With their 2022 World Cup hopes dashed by a loss Saturday to the Netherlands in the round of 16, the United States men’s soccer team now turns their eyes towards the 2026 World Cup. With the second youngest team in the 2022 World Cup, there is hope that despite the exit in the round of 16, the team can put together a deeper run in the 2026 World Cup.
The first question they might face?
Will they automatically qualify?
The United States is one of three hosts for the 2026 World Cup, along with Mexico and Canada. Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle were announced as the host cities in the United States for the tournament. There have also been reports that the 2026 World Cup Final will be held at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, however, FIFA is not expected to announce the site of the final until next year.
Traditionally, the host nation automatically qualifies for the World Cup. Qatar this year, for example, qualified for the tournament as the host nation, while ranking 51st in the world according to FIFA.
But with three nations hosting the tournament, will all three automatically qualify?
FIFA has not yet made an announcement. Back in 2017, FIFA maintained the traditional position that a host nation would automatically qualify. However, in the event of nations co-hosting the tournament, FIFA stated that “[i]n the event of co-hosting, the number of host countries to qualify automatically would be decided by the FIFA Council.”
That declaration came prior to the joint bid for the 2026 World Cup from Mexico, Canada, and the United States.
2026 will not be the first World Cup co-hosted by multiple countries. The 2002 World Cup was co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, with the World Cup Final taking place at International Stadium in Yokohama, Japan.
For that tournament, both Japan and South Korea automatically qualified.
Something else that might work in favor of the three teams hosting the 2026 World Cup? That is the first year the tournament expands to 48 nations. While FIFA is currently discussing the group play format for that tournament – a proposal for 16 groups of 3 teams is receiving considerable pushback – the expansion to 48 nations likely makes it easier for FIFA to award automatic bids to all three host nations.
In addition, the official bid proposal from the three nations submitted to FIFA anticipated that all three would receive an automatic qualifying spot.
In a speech in El Salvador back in August, FIFA President Gianni Infantino indicated that CONCACAF could have up to eight teams in the 2026 World Cup, six qualifiers and potentially two spots through a playoff. CONCACAF was given three slots through qualifying, plus potentially a fourth through a playoff, for the 2022 World Cup.
However, it is unclear if Infantino meant that the three additional spots were due to the three host nations, or the expanded field to 48 nations.
Update: On Tuesday FIFA vice president Victor Montagliani stated in an interview with Fox Sports that the three nations will automatically qualify for the 2026 World Cup. Montagliani, who is also the President of CONCACAF, indicated that he is bullish on CONCACAF’s chances for 2026. “If you look at where these teams are, we’re all building for 2026,” he said. “Canada and the U.S. are very young teams. I think Costa Rica is also likely to refresh itself after this World Cup. And Mexico is kind of in between that, to be honest. They have some good young talent, obviously. So, they’re looking at 2026 as well.”
Until FIFA approves those automatic bids, however, the United States will have to wait to see if their automatic entry is approved by FIFA. If it is, their path to the next World Cup will be a little bit easier.
And perhaps they can use any extra time to focus on practicing set pieces.