In America, there's a very sizable contingent of once-every-four-year fans who usually only get their soccer fix via the rare SportsCenter highlight or through that one friend who's always at the Irish pub early on Saturdays. But when the World Cup rolls around, this crowd appreciates and gets down with the month-long spectacle, making the U.S. feel as soccer-mad as any other country on the planet.
This greatly upsets another group that's always best left alone: the soccer haters who crawl out shouting a strange form of NIMBYism by accusing the rest of humanity of "shoving the World Cup down their throats."
That American crowd is going to be in for quite a shock come 2026 when the World Cup comes to the United States, Mexico and Canada, because FIFA is set to approve the biggest, longest, most continuously run tournament ever.
We've long known about the expanded field with the World Cup shifting from 32 to 48 teams, but now FIFA is ready to earn an extra $11 billion with a new format that increases the amount of games from 64 to 104 (40 more matches!) and the duration of the tournament to as many as 40 days.
The good news is that we've avoided the previously discussed format of 16 groups with three teams each (an 80-game tourney) in favor of 12 groups of four, so we'll have the traditional dramatics of three group-stage matches. However, the 12 groups of four structure means that the eight best third-place finishers will join the top two from each group in the first 32-team knockout round. So there will be less of those group stage dramatics.
Accordingly, instead of finalists playing seven matches, they'll now have to navigate eight to lift the most famous trophy in all of sports (five knockout stage games). That final will be July 19 in the United States.
Here's an interesting look at what the groups would look like based off 2022.
A generous reading of ESPN’s draw modelled on 2022 World Cup suggests 8 group games you might actually want to watch out of 80. pic.twitter.com/tzB2IDwhRO— Tom Peck (@tompeck) March 14, 2023
It's going to be the Endless Summer of Soccer, and although there are many reasons to pine for the old 32-team format, there's already something incredibly exciting about hosting such an extravaganza. Give me all your teams, all your players, all your passionate masses yearning to celebrate the World Cup.
We've already mapped out the best 2026 road trips so you can plan accordingly.