First Touch

The United States Has Won The World Cup!

Yes, in 2026, just eight short years from now, the FIFA Men’s World Cup will return to North America for the first time in thirty two years. While the details still need to be sorted out, and the list of potential host venues pared down, the plan is for all three countries to host group stage games. The knockout portion will be solely a United States affair.
Tim Hall’s View From 101
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48 Nations
Of course, what form those group stage games will take is up for debate. Current plans having the 2026 tournament as the first to feature 48 nations, up from the current 32. Rumors did pop up this spring that the move to expand the tournament would occur one cycle earlier – in 2022 in Qatar
That might require Qatar to either build four more stadiums with virtually no turnaround time, or to share hosting duties with a neighboring country. They may be reluctant to do either.
In theory, this switch to 48 teams would include a move to sixteen groups of three teams each playing round-robin.
This poses an entirely new set of problems. The team who plays the first and third games of their group would get a significant advantage in rest over the two other teams that would have to play back-to-back.
The other issue, of course, is that every play, every mistake, every controversial call would be magnified even more. The margin for error for everyone would be razor-thin.
That may be fine for the impartial casual observer rooting for chaos as a means of entertainment, but the World Cup is supposed to be about crowning a deserving champion (even though we know it’s really about selling you Budweiser and Volkswagens). The thought that a team wouldn’t have the hope to recover from any misstep flies in the face of the point of the tournament.
Playing Fair
Say what you will about the World Cup as presently constructed, but in the four-team groups, nations like Germany and Colombia who tripped coming out of the blocks in 2018 can at least look forward to two more cracks at it, and maybe sneaking out of the group with four points.
That at least makes things interesting, and keeps eyeballs on all those ads. Otherwise, in a three-team group, Carlos Sanchez’s red card inside three minutes against Japan might as well have eliminated both the player and Colombia from the tournament before most fans could find the game on TV.
Of course, the way things go in international football there’s good odds that Carlos Sanchez won’t be joining us on the field in 2026. Most of the players you are enjoying this summer in Russia likely will have aged out by the time we reconvene in the western hemisphere.
Even the young teams of this tournament – England, France, Nigeria – will likely have cycled through many of those players by then. So it makes handicapping anyone’s odds in 2026 – be they three-team, four-team or twelve-team groups – an absolute crapshoot. But for the United States, who don’t have a whole bunch else to think about this summer, it does offer up an intriguing situation.
The USMNT have an opening at head coach, a good amount of talent in the pipeline, a clean slate from which to start, a visible goal on the horizon, and a vague idea of how to get there: start rebuilding from the ashes of the failed 2018 qualification bid, toss most if not all of the veterans aside, qualify for the 2022 tournament with as young of a team as can be managed, and then tinker with that roster, keeping as much of a core together as is possible, with your sights set on winning the World Cup at home four years after that.
That seems like an awful long way off for a goal in the distance that may just be a mirage, but one must have goals in life. And besides, eight years may feel like a long way away, but in truth it isn’t.
That’s another big change coming for 2026: the changes to all of us. Just setting aside what the tournament and teams will look like, we’ll all look a fair bit different by then as well. A fair share more gray hairs for all of us. Many people looked outside of themselves and did the addition and are looking forward to bringing their children, who’ll be around teenagers by then.
Domino Theory
There, then, is the other domino theory surrounding the 2026 World Cup. For the US team on the field, it’s qualify for 2022, win 2026.

But to understand American soccer in this moment, one needs to look back to the last time the World Cup came to North America. The US hosting the World Cup in 1994 was contingent on one thing: a professional top-tier league in the United States.
That league, Major League Soccer, and the various tentacles branching off from same, has been the primary development gateway for American players since. In fact, many of the children who spent their days in the summer of 1994 watching the World Cup in the States either had their passion for the game ignited or reinforced, and became the players and the fans that would form the backbone of Major League Soccer, and the US Men’s National Team, over the following years.
And so, may the circle be unbroken, those sons and daughters of ’94 will bring their sons and daughters to 2026, passing the game down to the next generation while, at the same time, hoping to harvest the fruit from the seeds planted the generation before.
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