The announcement that thousands of soccer fanatics in the US had waited years for finally arrived this past Thursday May 1st in Miami, FL. Enrique Figueredo, president of CONMEBOL, and Jeffrey Webb, president of CONCACAF, together confirmed that the Copa America will indeed arrive to the US in 2016.
“The Americas may have been discovered in 1492 by the first tourist,” said Webb, “but I cannot find a better way to unite this vast continent than through football.”
That edition of the tournament will be known as the Copa America Centenario/Centennial Cup America and will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the South American tournament. Currently, the tournament hosts all 10 CONMEBOL teams and has two spots for teams from other federations who are invited to compete.
The Centennial edition will feature the usual 10 plus the national teams of Mexico and host nation USA. It will also include the winners of the 2014 Copa Centroamericana and 2014 Caribbean Cup. The top four teams involved in the CONCACAF Gold Cup who haven’t qualified will compete for the final two spots in the Centennial.
Some folks are wondering why the Copa America, the oldest national team football tournament in existence, is flying north for the summer instead of being hosted at home. Ultimately, I believe it to be a shrewd move that will benefit both federations beyond a financial one. Here are a few thoughts why.
Introducing more soccer’s flair to the USA
It’s not often we get important football matches here in the States outside of the Gold Cup or the Hexagonal. The tournament will give soccer fans and their respective national teams something more important than a friendly match (a.k.a. over-glorified scrimmage games) to cheer at.
It will also give footie fans here at home a chance to see some incredible football matches in their own backyard. Games between countries such as Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile are clasicos in their own right and fanatics won’t have to spend ridiculous amounts of money in order to see it in person or have to deal with crappy, bootlegged video streams from sketchy sports websites.
There is a concern among some sports journalists (and rightly so) about how serious the participating nations will accept the tournament. Will they field teams with a few big names and fill up the rest of the roster with youngsters looking to earn more caps and experience? Or will all their best players accept the call to compete?
To assuage those fears, CONMEBOL officials are working on registering the tournament with FIFA thereby obligating players to accept a call-up. Even then, the tournament will be held over the summer when players won’t have any club obligations. The same can’t be said for the USMNT since the MLS calendar runs through the summer.
It’s possible some players may choose to skip out on the event in favor of some rest and relaxation if the games aren’t FIFA dates, not to mention that the tournament will be held one year after the regularly-scheduled Copa America hosted in Chile. I personally don’t believe many players will take that route.
I doubt guys like Radamel Falcao, Lionel Messi, and Alexis Sanchez will want to miss their chance to represent their countries on the soccer pitch for the Centennial. There will only be one centennial trophy, after all, and who in their right mind wouldn’t want to make history by having his name etched onto that one-of-a-kind trophy?
Competition with UEFA
The tournament is scheduled in various cities across the USA (yet to be determined) from June 3rd to June 23rd. UEFA’s Euro tournament, which pits the nations of Europe against each other, is scheduled to take place from June 10th to July 10th. Overlap between the two will be likely and, perhaps, necessary depending on kick-off times.
The overlap will raise the stakes for both tournaments and also hopefully raise the bar for all national teams involved, especially those in CONCACAF. European teams get the most love in the soccer world (one can easily find a Euro-based club jersey on any street corner in the world) and competing against UEFA’s tournament with the Centennial will be one way for the federations of the western hemisphere to show off their own great talents.
Future tournaments/games between CONCACAF, CONMEBOL teams
The Centennial will be a one-of-a-kind tournament and CONCACAF, CONMEBOL currently do not have any plans to work together beyond it. President Figueredo, however, did mention at the press conference that he would love to see a more permanent partnership between both federations.
The tournament, depending on how successful it becomes, could provide a turning point in relations with both federations that will lead to more exciting games not only here in the US but in all nations in the West. At the very least, it could bring the big names from South America up north more often. When it does, I’ll be first in queue to buy tickets.
This article originally appeared in Voxxi