MetLife Stadium could host the 2026 World Cup final.
By Michael Lewis
Some 28 years ago when the nine venues for the 1994 World Cup was announced in New York City on March 23, 1992, Sepp Blatter, then the FIFA general secretary, uttered these famous words:
“For FIFA, it was a must to play in New York. We could not bring the World Cup to the United States and not play in New York.”
Well, it was really New York/New Jersey, but the point was made.
Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. hosted seven matches at USA ’94, including one on the opening weekend and a semifinal.
Given the cosmopolitan feel of the region, New York City itself, the long history of the game here, two Major League Soccer teams, several lower division clubs and thousands upon thousands of youth and amateur that played regularly on the weekend before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, it should be a slam dunk.
But during a conference call on Monday morning, FIFA chief tournaments and events officer Colin Smith wouldn’t comment on the local bid’s chances or talk about what impact it would have on the tournament.
“I’ll give the diplomatic answer. We’re at the start of the selection process,” he said on a conference call, discussing the bidding process.
FIFA will host a seminar for the 17 finalists on the bidding process on Tuesday.
But a World Cup in the United States without a New York venue – err, New York/New Jersey venue. Ah, come on, that would be sacrilegious. NY/NJ is one of those candidates bidding for one of 10 U.S. World Cup venues for the World Cup, which will be hosted by three countries for the first time (Mexico and Canada will have three venues each).
In fact, MetLife Stadium would be considered a strong candidate to host the final. It meets much of the criteria, including a capacity of more than 80,000 – its listed as 82,500 – among other factors.
The Rose Bowl, which hosted the 1994 final, a rather anticlimactic scoreless draw between eventual champion Brazil and Italy that was decided via penalty kicks, must be considered a strong candidate. But one must wonder if FIFA would love to hold the 2026 in a domed stadium such as AT&T Stadium, which has a capacity of 80,000 but is expandable to 100,000. But that’s just speculation (In 1994, FIFA made a then controversial decision of having the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. hold group stage matches. That decision was mocked by the international media, but grass was used in an indoor stadium for the first time).
“Hosting the final, the final is a special animal in terms of the requirements, simply because it’s just huge,” Smith said. “The media attention, the broadcast attention, the hospitality, obviously, the fans, the space and the requirement in and around the stadium final is just at a different level than the other matches. Just seating capacity alone, 80,000 is the minimum for a final. That’s obviously one of the key criteria for us when we look at that.
“The match schedule itself is far off. We haven’t looked at in detail at the moment.”
Dan Flynn, who retired as U.S. Soccer CEO last year, who will work with FIFA on venue selection. He said the NY/NJ bid committee was “well represented” by government officials from both states and majors from both sides of the Hudson River.
“MetLife is very involved,” he said. “They are very well represented similar to every [group] across the country.”
In 1994, Giants Stadium hardly was a slam dunk
Getting to the finish had many trials and tribulations.
The New York and New York/New Jersey venue bid went through all fits and starts because the stadium had been deemed too narrow to use in a World Cup match, until FIFA officials relaxed the rules and the venue that was made world famous by the Cosmos was given the stamp of approval.
Heck, there was even talk about using a platform to place artificial turf to widen the field while ripping out several rows of seats. Fortunately, saner heads prevailed, and the stadium wasn’t touched at all.
USA officials had the Yale Bowl on the final list and even considered building a stadium at Aqueduct Racetrack before Giants Stadium eventually and finally got the nod.