beIN SPORTS has exclusively learned that the long-rumored Copa America Centenario is coming to the United States in 2016.
By Phil Schoen (@PhilSchoen)
The long-rumored Copa America Centenario is about to become a reality.
beIN SPORTS has learned than an official announcement that the 2016 tournament will be coming to the United States is imminent and could happen as early as May 1. The tournament would be the biggest sporting event held in the U.S. since the 2002 Winter Olympics and the most prestigious soccer event since the 1994 World Cup.
The tournament has been in the planning stages for years as part of the 100th anniversary of the first Copa America and the founding of CONMEBOL, South America's governing body for soccer. Original plans had the tournament taking place in both the United States and Mexico in an effort to tap into the vast expat communities in both nations—not to mention increased access to television and stadium revenues and sponsorship dollars. A source inside CONCACAF, the confederation that governs North and Central American soccer, told beIN SPORTS that the decision has been made that the U.S. will host the tournament.
Back in October 2012, CONMEBOL appeared to jump the gun by announcing the tournament was ready to go. The United States Soccer Foundation and CONCACAF said that while they were interested, there were still several issues that needed to be addressed. Apparently, those concerns have now been resolved.
This past January, Spanish sports daily Marca announced that the venues for the tournament had already been chosen: the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif., MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., the Citrus Bowl, in Orlando, Fla., R.F.K. Stadium in Washington D.C., and Reliant Stadium in Houston. There was no confirmation from beIN SPORTS sources on the stadiums that will be used, other than to say the tournament would be "nationwide."
All 10 teams from the South American confederation will participate. The United States, Mexico and four additional CONCACAF teams will join them. The initial plan would award the four remaining berths to the best finishers in CONCACAF's 2015 Gold Cup championship. However, yesterday the president of the Honduran football federation announced that has changed. Rafael Leonardo Callejas revealed that the next champions of the Central American UNCAF Cup and the winners of the upcoming Caribbean Cup would automatically earn a spot in the Copa America Centenario. The top two nations in next year's Gold Cup among the rest of the CONCACAF nations will grab the final two berths in the 2016 event.
The Centenario will mark back-to-back Copa America tournaments. The 2015 edition will be held in Chile and will be broadcast live on beIN SPORTS. That tournament was originally set for Brazil, but due to conflicts with this summer's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the Copa America was switched to Chile, with Brazil now scheduled to host in 2019.
It will not be the first time CONCACAF teams have participated in a Copa America. With only 10 nations in the confederation, CONMEBOL changed the format of the tournament back in 1993 to invite two outside nations for an initial group stage with three groups of four nations.
The U.S. national team's best performance came in 1995 in Uruguay when they finished fourth, beating Argentina 3-0 in the group stage, only to be beaten in the semifinals by Brazil, 1-0. The United States did not make it out of the group stage in 1993 or 2007, declining numerous other invitations to take part due to conflicts with the Major League Soccer season and other national team commitments.
Mexico has finished runners-up twice, in 1993 in Ecuador and in Colombia in 2001. Three CONCACAF teams took part in that tournament as Argentina withdrew, fearing the political situation in Colombia at the time. Honduras stepped in for the Albicelestes—arriving on a Colombian Air Force plane just hours before its first game—and finished a surprising third. Costa Rica also advanced to the quarterfinals in both 2001 and in Peru 2004.
While the centennial tournament is designed to pit the best teams from both halves of the American continent, there are plenty of hurdles to cross, not the least of which is getting on the FIFA calendar. In the past, CONCACAF participants have been handicapped. The games they played were determined to be friendlies by FIFA, so clubs did not have to release their players.
The secretary general of CONMEBOL, Jose Luis Meiszner, says it would not make sense to play such a symbolic tournament if the participating teams could not put their best team on the field. Representatives from CONMEBOL, CONCACAF and FIFA met three weeks ago to discuss those concerns. Gaining FIFA approval could be more difficult given the fact that the tournament could compete for international attention with the 2016 Euro finals. At the time, Meiszner reportedly said a decision would be made by September. It now appears that date has been moved forward.
Another logistical hurdle lies closer to home, as the Centenario will fall in the heart of the MLS season. While that has hampered U.S. participation in the Copa America in the past, in recent years the league has even embraced midseason friendlies with international teams. The tournament will also likely conflict with the start of a new Apertura season in Mexico's Liga MX.
The tournament could spark even more cooperation between the two confederations. There has even been initial interest in MLS joining Mexico in CONMEBOL's Copa Libertadores. The last inter-confederation tournament involving MLS came in 1998 as D.C. United defeated Brazil's Vasco da Gama in the final edition of the Copa Interamericana.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to deal with is the effect the Centenario would have on the FIFA calendar. The round-robin qualifying schedule marathon that CONMEBOL has used for the past five World Cups would have the fifth- and sixth-round games set for June 2016, just before the Copa America Centenario would get underway. That would also conflict with the opening games of CONCACAF's third round, when the six North American Centenario teams would likely begin their road to Russia 2018.
A record 10 nations from the Americas will participate in this summer's World Cup. Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay join hosts Brazil in representing CONMEBOL, while CONCACAF will send Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and the United States.