Seattle will probably never coax a Super Bowl to the city, considering the dreary weather that time of year. There has been occasional talk of bidding for an Olympics, but it has never gotten off the ground. Maybe one day a World Series will reach our shores, but it has been a 45-year (and counting) wait.
But when it comes to the sporting event that captivates on a global stage more than any other, well, it’s not just a pipe dream. It’s a very realistic possibility.
I’m talking about the FIFA men’s World Cup, which draws nearly a billion viewers to its championship match every four years — and which will be back in the United States in 2026 for the first time since 1994.
Actually, the ’26 World Cup will for the first time be staged in three countries, with Canada and Mexico part of the united effort that swayed FIFA to choose North America over Morocco in 2018. It’s the largest geographic footprint in the history of the event.
Now FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, is in the process of choosing the cities that will host games. And Seattle, which made its pitch this week to a visiting group of decision-makers from FIFA, is in an extremely strong position to be among them.
That’s not to say it’s a lock, mind you. You never know how an outfit such as FIFA, which is trying to reform its well-earned reputation for corruption and scandal and has to evaluate bids from 22 cities (17 in the U.S.), will come down.
But it’s hard to look at Seattle’s credentials and its state of readiness to host World Cup matches and not conclude that the Emerald City has a great chance to make the final cut when it is announced in March or April.
With 48 teams competing for the first time in ’26 (instead of the usual 32), a multitude of venues will be needed. Those 22 applicant cities will be trimmed to “around 16,” said Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief tournaments and events officer, during a news conference Monday at Lumen Field.
Only two Canadian cities (Toronto and Edmonton) are in the running — for now — after Montreal and Vancouver pulled out over concerns about cost and other terms of the agreement (as did Chicago and Minnesota). Three Mexican cities — Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey — have made bids.
There have been rumblings that Vancouver will re-enter the competition, which would be good for Seattle’s bid. One potential drawback for Seattle is its geographic isolation. Having a potential Northwest partner for teams to rotate among (along with possibly Edmonton) would be appealing for the group stage.
Assuming that five non-American cities are chosen, as expected, that would leave those 17 U.S. candidates vying for probably 11 spots (although that number could fluctuate). So that means there may be six cities left out among Seattle and its competitors: New York; Los Angeles; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; Dallas; Boston; Kansas City, Missouri; Denver; Houston; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Nashville, Tennessee; San Francisco; Cincinnati;, Miami; and Orlando, Florida.
Former U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, speaking to Sporting News, called it “a high-class problem” to have to choose among so many vibrant cities. FIFA officials are making a grand tour of each candidate city that was initially delayed by COVID-19. In addition to Smith, the delegation included Victor Montagliani, a Vancouver businessman who is the CONCACAF president and FIFA vice president.
The group Sunday and Monday dived into the nuts and bolts of Lumen Field, took in Seahawks, Sounders and Kraken games, toured Seattle and listened to an in-depth presentation by the recently formed “SEA 2026” executive committee, chaired by Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer.
The issue that everyone is focusing on, understandably, is the lack of grass at Lumen Field. World Cup pitches must be grass, with no gray area. Hanauer insisted that installing grass for the World Cup by one means or another would not be a problem. He pointed out that Lumen is far from the only prospective stadium facing this issue, and they have plenty of time to come up with a solution.
Hanauer believes Seattle otherwise checks all the boxes that FIFA is seeking, from summer climate to infrastructure to transportation to stadium. And it has the sort of demonstrable soccer passion that should cause FIFA to take notice.
“We believe Seattle stands out among all cities in this country for its devotion, adoption and foundation of soccer,” Hanauer said, adding that the committee tried to explain the support that would be there for all games in Seattle.
“We wanted to demonstrate and convey that whether Switzerland plays Ghana or Mexico plays Brazil, our fans will be here to support, and fill the stadium,” he said. “… We did try to lay out a story that was compelling about the culture and the ecosystem and the relevance of soccer in this market.”
It would be a vast and complex undertaking to pull off the three to six games that are staged at each venue, and the selection process itself is arcane and perhaps inscrutable.
But it might not be too soon to dream about a share of the world soccer stage setting up in Seattle, five years hence.