The MetLife Stadium is a fine World Cup 2026 final venue - but is that enough?
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Is it any great surprise that the United States - a nation that eulogises the ceremonial tailgate, that regards pedestrianisation with the same suspicion with which many of us view occultism, and that is about three election cycles away from earnestly considering Optimus Prime to be a viable presidential candidate - is holding the World Cup final in what is essentially a glorified car park?
A couple of summers from now, a footballing swelter that will span an entire continent shall conclude in that most august of mankind's innumerable metropolises, East Rutherford, New Jersey. Rio de Janeiro/Berlin/Rome it certainly ain't. In fact, held up alongside those previous, esteemed hosts, the Bergen County borough brings to mind that scene in 'Mike Bassett: England Manager' during which the eponymous coach's squad is plugged into a virtual reality suite designed to confer onto them the natural body movements of Pele, Diego Maradona, and Mark Lawrenson.
Of course, this is a preamble spiked with just a touch of facetiousness. East Rutherford is, despite actually being in New Jersey, technically an inner-ring suburb of New York City, and, more pertinently still, is home to the MetLife Stadium - a vast, grey bowl of a construction that perches, lonely and unmoving, in the hinterlands of a concrete savanna with all of the charm and stylistic flair of an overgrown WiFi router. There isn't anything wrong with it, so to speak - it holds 82,000 and is perfectly intact - but there have been German translations of dishwasher manuals that have quickened the pulse more readily.
It is here, in the land of Giants and Jets, that FIFA have chosen to hold their Big Ol' Star-Spangled Mega Showpiece Extravaganza, 2026. In some respects, it is a setting that makes sense. The venue is no stranger to gargantuan events, having hosted everything from the Super Bowl to three nights of Taylor Swift's all-conquering Eras Tour. It is also within spitting distance of the American Dream Meadowlands shopping mall, which I'm reliably informed (by Wikipedia) is the second largest complex of its type in the USA. In other words, were you to throw a stone from any given point at the MetLife, you have a 85% chance of putting out the window of an Apple Store, if such things tickle your pickle.
It is not exactly short of parking, either. Indeed, it would perhaps be more accurate to describe the MetLife as a car park with a stadium inconsiderately beached at its centre. And while many will grumble at the tarmac wilds in which it hunkers, the sad reality is that these swathes of bays are needed.
Because even though East Rutherford is just seven miles west of Midtown Manhattan, the next World Cup final might as well be pencilled in for an excursion to the Upper East Side of Mordor. It is (allegedly) possible to reach the MetLife via public transport - which, in fairness, sets it apart from several of its compatriot peers - but it is not easy. The trip from New York requires a train from Penn Station to Secaucus Junction, labelled 'one of the least glamorous transport hubs in the northern hemisphere' by The Guardian as recently as Tuesday morning. From there, it is but another railroad trundle to the ground itself. Then there is the Port Authority Bus Terminal alternative, of which the less is spoken, the better.
As such, the most realistic option for a majority of visiting fans will be to drive to the MetLife, belching over the horizon in a cloud of smog like a rolling Mad Max motorcade. FIFA's commitment to cut carbon emissions by 50% before 2030 is trembling in its Birkenstocks, a soot-stained abacus clutched to its chest. When supporters do eventually get past the turnpike and arrive in East Rutherford, they will likely be greeted by the disarming stench of the marshlands that lie beyond the stadium, the wilting aroma drifting in on some mischievous breeze or other. It is a pleasingly oxymoronic detail in a state renowned for its 'waste management consultants'.
But really, all of this is somewhat immaterial. Plenty of places in America are difficult to get to, plenty of places, the world over, smell bad. What really jars is the fact that FIFA have taken the decision to opt for the MetLife - a grey, soulless lump of a proposition - when there were a number of other charismatic choices readily available. What about, for instance, the historic Azteca in Mexico City, site of the tournament's opening fixture, or the space age thrust of the SoFi Stadium, nestled like a grounded comet on the fringes of Los Angeles' gaudy sprawl? Either one would surely have been a better, more satisfying canvas for the biggest spectacle in global sport.
In the end, regardless of snarky columns, the World Cup final of 2026 will happen at the MetLife Stadium because FIFA, in all of its guzzling ugliness, has decided it is so. And to be fair, it'll probably be absolutely fine. But some things deserve more than 'absolutely fine'. This should be one of them.