The United States kicks off the Copa America Centenario this weekend in the Bay Area and every true-blooded American will be hoping for a draw.
This is, to be sure, an uncomfortable position for Gadsden flag-waving patriots to be in. The summer cup is the biggest soccer tournament in the US since the 1994 World Cup and a chance to show how far the country has come in 22 years. Back in ‘94 the Yanks had no professional league, denim jerseys and a college kid – Claudio Reyna – in their ranks.
Then again, here in 2016 there is an American professional league. Their uniforms are black, now, I guess. And noted prep star Jordan Morris, on to Seattle, was a last-minute cut from the Copa America 23-man roster.
Whether these Americans are better than those Americans is a fun argument, but kind of besides the point. Whether these Americans can stack up against the 15 other very good teams in this year’s Copa America is a lot more interesting. Jurgen Klinsmann wants his team to finish in the final four, surviving the group and winning a quarterfinal. Smart money has the USMNT to bow out in the group stages. The US are underdogs and that, whether in 1994 or today, is where they’re best.
If the Americans are to persevere, it will be because of their youth. DeAndre Yedlin has been brightest on the biggest stages and the Western Hemisphere still doesn’t know what to do with Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic. If stalwarts like Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron and Clint Dempsey can provide a tight enough nucleus to let those young dizzying electrons scatter about, this could be an exciting US team that can punch back against Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay.
“If.” Colombia’s James Rodriguez, the sweetheart of World Cup 2014, isn’t the fifth-best player in the tournament even if he is the most handsome. The best the US can hope for, realistically, is to sneak into the quarterfinals and catch a depleted and half-interested Brazil squad napping.
The other three groups have arguably a lot more intrigue. Who can finish behind Neymar-less Brazil between Haiti, Ecuador and Peru? Is the toughest Jamaica squad ever able to scrape out points from Mexico or Uruguay? Do Panama or Chile realize this tournament is supposed to be Messi’s crowning achievement? Will Venezuela’s players just not talk politics with each other? Can Bolivia scrape a point even if they’re playing at lower elevation than the dang moon?
The Copa America Centenario is also going to feature a whole lot of travel. The US’ three matches are across four time zones in eight days — Santa Clara, Chicago, and Philadelphia. All the other squads will have to deal with the same. It’s the sort of travel that exhausted unprepared nations in the World Cup two years ago and, considering this is not a terribly prestigious tournament to begin with, may make more coaches rely on more depth.
This could and theoretically should play into the Americans’ hands. Or feet. Those youngsters aren’t just fresh faces but fresh legs — few are coming off of a full European (or South American) season and they should all be able to run around some league champions. If, that is, Jurgen Klinsmann plays them and puts the team in a position to succeed. Which American analysts are pretty skeptical about.
So if the United States has a chance, it’s that it’s the Copa America is on home turf and in the summer and there’s a decent chance that few of the foreign stars truly give a damn. This is after all just a special version of a regional tournament. It’s not even the Copa Libertadores, the club continental cup and the best-named trophy in the world.
This is, essentially, a money-grabbing event but after all — so is all international soccer! At least this one will be incredibly entertaining, what with Lionel Messi and Willian and Alexis Sanchez playing rare matches in the US. Just enough random chance is thrown in with location and care-giving. If it is a money grab, it’ll be worth fans’ wallets worth. It’s money better spent watching games then betting on the USMNT.
Music, Sports, News and more
All in one place on the SiriusXM app