2026 World Cup: USMNT could benefit from lack of group stage travel


The 2026 FIFA World Cup is still more than two years away, but the United States men’s national team (along with fellow tournament co-hosts Canada and Mexico) learned on Sunday the cities in which it will play during the group stage of the 48-team event, with FIFA announcing the 104-match schedule.

The USMNT will contest two of its three first round matches at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, just steps from Los Angeles International airport. Those two games, against opponents still to be determined, will sandwich the Americans’ second group match in Seattle. That means that the U.S. won’t have to leave the Pacific time zone unless it advances to the competition’s knockout phase.

“We would have been happy at any of the venues, because we know the home support is going to be incredible in this World Cup,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said on a Zoom call with reporters shortly after the plan was announced. “We know how Americans get behind their teams at international events, we know how Americans can host international events. So when you add those two things together, it’s going to be an incredible environment for our team.”

The U.S. squad is likely to be based in Southern California for the entire first round, Berhalter said, jetting up to Seattle after the opener and then returning for the group finale. The 70,000-seat SoFi Stadium — which Berhalter called “probably one of the best stadiums in the world,” opened just four years ago and will host eight matches in all.

“LA has everything: the beaches, the weather,” Berhalter said. “LA has a melting pot of cultures, a bunch of different people coming together. It’s a great location to watch soccer, and I’m sure throughout the 2026 World Cup it’s going to be a great venue.”

USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter talks 2026 World Cup schedule & expectations | FOX Soccer

Staying on the West Coast for all of group play should also help the U.S. stay fresh before the business end of the tourney kicks off with single-elimination games from the round of 32 on. That wasn’t an accident.

The last time the U.S. hosted a World Cup, in 1994, FIFA was criticized for forcing teams to crisscross the continent unnecessarily. The Americans opened that tournament near Detroit, which is in the Eastern Time Zone, then closed out group play in California on Pacific Time, a three-hour difference.

“It’s no secret that the teams were able to give FIFA some input in terms of the venues,” Berhalter said. “Our main piece of advice was about the travel: trying to minimize travel, minimize time zones. Because we know the wear and tear that can take on your body during a major tournament.

“It gets tricky when you talk about four or five hour flights between games,” Berhalter added. “FIFA ultimately made the decision, but we’re really thankful that at least they asked for our input. I’m sure they did the same for Mexico and Canada. It just shows that they’re in tune with the host nations, which I think is important.”

The USMNT could spend the weeks leading up to the 2026 World Cup on the opposite side of the country, in Atlanta, where U.S. Soccer is constructing a state-of-the-art training center that is expected to open in time for the competition. 

Berhalter would love for the USMNT to make its way back to Atlanta before the event is over, too. Georgia’s capital is slated to host a semifinal (Dallas was awarded the other semi) before the championship match in East Rutherford, New Jersey — Berhalter’s home state.

“It would be great to be in our own facility [during] the tournament,” he said. “Hopefully, we get back to the Atlanta area for the semifinals.”

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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