NEW YORK — Just after 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Philadelphia’s place in the sports world changed forever.

After many years of waiting, the city for the first time officially became a host of a men’s soccer World Cup, the planet’s biggest and most famous sports event.

In 2026, Philadelphia will be among a group of co-hosts of a sporting spectacle: 48 national teams combining to play 80 games across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The other 15 host cities will be Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco (Santa Clara, really), and Seattle in the United States; Toronto and Vancouver in Canada; and Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey in Mexico.

Boston’s bid was the surprising inclusion. Washington’s joint bid with Baltimore was the most surprising exclusion. Cincinnati, Denver, Edmonton, Orlando, and Nashville also missed the cut.

The announcement was made by FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, during a TV show broadcast from Manhattan to the world. Hershey’s Christian Pulisic, the biggest star of the U.S. men’s team, was part of the show. And there were jubilant celebrations by a crowd at LOVE Park in Center City that included fans, local youth players, and representatives from the city, the Eagles, and the Union.

Among them was Union captain Alejandro Bedoya, who played for the United States at the 2014 men’s World Cup. Some of his current and former colleagues — including Pulisic, Downingtown’s Zack Steffen, and Medford’s Brenden and Paxten Aaronson — could play in the 2026 tournament. Pulisic, Steffen, and Brenden Aaronson are on course to play in this fall’s edition in Qatar, and they star for some of the world’s most famous club teams.

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They’re all familiar with a chant popularized by Union fans, then adopted by the Eagles, that was taken from English soccer fan culture: “No one likes us, we don’t care.” Those words have been proven false. The world’s most popular sport likes Philadelphia very much.

“Philadelphia just showed what it was,” FIFA vice president and Concacaf president Victor Montagliani said, praising how much the city showed that it wanted to bring the event to town.

A hotbed for more than one football

Philadelphia has also embraced the world’s game in recent years to a far greater degree than it ever has. The city regularly ranks among the best for television viewership of England’s Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga, and other major soccer competitions, and it has (albeit slowly) embraced the Union into its professional sports scene.

In the 19 years since Lincoln Financial Field opened, the Eagles’ stadium has become a soccer hotbed. In fact, it was from the start: Its inaugural event was a Barcelona-Manchester United exhibition. Later that year, the stadium helped host a Women’s World Cup on short notice when it was moved from China to the United States.

(And let that be a reminder: 2026 won’t be the first World Cup played in the city, it will be the first men’s World Cup.)

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Since then, the Linc’s pristine grass has hosted a wide array of soccer events, from national team competitions to European club exhibitions. The Union’s Subaru Park has also helped put the region on the soccer map since it opened in 2010.

Fittingly for the place where America was born, the Philadelphia region has given America’s national teams a home-field advantage. The men’s and women’s teams have a combined 25-6-4 record in games played here over the years.

A few blocks from City Hall, Philadelphia’s biggest company is among the biggest proof of soccer’s popularity — and profitability. Comcast has spent some $4.5 billion over the last 10 years to buy broadcast rights to the World Cup and England’s Premier League, with games on its biggest TV networks and streaming platforms. The World Cup deal started in 2015 and includes Spanish-language rights to the 2026 games here, with America’s most famous soccer broadcaster, Andrés Cantor, at the helm of coverage.

It’s no secret that Comcast’s influence helped Philadelphia’s bid succeed. When Montagliani came to town last September for a tour, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Telemundo chairman Beau Ferrari were in the key meetings to make the city’s case.

“It’s probably hard to underestimate what a big moment this is,” Roberts told The Inquirer at an event held at Comcast’s Rockefeller Plaza headquarters. “When we were with them, there was just a positive energy from the moment they were in Philadelphia. ... Philadelphia stood out, and this is the culmination of that effort.”

» READ MORE: How Comcast helped Philadelphia's World Cup bid win

Diversity helps make history

Soccer’s presence in Philadelphia has also grown with Philadelphia’s increasing diversity. Immigrants from around the world fueled population growth in the city from 2010-20 that was the largest such rise in 70 years. Just as they have built the region’s world-class restaurant scene, they have built the prominence of the world’s game here.

Now Philadelphia will join one of the most exclusive clubs in sports, with a crowning moment as a metropolis on the global stage.

“I think Philadelphia is a fantastic choice,” said U.S. Soccer Federation president Cindy Cone, who as a player scored a goal in a 2003 World Cup game played at the Linc.

“The culture there, a growing soccer community there, lots of history there, obviously, from our country,” Cone said. “So I think it’s a great choice.”

(And to prove a bit more of her knowledge about the city, she noted it has “great sandwiches.”)

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For the next four years, soccer fans here can dream of Italy playing its first men’s World Cup game since 2014 in a place where tricolore flags are abundant. Or of Ireland’s team bringing its sea of green-clad supporters. Or of Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, and other soccer powers coming to town.

They can even dream of throwing the nation’s biggest party for America’s 250th birthday, as many people already have.

A U.S.-England World Cup quarterfinal on July 4, 2026, just a few miles south of Independence Hall.