June 7, 2016
If you didn’t know, the Copa América Centenario started last week. Here is a brief history of the tournament and some background on why this Copa América is so special.
This is the first time in the history of the Copa América that it has taken place outside of South America. Normally, the tournament takes place on that continent and crowns a champion in CONMEBOL, which is the governing body of South American soccer.
The first Copa América was held in 1916, making this the oldest international continental soccer tournament. CONMEBOL has 10 members and has invited only two teams outside of it to take part in the competition since 1993.
The 10 CONMEBOL members are: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Most of the time, CONMEBOL invites teams from CONCACAF, the governing body of which the United States is a member, but has invited Japan to play in the tournament. The US has played in the 1993, 1997 and 2007 Copa América.
Eight of the 10 CONMEBOL countries have won the tournament, with Ecuador and Venezuela being the only countries yet to win. Uruguay has the most titles with 15, but Chile is the reigning champion.
Since this is the 100th year of the tournament, this installment is a mega event with 16 teams instead of the normal 12 teams. The US is hosting the event for the first time, and five other CONCACAF teams—Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Haiti and Panama—have joined in.
The USA is in Group A with Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay. This might be the toughest group of the tournament with all four teams having strong squads.
Colombia, already the favorite to win the group, confirmed that thought after the team’s 2-0 win over USA. That leaves the US, Costa Rica and Paraguay fighting for the second spot to advance. Costa Rica and Paraguay played to a 0-0 draw in their first group game.
In the first game of the tournament, Colombia made a spectacular goal off a corner kick. The US keeper had no chance of making the save. The second Colombian goal was off a penalty kick for a USA player’s handball in the box. The call was iffy at best and didn’t look like the American athlete made the action deliberately, but it is a subjective call.
Even before the opening loss, many didn't expect much from USA after the team struggled in matches at the Gold Cup and in World Cup qualifying.
The best player in Group A is Colombia's James Rodriguez, who was the breakout star of the last World Cup. Rodriguez made the penalty but left the game with a shoulder injury, which could affect the group if he is going to be out of action.
Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and 12 other 2014 World Cup players on this squad will need to show leadership after the loss. It seems almost certain that the US will need two wins in their final two games of group play to advance.
Newcomers Darlington Nagbe, Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic are some of the youth that could lead the US to advancement. In recent matches, these younger players have shined for the team.
After the poor 2015 campaign, there really aren’t high expectations for the US squad. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he wanted a semifinal finish for the tournament to be a success before backing off his statement later.
Now, the USA has to more than likely beat both Costa Rica and Paraguay to advance. A draw and win might get this team into the knockout stage, but then goal differential might come into play. That would hurt the US, who is currently sitting at -2 in the standings.
The next game is make or break for the US. A draw keeps them on life support. A win gives them a great chance of going through to knockout stage. A loss will mean a disappointment as this team continues into 2016, and Klinsmann might be on the hot seat.
USA begins group play against group Costa Rica tonight at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.