SEATTLE. Maya Mendoza-Ekstrom’s voice was on the verge of breaking down. Speaking to a crowd of several hundred at Pier 62, Mendoza-Ekstrom had the honor of being the final speaker at an event celebrating Seattle’s successful efforts to become the host city of the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup.
Mendoza-Ekstrom’s performance, accompanied by the kids and Seattle Sounders legend Casey Keller, carefully illustrated what made this particular offer special. While other cities have newer and shinier stadiums; located in more strategic locations; have a large population or to have great pop culture authority, Seattle’s bid was authentic beyond compare.
Although Mendoza-Extrom is now Sounders COO and one of the key players in Seattle’s World Cup bid, it was almost as much a personal project as it was a professional one. Mendoza-Ekstrom’s father worked closely with Seattle’s previous World Cup bid — an ultimately unsuccessful bid to get into the transformative 1994 tournament — and she often referred to that original bid book for both inspiration and as a touchstone of sorts when she needed to. was to be reminded of it. the values that will guide this new proposal.
Unlike this proposal, which was funded by a full-blown football organization and legitimately global brands, the former was largely spearheaded by volunteers and youth football organizations—in fact, the only football infrastructure in the region still in existence in the early 1990s. But the spirit that fueled the 1994 bid is still alive in 2022.
“Today we are doing the work 30 years ago of those football moms and dads who first dared to dream that Seattle could and should host the World Cup,” Mendoza-Ekstrom told the crowd. “We must express our gratitude to those who dared to dream of this. To make that dream come true, it was our turn to consider bringing the legacy of this event to Seattle. That legacy was at the heart of this application.”
When Mendoza-Ekstrom said these words, her voice trembled slightly, I confess that I also shed a little.
I think it was something that I personally felt turned on in my own way, and you should too. It was not only a triumph for a region that has flourished over the past 30 years, but also for a football community that is now unrivaled in this country.
From Mendoza-Exstrom to Sounders owner and board chairman Adrian Hanauer, these were people with life experience who still felt the pain of the previous failure and had a vested interest in preventing it from happening again. In a way, the Saunders organization can even trace its history back to that failed offer, as the A-League team that revived the name was actually born from the ashes of that failed attempt.
The football infrastructure in the region that formed the basis of the application – the Starfire football complex, the University of Washington, the University of Seattle and the Sounders FC football center in Longacres – all have close ties to the football community. While there was no shortage of government officials at Thursday’s celebration, non-football sports organizations were conspicuously absent from the lineup. They will play their part eventually, I have no doubt, but they didn’t make it possible. We, the wider Washington football community, can claim this accomplishment as our own.
This same community will also benefit from 26 Rave Foundation fields for 2026 An initiative to provide physical infrastructure for the state’s underprivileged youth is just one example.
“I screamed and then cried,” Mendoza-Ekstrom told me earlier in the day of her reaction to the announcement. “It was a lot of mental work. We felt we had done everything we could. We have not sold ourselves, we have not sold the football community. We did it because of the deep personalization, the deep history that we have, and this is our best case. We put everything into it.”
Make no mistake, the World Cup is big business. There are reasons to be cynical. There are reasons why we should be skeptical. Our city will be transformed in a way that we don’t always appreciate and may not always love. We can admit it and still be happy, still proud, still optimistic about what it all means.
Choosing Seattle as one of the 16 host cities for the 2026 FIFA World Cup is not only a huge opportunity, but also a material recognition of our place in the football world. I’m under no illusions about hosting a World Cup final – I suspect it would be a bit of a shame if we were still hosting games all the way up to the quarterfinals – but I do think Seattle and the Pacific Northwest will end up being stars. this tournament. It comes with a responsibility to be gracious and inclusive, to look out for the most vulnerable members of our community, but it’s also a great opportunity.
The Pier 62 event was sort of a teaser. This is where the activities of the Fan Fest will be concentrated, creating an entry point for every visitor to feel like they are part of the World Cup. Notably, while other cities focused their celebrations on press conferences, this was something open to the public, with free food, free beer, and a free concert. I can only imagine what it will be like when real games are attached and I couldn’t be more excited.
Other takeaways from Thursday’s announcement:
We’ve known for a long time that turf laying was a requirement for a successful proposal, but it’s hard to find details of how Seattle will do it. This is finally changing. I had the opportunity to speak with Lumen Field CEO Zach Hensley and he clarified that the current FieldTurf will be completely removed and replaced with a “native grass surface”. Lumen Field was originally built with the expectation that it would be turf, which means that most of the necessary infrastructure is already in place. This does not mean that it will be an easy process.
Work is expected to begin as early as 2025. Seattle Seahawks the season ends probably in early 2026. Lumen Field will first need to install some of the tools provided by FIFA, such as vacuum cleaners, heating elements and grow lights, which are designed to maintain optimal grass quality. If all goes according to plan, it’s possible the Sounders and Reign will play it at the start of the 2026 season.
But FIFA requires no action to take place on the pitch until about 60 days before the start of the tournament, which likely means club teams won’t be able to use it from mid-April until the end of the tournament in mid-July. It is planned that the Sounders and OL Reign will be able to finish the season on grass. Presumably, the Seahawks will also play their 2026 season on it.
The next is yet to be determined. My guess is that at best the field will hold up well through the NFL season and all sides agree to keep the grass. It may be more plausible that the grass will be removed at the end of 2026 and FieldTurf will return next offseason.
When Vancouver got back into the 2026 FIFA World Cup bidding process, there was some concern that it could hurt Seattle’s chances of hosting the World Cup. If the goal were simply to claim that the Pacific Northwest is being served, Vancouver would certainly check that box.
In the end, of course, both cities were chosen, and Sounders president of business operations Peter Tomozawa actually suggested that Vancouver’s inclusion helped solidify Seattle’s bid.
“It’s such a wonderful city and I think over time it will bring us closer together,” said Tomozawa.
Although it was reported that Vancouver would host six games, everyone I talked to insisted that they still had no idea how many games Seattle would get. The grades I was told ranged from three to seven. These details are unlikely to be revealed for at least another few weeks, and maybe much longer.
If Seattle officials have a say, it looks like they’d rather play more games than later games. Based on FIFA reports on the number of spectators, about 200 million people watch the average world cup game around the world. This is very similar to super bowlglobal audience.
In other words, Seattle has a chance several times during the tournament to draw attention to our city the size of the Super Bowl. The more times, the better for local organizers.