U.S. Cities to Host World Cup Switch to Natural Grass Soccer Fields

A packed Lumen Field, home of the Seattle Sounders, for a night game

The World Cup is all about growth now – three countries in 2026 instead of one, 48 teams instead of 32, and yes, the growth of natural grass. 

We’ll cover the first two quickly and then go deep on the grass angle, because we’re LawnStarter, and some of the host sites will need to get the growing, then get the mowing process started. 

3 countries: The 2026 World Cup is being held in the United States, Mexico and Canada. That’s up from the traditional one. 

48 teams: The field has blossomed to 48 teams for the first time. To this point, the cutoff had long been 32 teams.

That growth means there will need to be more host cities, 16, which will combine to field the 80 games of the 2026 conflagration. When the USA played host by itself in 1994, just nine cities were needed to provide suitable Western Hemisphere playing fields. 

Natural grass: Then there’s the underlying growth issue – grass surfaces. There is a time and a place for artificial turf, but soccer’s biggest stage isn’t one of them.

Turf Battle to Host World Cup

In sorting out the host cities for 2026, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) made it clear that it would be sticking to its roots, insisting that all games be played on grass. 

Natural grass. You know, the green stuff that the sport grew up on, the stuff that has to be mowed and trimmed and watered and primped to full emerald glory. Artificial turf need not apply. Period.

The grass-vs.-turf war is over. Every American city wanting to host either had grass or had a plan to install it. FIFA listened, then in mid-June made its choices. 

Canada will offer Toronto and Vancouver as venues. 

Mexico will offer three sites, Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. 

The U.S. will have 11 locales to help soccer/football put on its biggest show:

  • Atlanta
  • Boston area
  • Dallas/Fort Worth area
  • Houston
  • Kansas City
  • Los Angeles area (SoFi Stadium)
  • Miami
  • New York/New Jersey
  • Philadelphia
  • San Francisco Bay Area (Santa Clara)
  • Seattle

Among U.S. cities/metro areas overlooked were Baltimore/Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Denver, Los Angeles (the Rose Bowl), Nashville and Orlando. (In Canada, Edmonton was passed over, as well).

Host Cities Will Switch Pitch to Grass

Ten of the 17 U.S. finalists going into the final picks had been covered by artificial turf. That was not a deal breaker. Four of the cities that were passed over did have natural grass and could have hosted games next week. 

While the bulk of the final contestants have turf facilities now, zero of them will have the fake stuff four years hence.

And therein lies a story; a few of them, in fact. 

As any gardener can attest, picking out a type of grass and getting it planted is not for the faint of heart. Add to that the need to deal with the resurfacing or removal of artificial turf and the issues escalate.

What was to be done?

Seattle’s Lumen Field as Case in Point

Let’s take a look at Seattle’s successful bid for World Cup inclusion as a primer of the kinds of changes that needed to be considered.

While each of the turf-based applicants has its own version of a turf-to-grass plan, Seattle’s Lumen Field – home to the Seahawks of the National Football League and Sounders FC of Major League Soccer – stood as representative of the course facilities generally had to steer in order to be World Cup compliant.

Seattle Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro prepares to kick the ball at Lumen Field during a match May 15, 2022
Seattle Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro kicks the ball at Lumen Field May 15, 2022
Photo Credit: Lindsey Wasson / Sounders FC Communications / Flickr

Seattle is a Soccer Town

In many ways, Seattle would be a slam-dunk as a World Cup host site. The Seattle area is home to MLS’s Sounders FC. Then there are the Tacoma Stars, which fields both indoor and outdoor teams. 

The Tacoma Defiance is a Sounders affiliate which joined the minor league MLS NEXT Pro earlier this year. 

Not to be outdone, OL Reign – renamed after France’s Olympique Lyonnaise took over management of Seattle Reign FC in 2020 – is a member of the National Women’s Soccer League, which plays in Tukwila, about 12 miles from Seattle, near the airport.

