United States-led World Cup bid cuts list of potential host cities to 23

EXCLUSIVE: Infantino hopeful 2018 & 2022 World Cups change perception of hosts (1:43)

FIFA president Gianni Infantino tells Gab Marcotti about his hopes that the 2018 and 2022 World Cups change negative perceptions of Russia and Qatar. (1:43)

The United Bid Committee, which is aiming to bring the 2026 World Cup to Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., announced ahead of Friday's formal bid submission to FIFA that it has reduced the field of potential bid cities to 23 candidates.

United Bid executive director John Kristick told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview that the bid would be submitted at FIFA headquarters in Zurich on Friday ahead of a 5 p.m. deadline local time.

Morocco is the only other contender. The joint bid will contain both digital and physical elements. The digital submission is comprised of over 500 pages, and including supplemental elements will reach nearly 1,000 pages. Adding the hosting documents on top of that and Kristick says the number of pages climbs into the tens of thousands.

"We're in a great situation," said Kristick. "It has to be the most comprehensive sports bid ever put forward."

The field of candidate cities was reduced from a list of 32 named last October. The list of U.S. cities includes Los Angeles, New York/New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay Area. The list of Canadian cities includes Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton, while Mexico's candidates are comprised of Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey.

The average capacity of the stadiums that could potentially be used is over 68,000.

"We've got new cities, we've got a combination of cities with brand new facilities and facilities that have been recently upgraded or will be renovated," he said. "To me, it's the perfect mix. The fact that we're going forward with an oversupply [of cities] just shows you the intense interest across the three countries to take part. That's important to us."

There are some notable omissions, however. Chicago not only is the home of the U.S. Soccer Federation, but it also hosted the opening game of the 1994 World Cup. Vancouver, which was the site for the 2015 Women's World Cup final is also absent from the list.

The other cities eliminated include Charlotte, Detroit, Las Vegas, Minneapolis (which pulled out citing unacceptable FIFA demands), Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Tampa.

A statement from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel's office given to the Chicago Sun-Times said: "FIFA could not provide a basic level of certainty on some major unknowns that put our city and taxpayers at risk. The uncertainty for taxpayers, coupled with FIFA's inflexibility and unwillingness to negotiate, were clear indications that further pursuit of the bid wasn't in Chicago's best interests."

Vancouver's provincial government had similar concerns, according to The Province. And though Edmonton was still included, Alberta representatives said it would not offer any financial support because of uncertainty on the financial impact on taxpayers.

Kristick is untroubled by the push-back. A total of 150 training facilities are specified in the bid, along with 72 team base camps. When these factors are included, the number of municipalities reaches 30.

"Every city has the same requirements," he said. "These are competitive bids and that's just the natural process that you go through. I think every city, including if you speak to talk to Chicago or Vancouver, if they were given more time, they would have told you they absolutely felt they would have gotten things done, but unfortunately we hit certain points where we have to make decisions.

"We have an oversupply of great cities, so to me it's something we expected when we started with the 41 cities. We knew the number was going to come down, but we stand here today knowing that if the number is going to come down to 16, and we've got 23, we're in an exceptional place."

Once the bid is formally submitted, the campaign phase will accelerate.

"It's not a sprint. We have a very, very experienced board with our co-chairs," said Kristick. "We're traveling, we will not be taking any votes for granted anywhere. We believe our bid is going to very much stand on its merits, and we're very confident as we move into the campaign phase that we have a great story to tell and we believe that the members are going to be very discerning.

"As they look at the bids on their merit, they're going to look at the staging requirements for the largest World Cup in history, and the certainty that the United Bid brings -- the opportunity that it brings across the commercial revenues that it will generate -- and we hope that is the formula that will prove that the United Bid is where the World Cup should be staged in 2026."

FIFA has been accused of applying a double standard to the process in terms of when bid representatives can talk to prospective voters -- an approach that appeared to favor the United Bid. It later softened its guidelines to allow voters to endorse one of the bids, provided both bids are given the same opportunities to state their case.

"We are very confident with the processes that FIFA put forward," said Kristick. "With the scrutiny that this bid is under, there is an intense level of compliance, and we are happy to subscribe to that. Whatever FIFA informs us we are able to do is the way we are making the approach. It's not been a problem for us at all."

Last month, ESPN reported that support for the United States-led bid to host the 2026 event is more divided than most predicted, with some estimates of voting totals having Morocco not just threatening the North American bid but beating it, according to multiple high-ranking football executives within FIFA and the continental confederations.

The 2026 hosts are expected to be announced on June 13.

Canada: Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto

Mexico: Guadalajara, Mexico City, Monterrey

United States: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Washington D.C.