When Boston and Philadelphia were announced, it was obvious what was to come. And by the time New York was selected — the final nail in the coffin — Baltimore officially had been eliminated as a 2026 World Cup host.
Baltimore, vying to host World Cup matches at M&T Bank Stadium as part of a joint bid with Washington, came up short as FIFA, the global governing body of soccer, selected 11 U.S. cities but did not pick Baltimore during its televised selection show Thursday evening.
Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Kansas City, Missouri, made the cut, while Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara will represent Mexico and Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia, will host in Canada.
National reporters had pegged Baltimore as on the bubble, but Boston and Philadelphia — other East Coast cities on the bubble — were announced instead. Baltimore missed the cut along with Cincinnati, Denver, Edmonton, Alberta, Nashville, Tennessee, and Orlando, Florida.
Being passed over for Boston was a tough pill to swallow for some soccer fans who gathered at Abbey Burger Bistro in Fells Point for a watch party. They pointed out that Gillette Stadium, the home of the NFL’s New England Patriots, is a 45-minute drive from downtown Boston.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” said soccer fan Simon Torres. “I thought that we had a strong bid, especially when you pair us with D.C. I think we were shorted.”
Soccer reporter Grant Wahl called Boston being picked over Baltimore as the “only surprise” of the announcement, and he pointed to Patriots owner Bob Kraft’s friendship with FIFA president Gianni Infantino as a potential reason for the pick.
Terry Hasseltine, the executive director of the Maryland Sports Commission, which oversaw Baltimore’s campaign, expressed disappointment about the loss at a Thursday evening news conference at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Extremely disappointed that FIFA did not see through the fog and through the dark that Baltimore, Maryland, in combination with Washington, D.C., was a one-two punch that deserved to host a World Cup in 2026,” Hasseltine said.
Gov. Larry Hogan, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott were among those expected to attend a watch party at M&T Thursday, and Hasseltine’s overt disappointment indicated that he expected it to be a joyous night.
Instead, the tone of the press conference was almost one of dismay.
“I’m really disappointed in FIFA today for the decision. I’m really disappointed in U.S. Soccer for allowing the decision to happen today,” Hasseltine said. “You and I, everybody in this room knows that there had to be something behind the scenes that we just don’t know. And I’m not going to sit here today and tell you I know what that was, but I can tell you that something doesn’t pass the sniff test.”
During an hourlong program, Infantino and other FIFA officials slowly revealed the 16 host cities, broken down into three regions: West, Central and East. The U.S. will have 11 sites, Mexico will have three and Canada will have two.
In April, Baltimore and Washington combined bids, which each city felt could increase its chances of being selected. Washington initially bid to host matches of its own, but the combined effort sought to unite Washington’s status as the nation’s capital with the more attractive venue of M&T Bank Stadium, rather than FedEx Field in Landover, home of the NFL’s Washington Commanders. (D.C. United soccer-specific Audi Field is considered too small to host World Cup games.)
FedEx Field has had issues recently — including a burst pipe and a broken railing during NFL games last season — while M&T Bank Stadium will receive a “Facility of Merit” award this year from the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security.
Under the combined bid, matches would’ve taken place in Baltimore while Washington would have hosted a fan festival on the National Mall, coinciding with the nation’s 250th birthday.
In a news conference in New York alongside Infantino and other officials, Cindy Parlow Cone, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, said, “Our nation’s capital is very much going to be a huge part of this World Cup, even though they’re not hosting games.”
The 2026 World Cup will be unique in two ways: For the first time, the tournament will have 48 teams (instead of 32) and it will be hosted by three countries.
FIFA officials visited Baltimore in September, attending the Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs game along with 70,000 fans. After that visit, Hasseltine said Thursday evening, local officials felt that Baltimore had a strong chance of being selected.
In April, Hasseltine said preliminary data collected during Baltimore’s independent bid found that hosting World Cup matches would have an economic impact on the city of between $400 million and $700 million.
However, FIFA ultimately chose other sites over Charm City.
The U.S. has hosted the men’s World Cup once before (1994) and the women’s World Cup twice (1999, 2003); 2026 will mark the first time that games are not played in Washington. In fact, it’s just the third time that a nation’s capital has not been included as a host city.
Baltimore is likely to receive some component of the 2026 World Cup — perhaps a team will train in the city, for example — but it won’t host matches as hoped. International soccer will come to Baltimore this summer, though. English Premier League sides Arsenal and Everton will play an exhibition match at M&T Bank Stadium on July 16.
Hasseltine called for Baltimore-area soccer fans to make sure that game is a sellout to show that FIFA made the “wrong decision.”
“Yeah, I wanna curl up in a corner of the room right now and cry my eyes out, and I want to forget this day happened,” he said, “but I’m gonna wake up in tomorrow morning and I’m gonna say, ‘I’m proud of Baltimore, I’m proud of Maryland, and I’m proud of the effort that we put forward.’”
2026 FIFA World Cup host cities
Vancouver, British Columbia
Kansas City, Missouri
New York/New Jersey