Suffice it to say, they love their soccer in the Puget Sound area. So much so that having artificial playing surfaces makes sense for the heavy use fields get. And it can be helpful to have the fake turf in an area that gets as much rain as the Pacific Northwest.

But that doesn’t cut it in the World Cup. 

Seattle’s World Cup Bid

Seattle has long wanted in on the World Cup, but the area’s bid for inclusion in the 1994 Cup was turned down. Prime among the issues dooming the area’s 1994 bid was that the biggest available facility, the Kingdome, had an artificial surface – and an uneven, worn-out bad surface, at that. 

The second-largest facility, the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium, was taken out of the bidding by the school over concerns about damage to the field’s natural grass. 

Seattle’s organizing committee wasn’t about to let that happen again. So how to adapt and either replace or cover up all that artificial turf with some form of natural grass, either short-term or permanently?

The organizers came into the bidding war having already established plans to lay down sod and grass over the current FieldTurf at Lumen Field, probably in late 2025 or early 2026 to give the grass time to settle in. 

FIFA has made it clear that even temporary natural grass will need to be installed with time to let the grass take deep roots.

The entire process is something of a technological trick, and it’s something that other artificial-surfaced World Cup winning areas, including Atlanta and Boston, built on. 

This isn’t Seattle’s First Soccer Rodeo

Seattle has, in fact, tried this before. Back in 2016 when Lumen Field was known as CenturyLink Field, Seattle played host to the Copa American Centenario and put down a temporary grass field. 

The temporary surface received passing grades as a playing surface then, but FIFA would like something better than passing grades.

Sounders Senior VP Maya Mendoza-Exstrom, who was in the Kingdome stands in 1994 for a friendly between the U.S. and Russia played on that bad turf, was instrumental in the 2026 Seattle bid. 

She insists that a first-class natural grass will cover the field in 2026. It will be good, but it will be temporary, although just how temporary is yet to be seen. 

It’s not clear if the Seahawks 2026-27 season would be played on the grass before there’s a reversion to the artificial stuff. 

Here’s why the timing is tricky: There would be perhaps as few as four or five weeks between the last World Cup game in Seattle and the start of the NFL preseason, and just how quickly a transition back to turf could be accomplished.

Plans for Natural Grass Take Root

The Puget Sound bidders impressed FIFA by getting into the natural grass business early, and not just at Lumen Field. Sounders FC is building a new training facility at what was once the Longacres race track, a facility due to be completed by 2024. 

By the time new grass has to be installed in Lumen Field, the club will have recent experience in laying down natural grass on a dozen or more fields at the new facility in addition to installing some FieldTurf fields. 

As a result, there shouldn’t need to be any learning on the fly. And having expanded training facilities for national teams to do their prep work on is expected to impact the bid positively, as well. 

The bringing in of grass to cover Seattle’s downtown stadium has been done at least nine times in the past, which the Seattle advocates pointed out to a FIFA inspection crew in a late 2021 exploratory visit. 

Another plus is that in the past few years the Sounders and OL Reign have worked out a way to bring in grass and sod to cover the minor league baseball stadium in Tacoma when the Reign was playing there.  

Best Grass Types for World Cup Games?

Just what grass will be used is yet to be determined. 

A Purdue University study suggests Poa pratensis (Kentucky bluegrass), Lolium perenna (perennial ryegrass) and Festuca arundinacea (tall fescue) are best suited to serve as soccer pitches. But what works in Seattle’s temperate weather might well be different than what best fits in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York or any of the other areas needing to make similar alterations.

The surface that is most used by Great Britain’s top teams, Desso GrassMaster, is a hybrid of natural grass and synthetic fibers. But while it’s deemed good enough for the Premier League, it’s not clear that it’s suitable for use in the limited ways Seattle and other U.S. cities would need to impress FIFA. 

GrassMaster, a hybrid of grass and synthetics, is used sparingly in the NFL, but fully half of the NFL’s 32 teams play on some form of hybrid surface. 

