The Copa America Centenario starts next Friday, the first time the storied Copa America tournament will be held in the USA. The eyes of the soccer world will be on the United States — for about a week.
Then, most eyes will turn to the European Championships, which begin June 10. For many soccer fans, while the World Cup is the bigger tournament, the Euros are more fun to watch — in part because the tournament is probably harder to win than the World Cup. The World Cup lineup of 32 teams usually includes a few stragglers; the Euros feature nothing but Europe’s best teams slugging it out.
It’s enough to make any American fan green with envy. The U.S. men’s national team has long been the most popular soccer team of any kind in the United States, but other than the quadrennial World Cup, USA fans are stuck with endless international games against Mexico, Costa Rica and a host of other Central American and Caribbean nations. Apart from those back-alley brawls with Mexico, most national team fans view Gold Cup games and World Cup qualifying matches as games that would be embarrassing to lose, not meaningful internationals.
Excitingly, though, this summer’s Copa America is the first of its kind, with North and South America cooperating to stage a tournament that spans both continents. It’s a welcome breath of fresh air for summer tournaments in the Americas, with South America’s 10 teams meeting up with the best of North and Central America. For South America, it’s a chance to stage something other than yet more matchups between the continent’s 10 nations. For the six qualified nations from North America, it’s a chance to play a tournament that’s bigger than the Gold Cup, which usually feels like an exhibition series, the goal of which is to embarrass Mexico or the United States if one fails to make it to the final.
European soccer has long dominated the attention of the world, both internationally and at the club level. The rest of the world always will have a difficult time competing with the history, passion, and financial backing that the game gets in Europe. Teaming up makes sense for everyone, to bring together the soccer history in South America and Mexico with the financial resources and growing game in the USA.
Should this summer’s Copa America be successful, it could lead to more cooperation between the continents for future tournaments — potentially including the Copa Libertadores, South America’s international club tournament, which already includes Mexican teams. There are plenty of obstacles, including the huge distance between places such as New York and Buenos Aires, but it’ll take outside-the-box thinking to compete with the European heavyweights on all fronts. Representatives of both continents would do well to find ways to make more cooperation work.
Soccer Short Takes
• A short, incomplete preview of Saturday’s Champions League final: Atletico Madrid is all about defense, Real Madrid is all about offense. Atletico would dearly love to score an early goal and depend on its stout defense to see the game out — a strategy that came within moments of success in the 2014 Champions League Final, when Real scored in stoppage time to tie the game at 1, then scored three times in extra time to win 4-1 and take home the European Cup. This would be a fascinating tactical game anyway, but the intra-Madrid rivalry adds some extra spice.
• According to The Economist, which quoted a Nielsen TV researcher, American soccer fans have more live soccer available on TV than fans in any other country. Between Internet streaming and expanded cable, there is hardly a game anywhere that’s unavailable to American consumers — a true testament to the explosive growth in interest in the game here.
• Colorado plays Philadelphia Saturday night in MLS in what is a matchup of the first-place teams in both conferences. Given that both teams were abjectly, avert-your-eyes bad in 2015, this is perhaps the best example of the parity in MLS. It’s like the league starts from scratch every single season.
Weekend Watch Guide
Championship: Hull City vs. Sheffield Wednesday, 11 a.m. Saturday, beIN Sports. Sure, the Champions League final gets all the attention, but in financial terms this might be Saturday’s most important game, with the winner sharing in the riches of the Premier League next season. Wednesday hasn’t been in the Premier League since 2000; Hull was relegated last year.
Champions League: Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 9. Real Madrid has all the history, with 10 European titles, three more than anyone else — and 10 more than its rivals from across town, who have lost in two finals. Atletico hasn’t lost to Madrid since the 2014 Champions League final, a span of eight games.
Friendly: Bolivia at USA, 7 p.m. Saturday, FS1. The U.S. men’s national team beat Ecuador 1-0 in a dull affair last week, and now has one more chance to tune up ahead of Copa America. The Ecuador win was highlighted by a 90th-minute goal from Darlington Nagbe and an impressive late cameo from teenager Christian Pulisic.
Liga MX: Pachuca at Monterrey, 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Univision Deportes. The two-legged league championship match is finely balanced, after Pachuca pulled off a 1-0 win at home on Thursday. The final now moves to Monterrey, where Pachuca hasn’t won since 2010. American center back Omar Gonzalez, who moved to Pachuca from Los Angeles in the winter, has a chance for a title.