This summer the Copa América will be held in the United States. It is the third most prestigious international trophy after the World Cup and the Euros and is held in such high esteem because of the quality of the CONMEBOL nations that compete in it. Of the 20 World Cups that have been held, nine have been won by South American sides and every single CONMEBOL team made it to the knockout rounds in the last World Cup in Brazil. This one is particularly important because it marks the 100 year anniversary of the tournament, making it the longest running international tournament other than the Olympics.
What is CONMEBOL? The South American Confederation consisting of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The other South American nations (French Guiana, Guyana, & Suriname) are actually part of CONCACAF. Being European colonies for much longer than the rest of South America, these three have a lot more in common with Caribbean nations culturally, politically, and linguistically.
Tournament Setup - Copa América is played between all ten teams of CONMEBOL in addition to two invitees, one of which is invariably Mexico and the other in usually a second from CONCACAF, those twelve being divided into three groups of four.
This Copa is a little different. Being the Centenario, the tournament has been expanded and 6 CONCACAF sides have been invited to make a full four groups of four teams each. From there a standard knockout tournament begins. In the groups stages, teams can draw but in the knockout, it will go straight to penalties. Extra time will only happen, if necessary, in the final match. Yellow card accumulation will also exist in this tournament. Collecting two yellows in separate matches will lead to a suspension. They will be wiped after the quarter-final so that only players sent off in the semi are in danger of missing the final.
History of the Copa América - There are two distinct eras of South American international competition, the first was from 1916 until 1967 and was called the South American Championship and the second is the current format, the Copa América, which began in 1987. The first tournaments were before the FIFA era when the Olympic games were considered the pinnacle of international tournaments. South American teams didn't compete in that tournament until 1924 by which time they were clearly the most powerful teams in the world (it's no coincidence the first World Cup was held in Uruguay).
The South American Championship began as an invitational tournament between the top 4 teams on the continent hosted by Argentina in 1916. After the success of the first one, it was decided to have one yearly. Due to infighting no regular schedule was kept and many tournament were deemed unofficial. From 1967 until 1975 the tournament disappeared completely. It was reborn in that year as the Copa América but didn't receive its current biennial format with a rotating host until 1987.
This year's tournament is special, being the hundred year anniversary of the first tournament. While the tournament had always been hosted every odd calendar year (two per World Cup cycle), going forward the tournament will only be hosted once every four years, similar to the Euros. The next tournaments will be in 2019 (Brazil) and 2023 (Ecuador).
Rosters - Each nation selects a 23 man roster to take to the tournament. This tournament also has some top players who would be eligible for it but not for competitive reasons like the Euros. Brazil has to split its squad as they'll be hosting the Summer Olympics so they are treating the Copa as a secondary competition. Famous Brazilians like Neymar, Marcelo, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Kaká, and Firmino won't be there. Other famous players left out are: Carlos Tevez, Martín Demichelis, & Paulo Dybala (Argentina); Radamel Falcao, Jackson Martinez, & Adrian Ramos (Colombia); Roque Santa Cruz (Paraguay); and Claudio Pizarro, Jefferson Farfan and Juan Manuel Vargas (Peru).
What are the groups? - The groups were drawn with a "seeded" ranking system that put the US, Mexico, Argentina, & Brazil in the first pot and then everyone else according to their FIFA ranking. Every team in COMNEBOL is good, half of the teams in the confederation are ranked in the top ten in the world. Other than Group A, all the other groups' top two teams are pretty clear favorites to qualify for the knockout round. Just as we saw in the World Cup, only playing three matches can lead to a lot of odd results and you can usually bet on a surprise side making it.
Where does the USMNT fit in here? - Is glad too be here to strong? Klinsmann has said a semi-final appearance will be considered a success and I would agree with that. Simply not being embarassed at home is the most important thing. Qualifying for Russia is what the German's job rests on, not this tournament. USMNT will be without America Messi (that's Jordan Morris, btw) as Wondolowski got the call-up over him. Zusi over Finlay (or literally anyone else. How about Fabian Johnson in his real position?) is a mistake Klinsmann makes over and over again. It just seems that, although there is a lot of good players that have emerged since last summer, there is no coherent side yet. Sometimes real, competitive games can force a team to gel but I would put making it out of the group as a good result.
Favorites - Argentina. They've been without a major title since their last Copa in 1993 and they are bringing a full strength side in its prime (they were in the World Cup Final two years ago) including Messi, Higuaín, Agüero, di Maria, & Lamela. They want to win this one bad.
The chasing pack are Uruguay, & Mexico. Uruguay is bringing a strong squad including Suarez and Cavani and Atlético Madrid's rock-solid centerback pairing of Godín and Giménez. Chile have a good squad but being the host had a lot to do with their win last summer. They also have a new manager who doesn't have the most stellar CV. Mexico is... very intriguing. They've had success and a large fanbase in the USA in previous tournaments, winning three of the last four Gold Cups. Chicharito is on fire. The rest of the squad solid. They won the last Gold Cup and the Confederations Cup Qualifying against the US. Also they've finished second or third in five of the nine Copas they've been to.
Lastly, are the dark horses of Brazil, Chile, and Colombia. The Seleção are still a decent squad even without Neymar and you have to assume losing to Paraguay last summer in the first knockout round of the Copa, a poor performance here, and continued mediocrity in World Cup qualification (they're currently not going to Russia) might make the Brazilian FA antsy. The don't have a recognizable striker though... Chile have a good squad but being the host had a lot to do with their win last summer. They also have a new manager who doesn't have the most stellar CV. Colombia are also one of the top sides in this tournament. You have to question their decision to leave so many of their top strikers at home but Carlos Bacca being fed by James could do a lot of damage.
First Match - USMNT v Colombia - Friday, June 3rd at 9:30 EST
Final - MetLife Stadium, New Jersey - June 26th at 8pm EST
- Most Tournament Wins – 15 - Uruguay (1916, 1917, 1920, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1935, 1942, 1956, 1959 (Ecuador), 1967, 1983, 1987, 1995, 2011)
- Most Finals Appearances – 41 - Uruguay
- Best Total Record – 115 wins - Argentina
- Overall Top Scorer – 17 Goals - Zinzinho (Brazil) & Norberto Méndez (Argentina)
- Most Goals in a Single Tournament – 9 goals - Jair da Rosa (Brazil), Maschio (Argentina), and Ambrois (Uruguay)
- Most Tournament Wins (Coach) – 6 - Guillermo Stábile (Argentina, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1955, & 1957)
- Best Home Tournament Win Record - Uruguay (7) & Brazil (4) - These two nations have won every tournament they've hosted.
- Winless countries - Ecuador & Venezuela
- Best Players not to have won - The Brazilian World Cup legends of the 50's - 70's didn't win a single Copa.
Official Song - Somos Uno by Yandel - It's terrible. Who would have thought?