Something huge in soccer is coming to the U.S. in 2026. And with other things aligned, it could propel soccer to premier status in American sports.
In 2026, the United States of America will host an event unlike any other. It will attract over 1.500.000 fans from around the world–not to mention over a billion viewers who’ll be watching their teams compete for a crown.
And while soccer participation is on the rise, youth participation in several other sports–baseball and football most notably–is on the decline.
What’s the event? It’s the FIFA World Cup, which will be co-hosted by the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
Hosting the FIFA World Cup is a monumental step for this country. Not only will the tournament attract fans to the games, but it will also enhance the sport’s culture in America–a culture that is being built today through youth participation.
Typically, as participation in a sport increases its level of popularity grows correspondingly. Today, soccer trails only basketball in popularity among twelve-to-seventeen-year- olds. Stimulating that growth is the existence of more than two-hundred U.S. Soccer Development Academies. Those top-tier programs–recognized by the U.S. Youth Soccer Organization– often produce players that go on to play at the collegiate and pro levels.
Youth involvement in baseball has dropped by over three million participants. Participation in Pop Warner football declined 9.5 percent between 2010-12.
As youth participation in soccer increases, so too does interest in professional soccer. Major League Soccer is adding more franchises, and MLS teams are drawing bigger crowds–up 40% over the last decade.
But make no mistake about this: pro soccer is a relatively new sport in America, especially when compared with the game’s development in other countries. But rather than detract from pro soccer interest here, pro soccer elsewhere–especially in Europe–is stimulating domestic interest.
More Americans are following pro action in those established leagues. For example, the Fox Network reported that over 2 million U.S. viewers watched The Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool. Last season’s NBC’s broadcasts of English Premier League games averaged 425,000 viewers.
While crossover interest is a positive sign for soccer in the U.S., there’s no doubt that the growth of the sport here will require a major financial investment, including from sponsors. That’s happening, too. AT&T, Visa, Anheuser-Busch, Nike, Nestle, General Motors, Marriott, Allstate, Pepsi, McDonald’s have donated millions of dollars to building infrastructure and facilities in youth soccer, at the pro-level, and for the U.S. national team.
Most notable is the need for better facilities for youth soccer and bigger/better facilities at the professional level. That’s happening in many municipalities around the country, including in LA, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Miami.
While soccer is not a major American sport yet, I believe it will evolve into that status with the groundwork already laid and progress being made.
The keys are youth participation, facility investments, pro-level expansion, and TV coverage. If those things continue on the rise, then I predict that World Cup 2026 will be ‘the big pop’ that puts soccer smack in the middle of America’s sports plate.
List of references
Dilan Patel, 2019, ‘Is U.S. Soccer on the Rise?’ The Sports Column, March 12 2019