chinese companies in soccer has helped keep some money flowing in. So a tournament that encompasses the world’s biggest economy has its appeal – particularly if it sparks a comeback for Fifa in the Americas, where no new sponsorship deal has been signed since Johnson & Johnson back in 2014.

Finally, United could provide logistical assurances in the form of existing transport and hotel infrastructure for the first ever 48-team World Cup, with 80 games on the agenda and millions of fans expected. Meanwhile, after the difficulties of building new generations of facilities in South Africa, Brazil, Russia and Qatar, the prospect of playing games at already-built world class stadiums including Mexico City’s Azteca and the swathes of major league venues across North America, culminating in a final at New York’s MetLife Stadium, promised one less headache for Fifa administrators.

There is little doubting the impact of Fifa’s choice of Russia, with its sluggish economy and declining international reputation, and the wealthy but tiny market of Qatar as its next two World Cup hosts

How did the campaign progress?

There were two complicating factors over the course of a campaign that had, at the outset, seemed to herald a procession. One was internal: after the shock of the American national team’s failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup, bid chairman Gulati chose not to seek re-election as president of US Soccer.

As a result, United 2026 remodelled its leadership team. Carlos Cordeiro, elected to replace Gulati in February, and Steven Reed, Montagliani’s successor as president of Canada Soccer, joined de Maria as co-chairmen of the bid committee. Gulati and Montagliani would remain enthusiastic backers of the campaign from seats on the board, but there was much work to be done to introduce the newcomers to the global soccer community. 

The second challenge, of course, was external. After ruminating over a bid through much of 2017, and finally submitting its official candidacy in August, Morocco initiated a step-change in its campaign at the turn of the year. King Mohamed VI appointed Moulay Hafid Elalamy as bid chairman on 10th January, with Hicham El Amrani following him in as chief executive; London-based bid specialist Vero Communications was commissioned in the same week to coordinate the international effort.

Suddenly, there was a meaningful rival in the race – one whose offer was rooted sustainability, emotion and a unique fan experience. The United bid, until then predicated on financial security, now needed to find a more compelling narrative of its own.

Deco de Maria, Steven Reed and Carlos Cordeiro pose with Fifa president Gianni Infantino

United began to add the knowledge needed for the task. The experienced brand positioning specialist Terrence Burns – part of several winning campaigns in the past, most notably in Olympic races – was appointed early in 2018, shortly after leaving Teneo Sports to set up his own consultancy, which was itself soon acquired by the Bruin Sports Capital-owned Engine Shop.

There was a complication when Jon Tibbs Associates (JTA), a natural fit after its work on the Los Angeles campaign for the Olympic Games, chose to step aside from its role running the international campaign due to a possible conflict of interest. Further assistance was imported on that front later in the race.

In the end, the bid team chose to double down on their earlier messaging. Revenues of US$14 billion and profits of US$11 billion were promised to Fifa members. The March announcement of 23 candidate cities for hosting games emphasised the wealth of infrastructure available to the prospective organisers. And, conscious to avoid submerging the junior partners in US influence, the tripartite nature of the offer was brought to the fore.

There was little discussion of USA 94, or indeed Mexico’s previous two tournaments in 1970 and 1986, and the progress that has followed. Instead, attempts were made to convey the common footballing culture of a diverse region, from the links at club level between the three countries to the similarities in fan interests. All three bid leaders spoke ahead of the vote in Moscow, as did a young player from each nation.

The March announcement of 23 candidate cities for hosting games emphasised the wealth of infrastructure available to the prospective organisers

Did Morocco have a realistic chance?

This was Morocco’s fifth unsuccessful bid for the World Cup in five attempts and it was always the outsider this – primarily due to the financial power of its opponent but also because so much of its proposal had to be taken on faith.

The World Cup’s expansion in 2026 would make for a challenge even for some of the most experienced hosts in sport. Morocco, for its part, would only be ready after all 14 potential venues had undergone construction work of some description. Five stadiums would be updated; another nine would be built from scratch. 

