2026 World Cup Final is crowning moment in New York City, northern New Jersey’s long soccer history

FIFA World Cup 2026 New York New Jersey

For as long as there has been soccer in the United States, New York City and northern New Jersey have been near the epicenter of it — a long history that was justly rewarded on Sunday when FIFA announced that the 2026 World Cup Final would be held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. 

There is no other sporting tournament or event larger than this competition, which is something that the alarmingly closed-off minds of many American sports fans still can’t comprehend. This is truly the world’s game and it was none more evident than in November and December of 2022 when an estimated 5 billion people watched the World Cup, which was held in Qatar. 

By comparison, Super Bowl LVII between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles drew 115.1 million viewers. 

So, in roughly two years and five months, the New York City/New Jersey area will play host to some of the world’s most prolific athletes on its grandest stage. Aside from the Final, MetLife Stadium will also host five group-stage matches, a Round of 32 affair, and a Round of 16 clash.

MetLife Stadium World Cup Final
MetLife Stadium (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Of course, this area is no stranger to welcoming some of the greatest players and moments in the game’s history.

The opening match of the 1999 Women’s World Cup was played at Giants Stadium with the United States — now simply known as the “99ers” — defeating Denmark 3-0 behind goals from  Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Kristine Lilly.

East Rutherford was also one of the hosts during the 1994 World Cup, which was held entirely in the United States compared to the competition in two years, which will feature matches in Canada and Mexico. One of the greatest upsets in World Cup history took place just west of the Hudson River when European minnows Bulgaria stunned the then-defending champions Germany — who had gone 11 games unbeaten in the competition — in the quarterfinals. Giants Stadium then saw those very same Bulgarians defeated by Roberto Baggio and Italy. 

Gli Azzurri went on to lose the Final against Brazil in the Rose Bowl with Baggio famously missing a penalty.

Twenty years earlier, Giants Stadium was being sold out for the North American Soccer League as the New York Cosmos, led by the legendary Brazilian, Pele, gripped the region with crowds exceeding 70,000 on multiple occasions. 

Before the high-profile events arrived, however, the New York/New Jersey area was a lynchpin in helping establish soccer in the United States. 

The first recorded American soccer game was between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 in New Brunswick, NJ.

Our New Threads (ONT) was the first powerhouse of American soccer — a team created by Scotand’s Clark Thread Company, which moved part of its manufacturing to Newark, NJ — winning the first three American Football Challenge Cups from 1885-1887.

In 1894, the first American soccer league was founded and New York was represented by the Giants. Each club was managed by baseball teams of the National League, hence the name, but it lasted only three weeks.

After a brief hiatus beginning in 1899, the American Cup returned in 1906, and with it, the establishment of the New York State Football Association, which launched its own amateur league and state cup competition. It helped pave the way for an attempt to build the first national governing agency for the sport in 1911. Within two years, its efforts led to the establishment of the United States Soccer Federation, which remains the country’s soccer governing body to this day. 

In 1914, the country’s oldest current competition kicked off in the US Open Cup — its inaugural competition won by Brooklyn Field Club over Brooklyn Celtic in a dominating showing for New York. 

New York clubs have won 26 US Open Cup titles, 11 more than second-place California. 

The original American Soccer League (ASL) was established in 1921 at the Astor Hotel near Central Park. Five years later, the Hakoah All-Stars, an all-Jewish team from Vienna, Austria, played the New York Giants in front of 46,000 fans at the Polo Grounds — an American soccer attendance record that would stand until Pele’s arrival 50 years later.

In total, there were three iterations of the ASL running from 1921-1989 before going under. But the United States’ victory in getting the hosting rights for the 1994 World Cup prompted the revival of a top-flight league in the States, announced in 1993 as Major League Soccer and launched in 1996 — and remaining in increasing popularity to this day while attracting the likes of generational international superstars in Lionel Messi, David Beckham, Andrea Pirlo, and Thierry Henry (who played for the New York Red Bulls) over the last 15 years.

It all pales in comparison to what will transpire on July 19, 2026, at MetLife Stadium, though it’s a moment more than 150 years in the making for this region — and a moment well deserved.

FILE – Argentina’s Lionel Messi lifts the trophy after winning the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Dec. 18, 2022. Just over a year on from Messi winning the World Cup, what sporting legacy has it left in Qatar? (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

For more on the 2026 World Cup, visit AMNY.com