One of those, the New England Patriots, is talking about simply pulling out the fake turf at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough (suburban Boston) and replacing it with natural grass, which the stadium had from 2002-06. Part of that is a desire to bring in the World Cup, and part is team owner Robert Kraft leaning more toward the natural stuff as an existential idea. 

Sizing Up World Cup Bids

Seattle is not willing to go that far, but it does have another advantage. Most NFL venues under consideration are too narrow. FIFA prefers its pitches to be 74 yards or wider. 

Lumen Field is qualified in that manner, but many of the NFL stadiums, including those in the San Francisco Bay Area and the New York/New Jersey area, have widths of 70 yards or less. NFL fields typically need to be just 53.3 yards wide, not counting sidelines. 

Here’s how some of the host cities are making room for and planning to switch to Mother Nature’s grass ahead of the 2026 World Cup:

  • Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta has plans to install grass in February 2026 for what will be a temporary change.
  • Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, is up in the air about whether a fix will be temporary or permanent, but there are plans to knock out sideline seating to make more room for the grass sidelines.
  • NRG Stadium in Houston had grass before going synthetic in 2015. Nothing has been announced about whether to revert, or just lay down temporary grass for 2026.
  • MetLife Stadium in New Jersey probably has the most experience going from turf to grass, so doing so once again isn’t expected to be a big deal.

And just in case you’re thinking the turf-to-grass process is limited to American sites, you should know that BC Place in Vancouver will be making a similar conversion to play host.

How the U.S. Ended Up with 11 Host Cities

The U.S. was originally slated to get 10 of the 16 hosting sites, but Canada, which had been allotted three, has seen Vancouver and Montreal drop out of the bidding, leaving only Toronto and Edmonton as willing participants, freeing up an 11th U.S. locale. 

Vancouver was a late entry, dooming the Edmonton bid. Only three Mexican metropolises made bids – Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey – and all made the cut.

Under the current setup, first-round games will be spread over North America, but beginning with the knockout round, all games will be played in U.S. stadiums.

Green Grass and Greenbacks

So, what now? 

Well, for one thing, there is the 2022 World Cup held this fall in Qatar, where growing grass is no small thing. If the officials there could, they’d probably opt for turf, water being as precious as it is in the middle of the desert. 

But they, too, have to work under the grass-only rule, and you can be sure that the sites in the U.S., Canada and Mexico will scope out how the Qataris handle the must-grow-grass issue. 

Will they find ways to make the process a smoother sail? One would hope, but only time will tell. 

By the way, that grass they will play on in Qatar is flown in from the U.S. 

2026 World Cup host cities are gearing up for an economic windfall. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, even said hosting World Cup matches in AT&T Stadium will be bigger for Dallas than the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl.

And 2026 World Cup host cities are plotting how to grow natural grass for those games that soccer fans will come from all over the world to watch. 

U.S. soccer supporters and regional economic development chiefs agree: World Cup soccer matches on green natural grass will rake in a ton of greenbacks. 

And those don’t grow on trees.

U.S. locales hosting the 2026 World Cup

City/RegionType of SurfaceStadium Seats
Atlanta, GAFieldTurf CORE73,019
Boston, MAFieldTurf65,878
Dallas, TXHellas Matrix Turf with Helix Soft Top105,121
Houston, TXHellas Matrix Turf72,220
Kansas City, MOLatitude 36 Bermuda grass76,416
Los Angeles/SoFi StadiumMatrix Turf70,240
Miami, FLTifway 419 Bermuda grass64,767
New York/New JerseyFieldTurf82,500
Philadelphia, PADesso GrassMaster69,796
San Francisco Bay AreaTifway II Bermuda grass68,500
Seattle, WAFieldTurf Revolution 36072,000
John Hickey

John Hickey

John Hickey, contributing writer at LawnStarter, has been around sports as a writer and blogger since the earth was young. He's worked at the Oakland Tribune and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, for AOL/FanHouse and Sports Illustrated. As he writes this, he looks out his window and sees a lawn badly in need of mowing.