- Jeff Carlisle, Soccer
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For the U.S. Soccer Federation, hosting the 2016 Copa America doesn’t quite make up for missing out on the 2022 World Cup, but it’s a nice consolation prize.
The leaders of CONMEBOL and CONCACAF announced on Thursday that the 2016 Copa America will be held in the U.S., marking the first time in the tournament’s history that it will be held outside of South America. The tournament will mark the 100-year anniversaries of both the Copa America and CONMEBOL, and will include six teams from CONCACAF, with the region’s heavyweights, Mexico and the U.S., automatically invited.
It figures to be a soccer bonanza, the likes of which haven’t been seen in the U.S. since it hosted the 1994 World Cup. The tournament is scheduled to run from June 3-26, and some of the world’s most dynamic players could feature, including Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Brazil’s Neymar and Uruguay’s Luis Suarez.
For the U.S., it will present a rare opportunity to partake in an international tournament against top-level teams. During the run-up to the 2010 World Cup, the U.S. benefited greatly from participating in the 2009 Confederations Cup, where it lost to Brazil 3-2 in a pulsating final. The fact that the U.S. will likely square off against at least two South American sides in the group stage with something at stake can only help the U.S. program.
"We're very excited about the announcement," USSF president Sunil Gulati told ESPN. "We think it will be a great event, certainly the biggest soccer event in the U.S. since the 1994 World Cup, with some of the best teams in the world. It's a great competition for our national team on the field, and a great event for the American soccer public. All of those are huge positives."
Gulati added that U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann was "ecstatic" about the news, and that he was "very excited and pleased we were able to get this done."
If this edition of the Copa America ends up being as popular in practice as it looks on paper, this may not be the last time the two confederations join forces to host such an event. CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb spoke of the tournament “uniting the Americas like never before” and taking the game “to a previously unexplored pinnacle.”
CONMEBOL president Eugenio Figueredo added, “We are not going to want to wait another 100 years to do it ... We use the centennial as a good reason, but we would love to have a permanent joining of forces with CONCACAF.”
There do remain some issues to be completely ironed out. Since CONCACAF teams are being invited as guests, club teams around the world technically won't be obligated to release players from those teams. USSF president Sunil Gulati has long stated that there was little point in hosting the tournament if the release of CONCACAF players was uncertain.
At Thursday’s press conference, Figueredo stopped short of guaranteeing that this was the case.
“We are making this effort with Jeffrey [Webb] and FIFA so that all national teams can bring their best [teams],” Figueredo said. “Each country that will be here will be competing to become the champion, and they are definitely going to try to have their best team.”
Figueredo also admitted that the tournament had yet to be placed on the FIFA calendar, another potential stumbling block given that World Cup qualifying, the European Championship (scheduled to run from June 10 through July 10) and the Olympics are all set to take place during summer 2016.
That said, the fact that both CONMEBOL and CONCACAF held a press conference points toward such issues being resolved. A broad range of FIFA committees, including the Executive Committee, is slated to meet in Zurich in late September, and it is expected that the issues of player releases and putting the competition on the FIFA calendar will be resolved then.
In terms of venues, Gulati insisted that "absolutely no decision" had been made in terms of the number of venues or specific host cities, but that the jockeying for position had already begun.
"One benefit we have in a country like the U.S., is that we have many, many venues that can host this," he said. "A number of venues have been in contact with us in the last 48 hours that want to host it. Some [candidates] in person here in Miami have talked to us, and a number by email.”
The announcement was the culmination of more than two years of discussions. Webb recalled that the second day after he was elected CONCACAF president in May 2012, he sat down with delegations from CONMEBOL and CONCACAF relating to the Copa America, and discussions proceeded from there.
“For us, the last two years, there has been a lot of hard work to make this a reality,” he said. “We're just happy to finally be able to communicate to you and our fans that we've finally reached an agreement.”