Starting Friday, the United States will stage one of international soccer’s most famous tournaments, Copa America. To celebrate its 100th anniversary and unite the Americas, the crown jewel of South American futbol has ventured beyond continental borders for the first time.
Where better to stage it than the United States, where diverse demographics, a deepening appetite for international soccer and economic muscle will turn on a divergent soccer audience and turn a healthy profit?
A men’s competition of this stature has not come ashore since the 1994 World Cup. A well-run tournament and robust ticket sales would further bolster an already strong case to award the 2026 World Cup to the United States. FIFA is watching.
Want to know more about Copa America? Vital answers to your vital questions:
What’s the running time on this tournament anyway?
It begins Friday with the United States facing Colombia at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., and culminates June 26 with the championship game at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Will every match be televised and streamed?
Yes. Fox will show four matches on the national network; 21 on FS1; four on FS2; and three on FX. Every game is available on Fox mobile apps. Univision, the Spanish rights holder, will carry matches on the main channel, as well as UniMas, Univision Deportes and the latter’s website.
How many teams are involved?
Sixteen: 10 countries that make up South American soccer and six guests from CONCACAF, the region encompassing North and Central America and the Caribbean. The United States and Mexico were automatic selections, while Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica and Haiti earned berths by virtue of their finishes in the CONCACAF Gold Cup last summer.
(French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname are located in South America, too, but because of their minnow status in the sport, they compete in CONCACAF.)
So is this really the Copa America, or a special edition of Copa America?
It’s a special edition. Hence, the name: Copa America Centenario. The formal tournament was conducted last summer in Chile, with the hosts hoisting the trophy for the first time. After their long wait, the poor Chileans only had a year to relish South American supremacy. The tournament will stay on a four-year rotation, next taking place in 2019 in Brazil.
But this is still a pretty big deal then?
Oh, yeah. Copa America predates the World Cup by 14 years. Before 1975, it was known as the South American Football Championship. The other prominent continental tournament, the European Championship, did not launch until 1960.
Brazil and Argentina have won the most titles, I assume.
You assume wrong. Uruguay leads the way with 15. Argentina has 14 but none since 1993. Brazil has eight but failed to make the semifinals the past two times. Of the 10 core countries, only Ecuador and Venezuela have never won the title.
Is this the first time teams outside of South America have participated?
No. Starting in 1993, the door opened to at least two guest nations. The United States reached the 1995 semifinals in Uruguay. Mexico has gone to five semifinals and finished second in 1993 and 2001. Japan dropped by once.
I’m excited to go to matches right here in the nation’s capital, a soccer hotbed and cultural melting pot, a World Cup venue in 1994, the top TV market for the Premier League and a regular site for tournaments, qualifiers and friendlies over decades! Woohoo! Wait, what?
No, Washington was not among the 10 venues selected. Seriously. It was on the preliminary list of 24 metropolitan areas showing interest. However, RFK Stadium was never in the running – seating capacity is 5,000 short of the 50,000 threshold set by organizers – and FedEx Field either did not submit a bid or didn’t submit a strong bid. (A Redskins spokesman did not respond to questions about Copa America.) Baltimore also missed out.
So where are the games being played?
Aside from the San Francisco and New York areas, organizers selected Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.; Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia; Camping World Stadium (formerly the Citrus Bowl) in Orlando; NRG Stadium in Houston; Soldier Field in Chicago; University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.; Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.; and CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Ugh, artificial turf in several venues …
Nope. Temporary grass is being installed where needed.
Are tickets still available?
Yes. Organizers have not released sales figures, but we’re hearing some markets are struggling to sell seats for the group stage.
Where are the other U.S. group matches?
After Santa Clara, the Americans will appear in Chicago (vs. Costa Rica) and Philadelphia (vs. Paraguay). With a top-two finish, the Americans would move on to a quarterfinal in Seattle or East Rutherford, N.J. Chicago and Houston will host the semifinals.
Are the superstars coming or are we stuck watching B squads?
Most are coming, although injuries have threatened to sideline the two biggest names, Argentina’s Lionel Messi (back) and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez (hamstring). Their FC Barcelona teammate, Neymar, will skip Copa America and play for Brazil in the Olympics in August instead. (His employer, Barcelona, didn’t want him competing in both tournaments during La Liga’s offseason.) Champions League winner Real Madrid is represented by James Rodriguez (Colombia), Keylor Navas (Costa Rica) and Casemiro (Brazil). Mexican superstar Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will play.
Do the results have any bearing on the 2018 World Cup in Russia?
No connection, no consequences. South America’s World Cup qualifying campaign is separate, with one-third of the schedule complete. CONCACAF’s qualifying campaign is also unrelated. Copa usually has an indirect tie to the World Cup: Its winner earns a berth in the FIFA Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal for the World Cup a year out. With its 2015 title, however, Chile locked up the 2017 slot.
Isn’t the European Championship also taking place this summer?
It is. The Euros, second to the World Cup in global popularity, will run June 10 to July 10, creating a 16-day overlap with Copa America. With ESPN showing those matches from France, U.S. viewers will enjoy a day-night smorgasbord of soccer.
Is Copa going to overshadow the MLS season?
No and yes. Wisely, MLS is going dark during the first two weeks of the tournament. Aside from distractions, about 30 MLS players are on Copa squads. League matches will resume during the Copa knockout stages, when games are spread out on the calendar.
What are the U.S. team’s chances of winning it?
Whoa, first things first: Jurgen Klinsmann needs to guide his team out of Group A. Failure to do so would be, well, a failure. Anything beyond that would gain a stamp of approval. It’s difficult to predict how the Americans will fare: They could win the group … or they could finish last. Second or third is more realistic. Klinsmann is aiming for the semifinals. To get there, his squad would probably need to defeat Brazil or Ecuador in the quarters.
None of the non-South American teams have a prayer of winning the championship, right?
Not so fast, amigo. Mexico has enjoyed a history of Copa success and, with an enormous fan base in the United States, El Tri will enjoy home-field advantage in every match – even against the U.S. team. Messi and Argentina are hungry for a trophy after falling just short of trophies the previous two summers: in extra time against Germany in the 2014 World Cup and on penalty kicks to Chile in last year’s Copa. If Messi is healthy, don’t be surprised if La Albiceleste (The White and Sky Blue) has the final say.