May 1, 2014, 4:24 PM EDT
One of soccer’s worst kept secrets is a secret no more. South American soccer will be invading the U.S. in 2016, bringing its confederation championship to the United States for a joint CONMEBOL-CONCACAF Copa America. The details still need to be worked out, but the 16-team tournament is set to combine South America’s 10 teams with six from the northern half of the hemisphere. Copa America Centenario, as they’re calling it, could be the most prestigious competition in the States since the 2003 Women’s World Cup, the most anticipated since the 1999 women’s championship, and, in terms of overall popularity, end up being second only to the 1994 World Cup.
It’s easy to embrace those dreams now, two years from the event. We can see the seats teams like Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico have filled in the United States and use that to fuel dreams of a globally significant competition. This isn’t the Gold Cup, which has trouble resonating beyond soccer hardcores, and it isn’t the Women’s World Cup, which too many still won’t give a chance. This is an event that will have Lionel Messi, Neymar, Sergio Agüero and Arturo Vidal. It enthrall draw those that dismiss MLS. It will entice people who prefer Spain and Italy to Premier League soccer.
It’s hard to imagine a North America-based men’s soccer fan that won’t be excited by this event, but that doesn’t totally answer the obvious question: Why? Why is this event coming to the United States? This is the South American championship, isn’t it? Certainly, there’s a tradition of CONCACAF teams rounding out Copa America’s field, but the tournament still happens in South America. Why is CONMEBOL’s championship going to be waged on CONCACAF’s turf?
For the 100-year anniversary of the continental title, CONMEBOL clearly wants to do something special. That’s why they’re waging the quadrennial tournament in an off-year, after all. As evidenced by all the stadiums that sell out for visits from the Seleçao and Albiceleste, there’s a huge demand to see South America’s giants in this part of the world. And by including Mexico and the United States, the commercial opportunities for the competition explode. If you’re going to have the tournament in a special year, might was well be in a special place.
It’s that sentiment that gets to be the heart of this announcement: In the soccer world, there’s still no place as special as the United States. There are more hallowed grounds, and there are a number of nations around the world that have more colorful and robust traditions, yet the U.S. still holds the distinction of being the soccer world’s holy grail. As a nation, we’re not in love with the sport yet, but we have one of the most passionate sports markets in the world. It’s not only a matter of entities like CONMEBOL — as well as the myriad huge European clubs that tour here every year — looking at the U.S. and saying “if only we could tap into that.” Those actors have a chance to frame how U.S. soccer develops.
Some people, besmirched, see that view as patronizing. U.S. soccer has its own soccer culture. The idea that South America or Europe can come in and instill their own, even in part, is insulting. If the United States is a type of holy grail — one of the few remaining places on the planet that soccer has yet to conquer — it’s a holy grail that will be protected by the people on the ground. Soccer is a growth opportunity in the U.S. It’s not a charity case.
All of that may be true, but the view undercuts the country’s potential. The U.S. can have a major, vibrant culture for domestic soccer, one that will always see the national teams as a focal point for the sport. It can also have a huge, eastern-looking group that will always love the standards and history of the European game. At the same time, it can have millions that look south to embrace the passion and traditions of the Latin and South Americans games. And in time, as leagues in Japan, South Korea, and China grow, we’ll have people who stay up until 2 a.m. Eastern to watch Guangzhou face Kashima in Champions League.
For fans in the United States, that’s what this tournament could be about. As much as the talents of Messi and the prestige of Brazil may dominate headlines, the subtext will be about the future. If a Copa America in the United States can meet our loftiest expectations, it will establish the country as the target location for any prestigious competition, be that a confederation title, club tournamenst, or a potential summer league of European teams that’s been hinted at by the Champions Cup. Whereas FIFA’s decision to award the 1994 World Cup to the United States was met with questions about potential apathy, the world is now racing to leverage two decades of growth.
There as never been a better time to be a soccer fan in the United States, and between the growth of Major League Soccer, the huge access to the club game on television, and events like Copa America’s Centenario, there may be no better place in the world to absorb the game. If Copa is successful, it will get even better.
Aug 21, 2014, 5:22 PM EDT
A new starter will have his chance to stake his claim, while another player will get more looks in camp with the third keeper’s role.
Aug 21, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT
The 35-year-old is taking a step back, making himself unavailable for selection until Sept. 2015.
Aug 21, 2014, 3:19 PM EDT
LMA statement: “These were two text messages sent in private at a time Malky felt under great pressure and when he was letting off steam to a friend during some friendly text message banter.”
Aug 21, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT
Exciting attacker arrives at Loftus Road for the 2014-15 season.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
Despite being eligible to play for his country, Suarez left off Uruguay’s roster.
Aug 21, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT
Khedira turns down new deal at Real. Will the Spaniards cash in on him now?
Aug 21, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
Former Liverpool star could be heading to United as Real Madrid seek to trim squad.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:16 AM EDT
Spurs boss in dramatic U-turn on Europa League after previously dismissing tournament.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:46 AM EDT
Leiweke to leave MLSE, as leading sports executive calls it quits in Toronto.
Aug 21, 2014, 10:05 AM EDT
After trailing 3-1, LA came roaring back to win 4-3 as Donovan bagged the winner.
Aug 21, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT
Di Maria wants out of Real, will Manchester United be able to pounce for his signature?
Aug 21, 2014, 8:54 AM EDT
Moody, pictured center, has resigned from his role at Palace following damaging allegations.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:20 AM EDT
Liverpool, AC Milan agree Balotelli transfer as player, agent set to arrive at Anfield.
Aug 21, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT
Monster moves rumored. Check out all the latest gossip, right here.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Both Ronaldo and Ramos have gone to Madrid president Florentino Perez to ask him to keep Di Maria.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:20 PM EDT
Sunderland manager Gus Poyet believes United States striker Jozy Altidore is the happiest he has ever seen him.
Malky Mackay and Iain Moody investigated by FA for ‘sexist, racist and homophobic’ text messages while at Cardiff City
Aug 20, 2014, 9:11 PM EDT
Malky Mackay has been reported to the Football Association for being involved in a series of racist, sexist and homophobic text messages.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:35 PM EDT
If Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher showed up to your training to sign autographs, what would you ask him?
Aug 20, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Arteta’s status means that Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini will be the holding midfield partnership against the Turks.
Aug 20, 2014, 7:25 PM EDT
Champions League play-offs continued on Wednesday with a series of tight contests headlined by a 1-0 victory for FC Porto at Lyon.
- Tim Howard taking a break from U.S. international duty 4
- Report: Xabi Alonso heading to Manchester United 6
- Mario Balotelli edging closer to shock $26 million Liverpool switch 16
- Thursday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Tiote to Arsenal, Destro to Chelsea 0
- Angel Di Maria gets love from Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Diego Simeone 2
- Jozy Altidore is the happiest he’s ever been, says Gus Poyet 3