El Salvador fans pack the stands of M&T Bank Stadium. Image courtesy of Baltimore Ravens/Twitter.

It’s a great day for local fútbol fans. The United States, Canada and Mexico have been tapped as host countries for the 2026 World Cup, and Baltimore is on the short list of locales that could serve as host sites for the massive quadrennial soccer tournament.

Now that short list must be trimmed within the next couple years from 23 to 15 or 16 cities that get to play host to some world-class international soccer. If it’s any sign for now, Baltimore scored well compared to others, tying for third with a score of 4.2 out of 5, behind only Denver, Houston, Miami and San Francisco, per FIFA’s official Bid Evaluation Report.

Terry Hasseltine, executive director of Maryland Sports, a division of the Maryland Stadium Authority, is bullish on Baltimore as a host site for 2026. That the city has an “urban environment where it’s walkable to our entertainment, attractions, hotels and restaurants is a blessing that separates Baltimore from its competitors,” he says.

“You can be in Baltimore from our airport on a light rail commute to our stadium in minutes.”

He also points to M&T Bank Stadium’s capacity, nearly 71,000, and the $144 million in ongoing renovations announced by the Ravens and stadium authority officials early last year. The latter includes new 4K video displays, escalators and elevators to the upper deck, a new sound system, upgraded kitchens and more upgrades that, while designed to mostly benefit members of the Flock, would also address FIFA’s fan-engagement criteria. The field meets FIFA soccer pitch specs, he notes.

M&T Bank Stadium has built something of a resume for international soccer, hosting games and so-called friendlies regularly.

Hasseltine successfully pushed for the venue to host a 2009 match between Chelsea FC and AC Milan to fruition. The event drew a sellout crowd of 71,008.

The stadium also hosted CONCACAF Gold Cup matches in 2013, when the United States beat El Salvador 5-1, and in 2015, when it hosted games between the United States and Cuba and Jamaica and Haiti. The 2015 matches brought crowds of about 38,000 to each. More than 70,000 showed up in 2013.

“I think we have a really great soccer watching and soccer-following community,” he says. “They come together when we have these opportunities to really share that Baltimore is a soccer-playing and soccer-loving town.”

Area universities and recreational complexes would get in on the action for 2026, serving as practice sites for international teams. Hasseltine said the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Towson University, Cedar Lane Regional Park in Howard County and the Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County are among the sites being considered.

One knock against Baltimore that doesn’t apply to nearby contenders like Washington D.C. and Philadelphia: the lack of underground transit for visitors to get around en masse. Hasseltine acknowledged that’s “probably a knock against our portfolio,” but said he thinks the other components that boosted the city’s score can “outweigh” that as a factor.

“When it’s all said and done, we’ve just got to continue to bump our chests a little bit about how great Baltimore is for this type of activity,” he said.

FIFA will trim its list by seven or eight cities by mid-to-late 2020. There will be 48 teams in all playing in the 2026 World Cup, for a total of 80 matches.

While we wait, Baltimore can enjoy the satisfaction of being the top choice to host the FIFA World Cup Workshop in 2025, in which delegations representing all competing teams will meet ahead of the tournament.

The report from FIFA says Baltimore “would seem to be a more convenient choice” than Nashville, the only other city shortlisted for that honor. If picked, the workshop would be held at either the Marriott Waterfront or the Four Seasons, both located in Harbor East.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...