Marc Ronney, executive director of Whatcom Sports & Recreation, knows the power of World Cup soccer games for a community.
“It’s something you’ll never forget,” he said.
Ronney, who coached local youth soccer for four decades, expects a boost in excitement for the sport after FIFA, the international football federation, announced 13 games of the 2026 World Cup will be held in Seattle and Vancouver.
“I’ve already signed up for my tickets,” he said. “We’re in a great location to hit either site.”
Travis Connell, Western Washington University’s women’s soccer coach, agreed: “We are literally in the perfect spot to have access to the best players in the world,” he said.
The games in Cascadia allow local players and fans to witness the world’s biggest sporting event firsthand. FIFA’s website has information on buying tickets.
The tournament, hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, has been expanded from 32 to 48 teams with 104 games for an event that commands billions of television viewers.
The tournament will open in historic Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on June 11, FIFA officials announced Sunday night, Feb. 4. New York/New Jersey will play host to the final on July 19.
Ronney, who coached his final game in May with local premier youth club Whatcom Rangers FC, recalled the impact of the 1994 World Cup in the United States. He took his stepsons to see the U.S. men play eventual champion Brazil in an elimination game at Stanford Stadium in the Bay Area.
“I remember the cars and the parade before the game,” Ronney said. “It’s something they never forgot.”
The 1994 World Cup propelled North America to launch Major League Soccer, which has grown to 29 teams since its inception in 1996.
Western’s Connell said attending games at the ‘94 World Cup in Los Angeles and Palo Alto are some of the best memories he has with his family.
“We all want to get caught up in stuff and believe in the improbable,” he said. “That was a contagious time.”
Connell said the type of multicultural fandom associated with a World Cup is different from other sports like baseball, basketball and American football.
“It’s the best part of the sport,” he said.
Ronney encourages local soccer fans and families to spend time in Seattle and Vancouver to soak up the festive atmosphere – even if they can’t get tickets.
Connell expects the local community to organize watch parties and schedule buses to travel to the games.
“Definitely, we will leverage all the connections we have to help all of our kids, Western and youth players, to get access at a deeper level,” he said.
Ronney said the opportunity to participate in a World Cup tournament is the next step in the evolution of the game in North America. Aspiring players already can watch international matches on television, something that was a rarity when Ronney started coaching. He said such exposure has helped the United States develop the talent to become competitive internationally.
“Now the chance to go to a World Cup game will keep driving their passion,” he said.
Seattle’s 69,000-seat Lumen Field will have four group-stage matches starting June 15, including one on June 19 featuring the U.S. national team. Seattle also will have two knockout games, one in the round of 32 and another in the round of 16.
The full schedule won’t be completed until the draw, probably in December of 2025. The United States, Canada and Mexico automatically qualify as host countries. The other 45 teams will come out of competitive qualifying tournaments that began last September.
The U.S team is scheduled to open the tournament in Los Angeles on June 12, then head to Seattle before finishing group play in Los Angeles on June 26.
U.S. men’s coach Gregg Berhalter told reporters the team probably will be based in Southern California and fly to Seattle for its game.
He added he’s looking forward to returning to the Pacific Northwest, where he once visited as coach of the MLS Columbus Crew.
“I remember the days of playing against Seattle Sounders and the amazing crowd support that they have,” Berhalter said, mentioning the fans’ traditional march to the stadium.
“I’m just picturing us in the team bus and going through the city and seeing all the people and the smoke and everything and just, I’m getting goosebumps talking about it now.”
Sounders FC coach Brian Schmetzer knows what Berhalter means.
“I can’t help but think about the past generations of fans, players and coaches that have made this region so rich in soccer tradition and history,” he said in a statement. “Knowing firsthand the kind of environment that is possible within our stadium, our city, our region, it will be a one-of-a-kind experience and I cannot wait to be there.”
Sounders FC majority owner Adrian Hanauer said the World Cup has the potential to “take our sport to new heights. For every soccer fan in our region, 2026 is going to be really special.”
BC Place is closer, and perhaps more convenient, for Whatcom County soccer fans. The 54,500-seat stadium will play host to five group-stage games, including two featuring the Canadian national team on June 18 and June 24. The Canadians also are scheduled to play in Toronto.
Interim Canada coach Mauro Biello said the travel between the cities will help promote soccer nationally.
“It’s important to be coast-to-coast and allow fans to see their team and be able to see this type of competition,” he told reporters.
Like Seattle, Vancouver also will have round of 32 and round of 16 matches.
“Vancouver is a diverse and multicultural city that loves soccer and we’re excited to show our support for our national team,” Mayor Ken Sim said in a statement. “These epic matches are a huge win for our city’s world-class tourism sector and local businesses, and will inspire the next generation of players and fans.”