CONMEBOL & CONCACAF
Copa America returns to the USA, plus new club competition with CONCACAF & CONMEBOL
January 27, 2023
CONCACAF AND CONMEBOL made a huge announcement on Friday that the 2024 Copa America was indeed coming to the United States and also that there will be a new club tournament moving forward between the top teams of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL. It further aligns the two federations for the years ahead to creating meaningful opportunities for clubs and national teams.
This would mark the second time the United States has hosted the Copa America, with the first coming as the 2016 Copa America Centenario. In this case, the Centenario is dropped and it is the straight Copa America, as opposed to the anniversary edition.
The club tournament, however, is completely new.
Here is some news and thoughts:
2024 Copa America
Last fall, Ecuador declined its opportunity to host the Copa America and all eyes turned to the United States to host. After rumors and much speculation, the official announcement came on Friday that the United States would host the tournament and that it would resemble the Copa America Centenario with all 10 CONMEBOL teams participating along with the top six teams from CONCACAF.
“The CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 will be played in the United States, in the summer of 2024, and will include 10 CONMEBOL teams and the six best Concacaf teams, as guests,” the announcement said. “This traditional CONMEBOL tournament will be co-organized by both confederations.”
The six Concacaf teams will qualify for the 2024 Copa America via the 2023/24 Concacaf Nations League.
The release added: “For CONMEBOL, this agreement will support its men's national teams in their preparation for the upcoming World Cup through an expanded Copa America featuring six elite Concacaf teams, organized in the region that will host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Similarly, this agreement will allow Concacaf to provide more high-quality competition for its men's national teams over the next two years, including the conclusion of the 2022/23 Concacaf Nations League, the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup and the 2023/24 Concacaf Nations League.”
A big deal
This is a huge deal for everyone involved. For CONMEBOL, this tournament will offer to be a bigger overall event than had the event simply taken place in Ecuador. The U.S. is a huge media market and, like the Centenario, just about every game will have an enormous crowd. This isn’t always the case in the Copa America aside from the host country, Brazil, Argentina, or a nearby country.
Having the tournament in the United States ensures more money and more eyeballs are on the event than normal.
For the United States national team, it is potentially a very big deal to be able to play in such a major tournament on its home soil two years before it co-hosts the World Cup. The U.S. team needs more competition outside of CONCACAF tournaments and friendlies. This tournament is far more similar and the U.S. will get a chance to face teams like Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and others.
Combined with the 2024 Olympics later that summer, which the men have qualified for the first time since 2008, it will be a terrific springboard to build momentum for the team and the sport heading into the World Cup two years later.
After this tournament, there will again be calls for this to be a more regular event. Eventually, U.S. Soccer will have to figure out a way for there to be regular games outside of CONCACAF between World Cups. For now, this is a huge win for the federation and for soccer in the United States.
The one potential hangup on the news which was left vague in the announcement was that the CONCACAF teams would be participating, as guests. It mentions this twice in the announcement.
Historically, the problem with the United States national team participating in the Copa America is that it had to do so with “guest team restrictions.” This has been a problem for every non-CONMEBOL team participating in the tournament. Typically, CONMEBOL invites two guest teams to move the field from 10 to 12 so that there can be even groups of four. But the two guest teams have to play with “guest team” restrictions.
What this means is that clubs do not have to mandatorily release players to tournaments for guest teams. So typically, guest teams play with makeshift rosters as managers and federations have to beg clubs to release players voluntarily.
At the Copa America Centenario, there was an exception granted, and the tournament was placed entirely on the FIFA Calendar, which meant all teams could select their first-choice players and releases from clubs were mandatory. This is different than the Centenario. That was a one-off tournament. This is the Copa America.
The announcement of the 2024 tournament is not clear on this. It says the CONCACAF teams are “guests” but it did not completely address whether the tournament was on the FIFA Calendar to compel the releases for the top players from CONCACAF teams.
It’s a critically important question that dictates whether or not the U.S. team will have Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams at the tournament.
The new CONCACAF & CONMEBOL club tournament
Friday’s announcement was huge for MLS as well. In addition to the CONCACAF Champions League, there is now the chance to qualify for a new tournament that will pit the best clubs of the two regions.
“CONMEBOL and Concacaf will also organize a centralized ‘final four’ style club competition featuring the best clubs from the respective confederations,” the announcement said. “The four participating teams (two from each confederation) will qualify through existing CONMEBOL and Concacaf club competitions and the two confederations are working towards the first edition of this tournament being played in 2024.”
The Copa Libertadores would be great, but travel is tough for an MLS team to play an entire competition. This instead skips to the later stages where the CONCACAF teams (most likely Liga MX or MLS) will face the top teams of the Libertadores. The CONCACAF Champions League will still qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup.
All in all, MLS needs more avenues to play teams outside of its league. The CONCACAF Champions League and now the Leagues Cup is one way to gain more outside competition, but this allows for yet another avenue. South America represents the next logical step.