Americans Should Thrive Despite Tough Copa Draw
February 22, 2016
AMONG ALL OF THE POSSIBLE SCENARIOS, the United States men's national team received the hardest draw imaginable for the upcoming 2016 Copa America Centenario tournament this summer. Jurgen Klinsmann's men will face Colombia, Costa Rica, and Paraguay.
The U.S. will open on June 3 in Santa Clara against a very tough Colombia team. Then on June 7 it will take on the hardest CONCACAF opponent from Pot 3 in Costa Rica. After that, on June 11, it will finish group play in Philadelphia against Paraguay.
Colombia is coming off a quarterfinal run at the 2014 World Cup, and at the 2015 Copa America it defeated Brazil in group play and only lost to Argentina on penalties in the quarterfinals. Paraguay, meanwhile, were semifinalists at the 2015 Copa America.
Expectations Should Be High
The U.S. has endured tough draws before—most recently at the 2014 World Cup, where it faced Ghana, Poertugal, and Germany in the group stage. And yet the team found a way to advance thanks to some scrappy, opportunistic play. This draw, it should be noted, is not nearly as hard has the 2014 World Cup draw. The bad news is that the Yanks are struggling now and lack the momentum that the 2014 team had following a 2013 Gold Cup title and a first place Hexagonal finish.
But there is also the huge advantage of these games being played on home soil. The Americans should have a huge homefield advantage against Costa Rica, Paraguay, and perhaps an edge over Colombia as well. It is rare when American fans will have the opportunity to attend games like these against such high-quality opponents, so the atmosphere should be electric.
The United States team should expect to get out of its group. Costa Rica is a good team but has historically fell short playing away against the U.S. in meaningful games. A win over Paraguay will be tough but is doable.
Failing to advance from this group, and crashing out early as a host nation in two straight tournaments (without facing true world class opponents) would be a huge blow for Klinsmann. The 2016 campaign needs to demonstrate progress and after failing at the 2015 Gold Cup, the CONCACAF Cup vs. Mexico, and the U-23 team having an uphill next month to qualify for the Olympics. It could signify a positive change for the U.S. team or solidify the rut that has encompassed the men’s program.
Much Needs to Be Done
The tournament is still three months away, which gives Klinsmann plenty of time to reevaluate his personnel. The 2015 Gold Cup roster was dominated by players who were on the 2014 World Cup team. If the 2016 Copa America team is mostly from this same group, the results probably won’t be much better than the Gold Cup team which was outplayed by most opponents (none of which was Mexico).
Fortunately for the U.S. team, Klinsmann has been proactive since the Gold Cup in introducing new players. Darlington Nagbe and Matt Miazga each earned their first cap in November and Bobby Wood is playing an expanded role. Klinsmann had January camp to look at domestic options and the start of the MLS season will also provide for additional opportunities to evaluate players.
Among the teams veterans, Alejandro Bedoya, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, and Omar Gonzalez are playing at a very high level right now and are peaking heading into the summer. For Klinsmann, this tournament will mark an important moment in his tenure, and the pressure will be on him to choose the talent that can get the job done.
Soccer in the Spotlight
The Copa America Centenario should be the biggest soccer event in North America since the 1994 World Cup, and it will be an important tournament because so many young fans were not yet engaged with the sport 22 years ago. For this generation, it will be their first opportunity to watch a non-CONCACAF yet world-class competition in their backyard.
This is not the World Cup, but it is the closest thing America has seen since then. Most fans do not have the means to travel to a World Cup, and now they will have the chance to see top international players like Neymar and Lionel Messi in a high-profile spectacle.
A strong performance against top teams could really be a welcome boost for the sport here in the United States.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.