Orange County is pitching three of its best fields for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

On the list to host teams to practice and train during the quadrennial international men’s soccer championship are the Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa, the Great Park in Irvine and the World Cup Soccer Field in Mission Viejo.

“Those are the only three on the list so far, and (they) have the infrastructure and quality needed to meet expectations,” said Orange County Sports Commission Senior Director Anthony Brenneman. “But nothing is final, we’re still very much in the preliminary stages.”

For the first time, the world’s largest soccer competition will be held in three countries: the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Sixteen cities across the three countries will host the games — 11 in the U.S., including Los Angeles.

The OC Sports Commission — created in 2019 as a division of Visit Anaheim — was contacted by the Los Angeles World Cup Host Committee to find venues in Orange County that fit the bill, Brenneman said. A key issue the committee faced trying to locate training facilities in Los Angeles, he said, was that it doesn’t have as many open park spaces as Orange County.

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Add in that many Los Angeles fields use Astroturf rather than natural grass, as FIFA requires, and the Sports Commission is lifting up the three spots in Orange County as potential options for practice during the tournament.

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Choosing Jack Hammett, Great Park and the World Cup Soccer Field also came down to their size and maintenance, Brenneman said.

“A venue needs to be able to fit two FIFA regulation-sized football pitches,” he said. “There are other parks in Orange County, but they can’t fit two regulation-sized pitches and aren’t maybe as well-maintained — they’re bumpy and have gophers coming out of them.”

The OC Sports Commission earlier this year was tasked by FIFA with putting together a rough bid proposal as it explores which venues make sense for the international tournament.

“The proposal outlined how we can meet the teams’ needs,” Brenneman said. “Are we within a certain driving distance from the hotel to the practice venue? Are we in a certain driving distance from there to John Wayne Airport? What hotel options make sense? We submitted that to FIFA (in June) for them to evaluate and see if it met the criteria they were setting.”

The Irvine City Council approved an agreement in April 2022 that would give FIFA the use of fields in the Great Park Sports Complex for teams to train before games.

Officials are expecting teams would practice on the fields for two to three months, during which time they would have exclusive use of them. In exchange, Irvine would charge a negotiated per-day rental fee, which, based on estimates, could be between $30,000 and $90,000 each day.

And the event could bring other economic benefits to the area, such as from teams staying in local hotels or frequenting restaurants, a staff report said. The agreement requires players located at the Great Park to stay in hotels that are no further than a 20-minute drive from the training fields.

“Great Park has been identified as a location that could host one or two national teams,” said Oliver Chi, Irvine’s city manager. “That assessment is still ongoing. All we’re aware of now is we’re in the mix for possibly hosting a couple of teams as we move toward the actual event.”

Irvine-based men’s professional soccer club Orange County Soccer Club, which plays its home games at Great Park’s Championship Soccer Stadium, is thrilled by the prospect of a national team potentially playing on the same grass as the club’s own players.

“Championship Soccer Stadium and the broader Great Park is a world-class facility,” said Daniel Rutstein, the club’s president of business relations. “We believe that bringing a World Cup team to train in Irvine would be great for soccer in the city and beyond.”

“Soccer fever is taking over this part of the world — our games are selling out, our fans are engaged and excited,” Rutstein said, “and as a club, we are committed to growing the game in Orange County.”

Irvine city staff has met with representatives from the L.A. host committee, and FIFA representatives toured Great Park earlier this year, Chi said, but no formal decision has been made yet.

Costa Mesa’s City Council last week authorized the city manager to helm the agreement process for teams to train at Jack Hammett during the World Cup tournament.

Staff said the tournament would require the fields to be closed for 28 days prior to its use in the summer. Preliminary plans would leave four fields open to the community, including kids who play soccer in the summer, while the other two fields would be designated for FIFA.

For Costa Mesa, the OC Sports Commission is looking for a partnership between the city, Travel Costa Mesa and Orange Coast College, according to a staff report. Orange Coast would provide support facilities such as dressing rooms, a media center and an exercise room while Travel Costa Mesa would supply transportation to nearby hotels and other amenities.

The total preliminary rental fee estimate for the Jack Hammett portion of the partnership is just over $4.9 million. The estimate includes fees for electrical, mechanical and IT services; waste hauling; pitch maintenance and security.

And the World Cup Soccer Field in Mission Viejo already has experience in hosting the international tournament: The facility operated as the training grounds for the U.S. soccer team in the 1994 World Cup.

Brenneman said FIFA representatives will likely pay another visit to Orange County for a thorough inspection of the three facilities sometime in the fall. Representatives came in June for rough inspections of the venues and to understand Orange County’s geographical characteristics, he said.

“FIFA now is taking their time to review what makes the most sense, what’s within their budget,” Brenneman said. “They’re probably not going to have a decision until the end of this year of who they’re going to utilize.”

There are other factors that Brenneman said he’s sure make Orange County more competitive than others, including milder weather and less hustle and bustle.

“Being here in the summertime is a lot more pleasant than being in Florida or Texas,” Brenneman said. “And the other thing is that a lot of these teams want to be away from city centers that they’re playing in because city centers can cause distraction. You get fans, you get even opposing team fans that might find out where somebody is staying. So staying somewhere where it’s a lot more relaxed, like Orange County, you’re away from that, you’re near pristine facilities, great hotels.”

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