The World Cup final is being held in New Jersey? As in the industrial hellscape at the start of the Sopranos? And the Jersey Shore? The kind of place where guys eat sloppy steaks? Well technically, yes. But this is really a New York City final: MetLife stadium is only seven miles from Manhattan, and sits very close to the New York/New Jersey border. That the biggest match in world football will take place in (OK, very near) the biggest city in the United States makes sense [Disclaimer: New Jersey also has friendly people, beautiful countryside, charming small towns and stunning coastline].
And because it’s the World Cup final and it’s in the richest country in the world, no doubt MetLife is a breathtaking venue. Well, the stench that sometimes wafts in from the nearby Meadowlands marshes is breathtaking. But, aside from that, the stadium itself is … fine? There’s nothing offensive about the MetLife – it’s not falling down or anything and it seats plenty of people – around 82,000 or so. But it doesn’t have the history of the Azteca, the venue for the tournament’s opening match, or the space-age feel of Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium, which will host two of the United States’ group-stage games.
Has it got experience hosting big events? Yep, this is New York City New Jersey, after all. The MetLife hosted the Super Bowl in February 2014 and everyone from Beyonce to Taylor Swift to local boy Bruce Springsteen have staged concerts there. MetLife’s regular tenants are the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets but, due to the fact that they’re both terrible these days, calling their games “big events” is a stretch.
Is there much to do around the stadium? New York City has everything. East Rutherford, New Jersey though? Not so much. There are plenty of car parks around the stadium. And some of the aforementioned marshland. Also, the American Dream shopping mall, the second largest in the United States, if you want to buy some socks from Foot Locker or fancy a quick run down the piste.
One of the enduring images of the 1994 World Cup was Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton looking incredibly hot and sweaty on the sidelines of Giants Stadium, the predecessor of the MetLife. Can we expect similar scenes for 2026? The MetLife is a little inland so you won’t get much of a cooling sea breeze but, at the same time, it’s not in the fetid sweat island that is Manhattan in the summer. The area can get very humid but July also has its share of pleasant days too. And plenty of the host cities for the 2026 World Cup will be much hotter in July (although many of them have roofs to help players and fans stay cool). So we could get Charlton-like scenes but, assuming global heating doesn’t escalate too rapidly in the next couple of years and the match is in the evening, it may well be fine.
Will players have to slide around on artificial turf? NFL players have long complained the artificial turf at the MetLife is responsible for a worrying number of injuries, with one visiting Miami Dolphins player describing the surface as “trash”. That won’t be a problem at the World Cup: the stadium will use a grass field for the 2026 tournament. Just under 2,000 seats will also be removed to make the pitch wider for the World Cup too.
Can I get there on public transport? There’s always a trade off at World Cups. At Qatar 2022 fans got superb trains but no booze. In 2026, there will be plenty of booze but there will also be New York/New Jersey’s alleged public transport system. If you imagine yourself slipping out of a chic Manhattan restaurant before a quick ride to the stadium, forget it. The easiest way from the city involves going to Penn Station to board a train to Secaucus Junction, one of the least glamorous transport hubs in the northern hemisphere. From there you change for another train to MetLife. There are also buses from the stadium to the dubious charms of the Port Authority Bus Terminal (pro tip: do not make eye contact with anyone you don’t know). Having said that, at least you can get to the MetLife on public transport, which isn’t the case for many major stadiums in the US.
Can I drive there? Of course you can, this is America. And the car parks are very large.
I heard stadiums in Texas and California were also in the running for the final. What happened? The Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, a monument to Texan excess that can seat up to 100,000 people, was tipped by many to host the final but there is no public transport to the stadium so fans without cars have to rely on cabs. The stadium will host nine other World Cup games though, more than any other venue. SoFi Stadium was also a frontrunner but its owner, Stan Kroenke, got into a dispute with Fifa over revenue sharing. Its consolation prize will be hosting those two USA group games and it will also be a venue for the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.