No one wants it more than you: What made Kansas Citys World Cup 2026 bid stand out


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THE KANSAS CITY STAR

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The first syllable came out — Kan — and this place went bonkers. The mayor grabbed the shoulder of a friend nearby, leveraging himself as high into the air as his 37-year-old legs would allow. He almost lost his suit jacket in the chaos, though he might not have complained in 100-degree heat.

On the second deck of the proverbial living room inside the Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City, a man buried his head into one hand, hiding the tears on his face. A bottle of champagne soaked a few, as American flags waved in the air filled with chants.

The men’s World Cup is coming to Kansas City in the summer of 2026, FIFA officials announced Thursday in a March Madness-style reveal that turned grown men and women into little kids and their pit-in-the-stomach anxiety into nothing but pure elation. This has been a process a half-decade in the making — longer yet for some — among Kansas City dignitaries who have a new item atop their legacies.

Those leaders sat inside a soccer-themed bar upstairs at Power & Light, and in the midst of that celebration, Sporting Kansas City president Jake Reid kept coming back to something this group had heard often. They had courted FIFA officials on visits, through phone calls and online presentations, and their most promising feedback had been consistent.

“They kept saying this,” Reid said.

It’s clear no one wants it more than you guys.

It became something of a running joke each time they spoke — FIFA officials and those involved with the Kansas City bid led by director Katherine Holland and sports commission president Kathy Nelson, in addition to Sporting KC and the Chiefs.

You guys are always the most excited.

We might never know if that factor pushed Kansas City over the top — if that’s what swayed FIFA officials to make it the smallest American city granted World Cup games, beating out a group of other bids that concluded with the nation’s capital left out — but we know that didn’t hurt.

Some poured their lives into the finer details of this bid, from transportation solutions to fan accommodations and events to assurances that Arrowhead Stadium can be transformed to meet specifications. The list is exhaustive and given Kansas City’s market size, it likely needed to be perfect.

And then maybe a little extra.

FIFA felt that energy — that excitement — was worth mentioning. And mentioning again. And again.

It won’t leave anytime soon. You’ve had enough people already tell you this is a pretty big deal. It is, probably more so for a city of our size than Los Angeles, New York or Miami. The World Cup is watched by more than 3 billion people — and the field is expanding to 48 teams in 2026. About 100 million watched Patrick Mahomes lift the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl LIV.

I’d love to paint you all a picture of the exact transformation Kansas City will absorb for a few weeks in 2026, from the influx of cultures visiting our city by the tens of thousands to some of the best athletes in the world playing its most popular sport. But I’ve never attended a World Cup, so I asked a few of those who have — Matt Besler and Graham Zusi played for the United States in Brazil in 2014; Benny Feilhaber represented the country in South Africa four years earlier. Roger Espinoza played for his home Honduras in both.

All are current or former Sporting KC players.

“It’s hard to describe the environment — it’s something that brings the whole world together,” Espinoza said. “In other places, the whole country stops for this. The whole country .”

“It’s different than almost all atmospheres I’ve ever experienced,” Besler said. “You really get a sense of just how big the world is.”

“It would be hard for me to articulate what hosting games would be like to even the casual soccer fan, let alone the non-soccer fan,” Zusi said. “I think we can say it’s a different level than anything here.”

OK, how about an anecdote?

Zusi, Besler and members of that 2014 U.S. Men’s National Team sat in their hotel in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was an off-day for the Americans, but Brazil happened to be playing that day. Sao Paulo had turned into a ghost town, Zusi recalled, the streets and stores vacant. The hotel was surrounded by high-rises as far as their room windows would allow the gaze.

When Brazil scored, they could feel neighboring buildings shake.

“Just this explosion of sound,” Zusi said. “It was insane. The entire city was just screaming.”

Back home that year, we bragged that television cameras were planted at P&L for World Cup watch parties. This is the real freaking thing now, and whether you attend the games or not, you will feel it.

Beaming with civic pride, a city that gets annoyed when someone suggests it might not be as cool as the big boys is about to join the big boys. It’s an ego boost. It’s confirmation of what Kansas Citians have long argued.

We belong.

“Not everybody in the world knows about KC,” Espinoza said. “But now KC will be known for sure. You will be known. Kids who watch the World Cup will remember the cities they play. They will not forget. I’m telling you, it will rise the city to the top.”

The United States has the Super Bowl. (Remember where the Chiefs played two years ago?) The rest of the world has the World Cup. They will remember. Several thousand will be here in person.

We’ll learn the local participants in the weeks and months to come. Other teams will probably set up camp at Compass Minerals National Performance Center, Sporting KC’s state-of-the-art training c…

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