Nonetheless, the government had promised US$3 billion for those projects, part of a US$12.6 billion nationwide infrastructure initiative that it has insisted will go ahead regardless of the outcome of the vote. And the bid team turned its lack of existing development to its advantage, proposing six 46,000-seater modular venues across the country and a hosting project that made greater use of renewable energy sources like solar power than ever before.

Up against a relatively sober, pragmatic opponent, the Morocco bid worked hard to harness the emotional pull of staging soccer-mad North Africa’s first ever World Cup. It was also a more interesting story to write and talk about, and an enthusiastic international campaign garnered considerable media coverage. But it also had its commercial aces to draw. As well as hooking the occasional rhetorical eyebrow at the numbers coming from the west, it made great play of the country’s proximity to southern Europe and the time zone it shares with Uefa’s voting bloc.

June’s technical report produced much more favourable results for the United bid, with inspectors awarding it 402 of an available 500 marks with only its projected cost marked as ‘high risk’

Throughout the process, however, the perception lingered that Fifa would prefer a quiet victory for United. The North Americans strongly dispute that they were the beneficiaries of any preferential treatment but, nevertheless, Morocco’s primary concern was getting to the final ballot at all. Through the spring, it applied public pressure on Fifa to ensure the evaluation process would not be skewed in any way.

In the event, as expected, June’s technical report produced much more favourable results for the United bid, with inspectors awarding it 402 of an available 500 marks with only its projected cost marked as ‘high risk’. Morocco’s received 275, with red flags thrown up in the form of high-risk ratings for its stadium, accommodation and transport plans.

Crucially, though, it was on the ballot in Moscow. From there, Morocco could see routes to a serious challenge. It could count on near-blanket support from its fellow African countries, while ongoing resentment among Fifa members about the FBI’s role in ousting a generation of leading administrators presented opportunities to pick off votes elsewhere. So too, it seemed, did the schism between the leadership of Fifa and Uefa over US$25 billion Saudi and SoftBank-backed plans for a revamped Club World Cup, a potential rival in prestige to Europe’s Champions League.

Beyond that, there was the apparent wildcard role that might be played by the man in the White House.

Fundamentally, however, the question was how firm any politically motivated support would prove in the face of hard economics.

What role did geopolitics play?

The figure of Donald Trump loomed large over the United bid, as it does in pretty much all current domestic US and international affairs.

His presence, externally, had been read as undermining bid’s unified front. After all, this was a man who had founded his campaign and administration on a grudge against immigrants, had pledged to build a Mexican-funded wall along the US-Mexico border, and spent the week ahead of the Fifa Congress picking a hitherto-improbable fight with the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

Carlos Cordeiro admitted that he could not be sure whether Donald Trump's volatility would affect the United Bid

And those disputes were just those he’d had with his nation’s own bidding partners.

The volatile American president made few public interventions in the campaign – save for a tweet which appeared to threaten ‘countries that we always support’ if they did not back the bid, unwittingly drifting close to the mark of what is inappropriate in terms of government interference. Privately, however, bid leaders were pleased with the state support they received. As Cordeiro noted after the vote, all three governments had issued financial and practical guarantees.

Indeed, the New York Times reported on the eve of the ballot that Trump had personally written three letters to Fifa president Gianni Infantino that detailed, in increasingly specific terms, how visitors to a 2026 World Cup would face no restrictions in terms of their movement.

‘I am confident that the United States would host the 2026 Fifa World Cup in a similarly open and festive manner,’ he wrote, ‘and that all eligible athletes, officials and fans from all countries around the world would be able to enter the United States without discrimination.’

Even if re-elected, Trump’s second and final term would end in 2025 but there was still scope to enjoy speculation as to his influence on matters in Moscow. Russia, whose president Vladimir Putin addressed the Fifa Congress ahead of the start of the World Cup, made a late switch to support the United bid. Iran was the only eligible nation to vote for ‘none of the above’, with Cuba abstaining altogether.

