On Friday, the US Men’s National Team kicks off one of the world’s most prestigious soccer tournaments against a dark horse favorite on home soil. The enormity of the US hosting the Copa America Centenario – especially with the controversy over its selection as the host – cannot be understated. Much like the 1994 World Cup, this tournament is the US’s opportunity to show the soccer world that it is a soccer nation. In terms of hosting, there will likely be little drama. The stadiums will be full and the matchday experience for fans and teams alike should be smooth, while sponsors and networks will rake in money.
That leaves the one entity that has the most to benefit from a successful Copa America, the US team. Since the final whistle blew against Belgium in 2014, the team has had a series of ups and downs, with controversies real and manufactured seemingly threatening the job security of Jurgen Klinsmann. Almost two years after the World Cup, the US still lacks a firm depth chart for the back four, the next great American striker has yet to truly emerge, and the coming crop of young talent has yet to overwhelmingly impress at the international level. While there is talent in the US pool and some young stars in the making, the US Soccer Federation is looking at a senior team with too many questions and a youth system that have provided too few answers, considering the rhetoric and resources placed in it.
With all these questions surrounding the team, and the 2018 World Cup just 24 months away, what should be our expectations for this team in this tournament? The answer will probably differ from what many predict the US will do, especially since a prediction may depend on how the person feels about Klinsmann. Looking at this team and this tournament in the abstract, what should be “success” for a team like the US, a country trying to break into the upper echelon of international soccer and the host of the tournament?
Looking at the field, there is definite depth in this tournament. The usual powers like Brazil and Argentina will be strong, but up-and-coming countries like Colombia also have the ability in this smaller field to get hot and win the tournament. The marketing of the tournament is spot on – a ton of big names will be coming to US soil representing their country. However, we have already seen Luis Suarez and Keylor Navas drop out due to injuries, and as with the World Cup having the tournament so close to the end of many soccer seasons could lead to injuries for key players during the Copa.