Could the 2026 World Cup Come to Cincinnati?

This week’s U.S.–Mexico match could be a preview of the ultimate soccer prize: the 2026 World Cup in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati’s reputation as a U.S. soccer hotbed takes another step forward this month, and the ultimate prize appears to be within reach. The U.S. men’s national team plays its chief rival, Mexico, at TQL Stadium November 12 in a crucial qualifying match for the 2022 World Cup. The most important game the national team hosts in this country, played once every four years, was awarded to Cincinnati by U.S. Soccer, which had presented this matchup in Columbus leading up to the past five World Cups (2002–2018).

Illustration by Oksana Grivina

FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding says the club’s new stadium and rabid fan base made this city a natural choice for the national team, which is seeking a boisterous home field advantage against Mexico. “Even though FC Cincinnati hasn’t done well on the field this season, we’re [in the top five] in attendance in Major League Soccer and scenes of our fans’ pre-game marches are well-known to U.S. Soccer,” he says. “Getting this match affirms all of the decisions we made to bring MLS to Cincinnati and build a world-class stadium.”

The U.S. and Mexico are in the midst of an eight-country tournament to determine who will represent Central and North America in next year’s World Cup in Qatar. The teams are playing home-and-away games against each other, with the top three finishers automatically qualifying for the World Cup and the fourth-place team entering a further playoff round. The Cincinnati match marks the halfway point of this tournament, which stretches until March, when the Americans play in Mexico.

Mexico and the U.S. are the region’s two highest-ranked teams (No. 9 and No. 13 in the world, respectively), with the next two best countries being Costa Rica (44) and Canada (51). So chances are good that both national teams will qualify for the World Cup, though that doesn’t diminish the need to acquire points in every match, the desire to look good on ESPN, and the thrill of beating your top rival on home soil.

The city of Cincinnati is also in a playoff tournament of sorts, but it’s being played out mostly behind the scenes. The 2026 World Cup will be staged in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. with 48 teams, expanding from the current lineup of 32. A total of 16 cities will host those World Cup matches, with 10 or 11 in the U.S. Cincinnati was one of 17 American cities to make the final cut for official visits. Executives from FIFA, soccer’s worldwide governing body, visited Cincinnati in person in late October.

“We don’t know exactly what criteria FIFA is using to judge each city or when they’ll announce the host cities, though we hear it will be in first quarter of 2022,” says Berding, who is helping organize the city’s World Cup bid. “There’s a lot of mystery in this process, to be honest. The national media has discounted Cincinnati’s chances, so we’re an underdog, but we’re going all out to impress the FIFA visitors. We know U.S. Soccer supports us, as proven by the U.S.–Mexico match and the U.S. women’s exhibition against Paraguay [September 21 at TQL Stadium].”

Berding hopes FIFA is interested in spreading World Cup sites across the country instead of concentrating them on the coasts or in the largest cities. Cincinnati is the only finalist city between Washington, D.C., and Kansas City, and he’d like FIFA to choose just one city in Florida (between Miami and Orlando), one in Texas (Dallas and Houston), one in the western Midwest (Denver and K.C.), and one in the Mid-South (Nashville and Atlanta), as well as not taking every finalist on the east and west coasts. That scenario, he says, has Cincinnati making the cut.

“The World Cup is the biggest global sporting event, bigger than the Olympics,” says Berding. “To have World Cup matches played in Cincinnati and people travel here from all over the world would be a true game-changer for this city.” Cincinnati continues its presence on the world stage on November 12.

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