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Commentary

Copa America Centenario Could Be a Game Changer

What would happen if the best teams in South America, Central America, and North America played a massive, high-profile soccer tournament in the U.S.? It looks as though we're going to find out.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 30, 2014
3:34 PM
ON THURSDAY THE SOCCER federations representing South, Central, and North America—CONCACAF and CONMEBOL—are expected to hold a joint press conference to announce the soccer world's worst-kept secret: In 2016 the United States will host a combined Copa America/Gold Cup tournament called the Copa America Centenario.

Just imagine: The United States playing Brazil in front of 100,000 fans at the Rose Bowl. Argentina vs. Mexico in the Meadowlands. Uruguay vs. Costa Rica. Luis Suarez, Neymar, Michael Bradley, Lionel Messi, and other stars battling for multi-continental bragging rights. It's going to be awesome.

GIVE US YOUR TAKE ON THE COPA AMERICA CENTENARIO

According to unofficial reports, this is to be a one-off event celebrating the centennial of the Copa America. Money, however, talks and if this tournament delivers at the box office, don't be surprised if Copa America Centenario becomes a recurring phenomenon.

The truth is that both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL have something to gain. The Copa America is a prestigious tournament but it has at times been a flawed tournament. Guest teams are always needed and the quality of the tournament usually depends on the quality of the hosts. In 1999, Uruguay sent a youth team to the tournament, diluting the quality of play. The 2001 tournament in Colombia was a disaster as Argentina withdrew because of death threats and many teams did not send their best players.

In 2007, the United States was invited to the Copa America but could not send its best team because clubs are not obligated to release players for national teams participating as in the tournament as guests. For similar reasons, Mexico recently sent a U-22 team to the tournament.

The Gold Cup, of course, is a two-team race between the United States and Mexico. Until recently the tournament had only been taken seriously in years when the champion would be awarded a Confederations Cup berth. Now the winners of both Gold Cups in a cycle will have a playoff to determine who advances to the Confederations Cup.

In other words, it is a confusing process. But the Gold Cup always had the benefit of first-rate stadiums, big crowds for most teams, and big media. The infrastructure in the United States is ideal for "mega" events and many visiting countries reap the benefits of crowds, coverage, and support—not just the United States national team.

Combining the Copa America and the Gold Cup eliminates the problems of each tournament while enhancing their respective strengths. Most importantly, it creates a tournament with the sort of scale and star power that could compete with The European Championships.

First of all, having the tournament in the United States provides the tournament with first-class venues in the world’s largest media market. While people wonder if the United States is a soccer country, the truth is that soccer in the United States is a huge business. How many national teams would fill huge stadiums in the United States for a major tournament? Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and the United States would all fill NFL stadiums for this tournament. Honduras and the other South American countries would also do very well depending on the city.

Second of all, by unifying the tournament, guest teams would not be needed and clubs would be required to release their best players. The 2016 debut of Copa America Centernario will give a strong indication as to this tournament’s potential but having this tournament regularly (and frequently in the United States) could help create the most significant and high-profile non-European soccer tournament.

From the perspective of the United States national team, this new venture would provide much-needed competition outside of what is still a weak CONCACAF federation. Outside of the World Cup, the U.S. is often hard-pressed to find top-level competition. The Confederations Cup is a possibility but qualifying is never a sure thing. Friendlies often lack competitiveness, and with Europe creating the new Nations League, friendlies against European teams will be harder to come by. Therefore, a growing alliance with CONMEBOL seems like smart strategy.

Either way, 2016 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for soccer in the Americas, what with the 2016 Olympics in Rio and now Copa America Centenario expected in the United States. It will give this side of the Atlantic a chance to flex its muscles. And if it marks the start of a regular tournament, it could be truly groundbreaking.

What are your thoughts on Copa America Centenario? Excited? Suspicious? Share your take below.

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