2022 host Qatar, embroiled in a deep dispute with US allies across the Gulf, voted for Morocco; Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE were among the Middle Eastern nations to back the United bid. France followed its historical ties to support the North Africans. North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong-Un held a high-profile meeting with Trump in Singapore the previous day, also voted for Morocco.

What lies ahead for United?

“We believe that soccer or football will become the preeminent sport in North America,” Cordeiro said, speaking to reporters shortly after the vote. “I’m not just speaking for the US, I think I speak for Canada.”

There are just over 2,900 days to go until kick-off in the US/Mexico/Canada World Cup and that is time the organisers will no doubt need in order to coordinate an 80-game schedule across three vast nations. Choosing 16 of the 23 prospective host cities will be among the most important steps to follow; local governments will also need to make their case to their own communities – Chicago and Vancouver were among those to withdraw their candidacy for financial reasons.

Los Angeles will host the Summer Olympics in 2028; it remains to be seen whether the two sets of organisers will be competing for the same sponsorship dollar

The US will host 60 of the 80 games and every match from the quarter-final stage onwards. Canada and Mexico will get ten games apiece. Whether all three countries participate on the pitch remains to be seen. Host nations have historically been granted an automatic place at the finals but this will be the first three-nation World Cup. Fifa has indicated that it will be left to Concacaf to decide whether to hand over any of its allotted qualification spots to make up the difference.

Particularly for Canada and the US, neither of whom made the cut for Russia, the next few years hold an imperative to improve performances on the field. But with those bold commercial projections to support, growing and sustaining support off the field will be just as significant. A youthful and diverse fan culture has been developing in North America for several years, encouraged by Major League Soccer (MLS) but also by interest in Liga MX and European competitions, and this is the biggest opportunity to date to get brands to buy into it.

The United States failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after losing to Trinidad and Tobago

For the blue-chip companies, there may be one significant choice to make. Los Angeles will host the Summer Olympics in 2028; it remains to be seen whether the two sets of organisers will be competing for the same sponsorship dollar.

For Fifa, meanwhile, the tournament could yield the promise of a relaunch after a turbulent decade. Infantino, who will run for reelection next year, declared himself “a happy man” after the result – and while he talked up the unifying qualities of the winning bid, the prospect of commercial regeneration will not have been far from his mind.

Who will bid next time?

“Through this bid, Morocco has demonstrated its ability to organize the Fifa World Cup, which in 2026 for the first time will see the participation of 48 teams, meeting the new demanding specifications of Fifa,” said Morocco bid chair Moulay Hafid Elalamy in a statement issued after the vote. 

“Under the enlightened leadership of His Majesty The King, the Kingdom of Morocco is determined to continue on its current trajectory. The projects that we have presented in the Bid Book will be realised. We managed this bid with a sporting spirit and we will continue our path in the same vein.”

It remains to be seen whether Morocco will return for a sixth attempt at hosting soccer’s showpiece event; with the demands of staging the tournament changing in the 48-team era, it may well be that they return with local allies like Algeria for a regional joint bid.

The drumbeat of sponsor investment at Fifa and domestic level and heavy state support for the growth of Chinese soccer has naturally bred speculation of a World Cup bid

Yet other candidates have already emerged for 2030. For what will be the centenary year of the very first World Cup in Uruguay, that country has joined forced with Argentina – ironically, the other bidder for that first tournament – and Paraguay for another three-way campaign. Their branding is already visible at sites around Moscow.

That might be the sentimental choice, though it would mean back-to-back tournaments in the Americas. For the arch pragmatists, England’s plethora of high-end grounds and obvious commercial and cultural investment in the game would be major selling points if, as has been rumoured, it returns for a third bid in recent decades after failed attempts at 2006 and 2018. Its Football Association, which was particularly scarred by the latter experience, was reassured by Fifa vice president David Gill that the new voting system should instill “confidence” in a fresh candidacy.

Spain and Australia have also been linked, and then there is China. The drumbeat of sponsor investment at Fifa and domestic level and heavy state support for the growth of Chinese soccer has naturally bred speculation of a World Cup bid. Yet while there is little doubt that would be on the cards one day, it may not necessarily be for that edition.