It was not what everyone had wanted, the Mexican federation president, Decio de María, acknowledged, “but it is what we got.”
Gulati acknowledged the difficulty of negotiating the split of the matches. “I think it’s safe to say both countries would have liked more games,” he said, “and they will say it was hard to sell me on 60.”
What they agreed on in the end was this: As soon as this week, the United States, Mexico and Canada will present to FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, a paradigm-shifting plan for the World Cup that will involve more cities, more teams, more players and, perhaps most important, more profits.
The 2026 event will be the first to comprise 48 teams instead of the current 32, and one that a newly populist FIFA has billed as an opening to more countries. Critics have derided the change as both a watering down of the event and a brazen money grab.
It is quite possibly all of those things, but the sheer scope of an 80-game event (up from the current 64) played out over more than a month requires a reserve of stadiums, practice sites, hotels and transportation infrastructure that few countries can offer. By bidding as a unit, the three rivals from Concacaf, the regional confederation that encompasses North and Central America and the Caribbean, most likely assured that their bid will be accepted.
Projections of added income for FIFA from ticket sales, sponsorships and television revenue — $1 billion or more — should help the North American cause as well. Many of the world’s federations receive a majority of their financing from the World Cup payouts they receive every four years, even if they do not take part in the event itself.
Gulati pressed that reality, saying, “A World Cup in North America, with 60 games in the United States, would be, by far, the most successful World Cup in the history of FIFA, in terms of economics.”
Gulati, who is also a senior economics lecturer at Columbia University, said that the United States-Mexico-Canada bid had the full support of President Trump, whose tough talk about Mexico was a major theme of his campaign. Gulati said that talks with the president, carried out by an intermediary in the past 30 days, revealed President Trump to be supportive and, according to Gulati, especially encouraged about Mexico’s taking part. Concerns about visiting teams and fans from countries like Iran, Mexico and elsewhere — and especially those targeted by President Trump’s immigration restrictions — were most likely assuaged in those conversations as well.
”You’re always concerned about things,” Gulati said. “But I think in both countries, Canada and Mexico, they got sort of an unofficial or semiofficial O.K. from the very top to go forward.”
Still, significant issues — and potential disagreements — remain. Prize games like the opening match and the final are always the most desirable for cities, even when only one country hosts, but in demanding all of the later-round matches, U.S. Soccer has effectively laid claim to most of the biggest games. Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, which hosted the 1970 and 1986 finals, could serve as a grand stage for the opening match, but only if de María pries it away from Gulati.
Mexico and Canada are expected to host matches in three or four cities each — Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara in Mexico and Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto in Canada were among those mentioned Monday — and the United States is expected to host matches in many more. Gulati predicted a tournament with more cities than ever before — the United States used nine when it hosted in the 1994 World Cup, and Brazil hosted matches in a dozen in 2014 — and he said regional groupings would help manage travel, at least initially.
Despite secondary roles, Mexico and Canada have obvious reasons for signing on to a joint bid. Mexico, the 1970 and 1986 World Cup host, would become the first nation to host matches at three World Cup finals. And Canada, led by its federation president, Victor Montagliani, a rising power in FIFA, would join the United States, Sweden and Germany as the only countries to have put on a men’s and women’s World Cup. France will join that exclusive club when it hosts the 2019 women’s championship.
In Mexico, some commentators saw only positives in the partnership, even if the country would host only a handful of matches. Alfredo Domínguez Muro, a television broadcaster, echoed de María in saying that the United States could easily have planned a solo bid, so he praised what he saw as a spirit of symbolic collaboration.
“This sends the message to the Trump administration about the great benefits of cooperation that is simply not worth undermining,” Domínguez Muro said, adding: “It is excellent news precisely because of the political moment, for the three countries to host the most important event in the world. Let’s not forget soccer is the most important thing of all the unimportant things.”
Some details of the 2026 bidding are already known. Under by FIFA in October, a process of confirmed bids, inspections and evaluations will be completed by early 2020, with the vote to award the hosting rights set to occur at a FIFA congress in May 2020. That gives the three partners years to work out their differences and assuage any of FIFA’s concerns.
“There are times in life when you have to keep your ego tight,” de María said of the plan announced Monday. “I think that trying to get in a football war — ‘Oh, fine, you’re going to do it alone, I’m going to do it alone’ — is a stupid thing. Wise people should be able to sit in a room and find out a solution.”