Path 2 Pro: 2026 World Cup

“It will really elevate the game, and it will help MLS get significantly closer to being a league of choice, a top-five league."

Two weeks ago, it was announced that the United Bid, comprised of the United States, Mexico and Canada, had been awarded the 2026 World Cup. Understandably, soccer fans across North America rejoiced when they heard the news, as it meant that the pinnacle of the beautiful game would be coming to our shores.

It’s the type of tr­ansformative event that could reconfigure the soccer landscape in the United States for generations to come.

“Obviously, the World Cup will have a major impact, just like it did in 1994,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “It will really elevate the game, and it will help MLS get significantly closer to being a league of choice, a top-five league.  Naturally, it will inspire the imagination of many young players and continue the depth of the development of the sport.”

For the top prospects rising through the Sounders FC player development pipeline — especially those currently on U.S. Youth National teams — the announcement carried an extra air of importance. It meant that, if they continue to work hard and progress their careers, they could represent their country at a World Cup on American soil.

“I think that we have to dream about the World Cup,” added Nicholls. “Our players have to dream about scoring the winner in the quarterfinal at CenturyLink Field against Brazil.

“When I heard that we had clinched the World Cup, that’s exactly what I started to think about — which players from the Academy can be in that squad? But not just in the squad, but being decisive players in the biggest games in the country’s history. That’s how I look at it.”

Between Sounders Academy and S2, the club is littered with USYNT prospects. Throughout the past year, at least one player has represented the Stars and Stripes at every age group, starting with the U-15 BNT and moving all the way up to the U-20 MNT and the full Senior National Team.

With the tournament eight years away, many of the young Sounders will be in the prime of their professional careers as the 2026 World Cup rolls around.

S2 centerback and Sounders Academy alum Sam Rogers, who has broken into the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team this year as a result of his stellar performances in the USL, believes the 2026 World Cup could be the catalyst for a generation of elite American players.

“I was really, really happy [when I found out],” said Rogers. “Since it’s in 2026, I started thinking about where we could be as a country playing soccer, but also where I see myself being.

“I think that’s great motivation for myself to try and be on the Senior National Team,” he continued, “and not only make the team, but also to play in our own country would be something special that not a lot of people get to do. I think it adds motivation for players around my age to be the best that they can be.”

For some of the youngest prospects in the pipeline, the specter of a World Cup in America eight years from now adds an incentive to accelerate their own development, as it makes their dreams of being a crucial player for both club and country feel more tangible.

“I’m really excited the World Cup is going to be hosted here because I’ll have a chance to play in it, and it will help youth soccer a lot,” said Sounders U-15/U-17 midfielder Danny Leyva, who has become a regular with the U.S. U-16 National Team. “I feel like it’ll push me a lot more to work harder and get to [S2 and the First Team] a lot faster.”

Missing out on Russia 2018 was the realization of a nightmare scenario that many supporters considered impossible. But with 2026 on the horizon, the opportunity to represent the U.S. Men’s National Team in a World Cup match at CenturyLink Field could be a dream come true.