By Amy Tennery
NEW YORK (Reuters) -FIFA president Gianni Infantino says he expects soccer to be the biggest sport in North America in time for the 2026 World Cup as the host cities for the tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico were announced on Thursday.
World soccer governing body FIFA announced the 16 cities - 11 in the United States, three in Mexico and two in Canada - that were successful from the 22 bids put forward in a special event at the Rockefeller Center in New York.
However, there was no indication where the opening game or the final would be played.
"By 2026 soccer or football will be the number one sport in this part of the world," Infantino boldly predicted as fans in the newly-appointed host cities celebrated.
The United States, which staged the tournament in 1994, will host games in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and New York/New Jersey.
Mexico, who hosted the World Cup in 1970 and 1986, will stage matches in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey, while Canada, which is staging the men's event for the first time, will do so in Vancouver and Toronto.
"It was the most competitive process for a FIFA World Cup, we'll have the world coming here, we'll have an exciting tournament," Infantino said.
He added that no decision had been taken on where the final would take place.
"There are still some discussions to go on and we will certainly choose the best cities there as well for the opening and the final, but every match will be a final in this World Cup," Infantino said.
Cincinnati, Denver, Nashville, Orlando, Washington DC/Baltimore and Edmonton were the six cities that missed out.
Cheering fans waving American, Canadian and Mexican flags gathered outside the venue in New York, with U.S. national team member and 23-year-old Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic among those in attendance for the announcement.
San Francisco's Levi's Stadium hosted a private watch party and New York City Mayor Eric Adams was expected at a watch party in New Jersey's Liberty State Park.
Canadian national team player and Toronto native Jonathan Osorio said that as a child he could not have imagined seeing a World Cup in his home country.
"It's amazing - it's amazing that the World Cup is finally coming to Canada... it's an amazing feat for the whole country," he said.
Celebrities including Michael Buble (representing Vancouver), Magic Johnson (Los Angeles), Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City), F1 driver Sergio Perez (Guadalajara) and Gloria Estefan (Miami) offered on-screen messages celebrating the inclusion of their hometowns.
The 2026 tournament is expected to smash World Cup attendance records, which peaked at 3.6 million when it was held in the United States in 1994.
It will also be the first time 48 teams will feature in the tournament, an increase from the 32 that will contest this year's event in Qatar.
"To be a part of it (the Qatar World Cup) and then to have one in this country is going to be amazing," Pulisic said.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; additional reporting by Philip O'Connor and Rory Carroll; editing by Ed Osmond and Pritha Sarkar)