You want spectacle in international soccer, you say?
When the Copa America Centenario was announced, first in 2012 and then with CONCACAF's approval in May 2014, it was seen by many American soccer fans as an awesome new event on the soccer calendar. No 2022 World Cup? No problem! We can watch probably the third-best tournament in international soccer in our backyards!
Of course, right from the start came the questions about the whole enterprise. The Copa America, South America's regional championship, was held just this summer in Chile, and won by the host country. Having another version of it just a year later, on an off year, in the United States, seemed odd.
Now, with the entire enterprise continuing to remain in doubt, based on an apparent reluctance on the part of U.S. Soccer for some very good reasons, do we know the cynicism at the heart of the special hosting of the tournament.
At the most benevolent end of the spectrum, the Copa America Centenario, featuring CONMEBOL countries plus six CONCACAF entrants, is a pure cash grab. Yes, one could argue it would be a trial run for perhaps a future partnership between the two confederations, but for those who believe the CONMEBOL and CONCACAF will merge into one super Americas confederation in the near future, that seems very unlikely indeed. And even if it would be a trial run for less, in having South America and North America (plus the Caribbean) join forces in a competitive environment on a regular basis, that could happen, but the timing becomes a problem, once again. And there become practical questions: Would this be considered a competitive tournament? And how seriously would countries be taking it, since top players increasingly get no real time off.
At the worst end of the spectrum, the whole purpose of the Copa America Centenario was for a handful of people to make truckloads of cash by fraudulent means, something that had been practically codified as standard operating procedure in both confederations for decades. And with many of those people now under indictment and jailed, the big roll-out of the tournament has come to a halt, as the tournament itself has been in doubt for months.
The latest word was that once again, a shady sports marketing firm's involvement in the tournament has given the U.S. pause, and they've strategically not taken part in meetings in Mexico. Of course, CONCACAF has since said the tournament will be hosted in the U.S. It's possible both things can be true, but it would be pretty strange for a confederation to overrule the national federation and host an unwanted tournament there.
From a selfish perspective, it's fun to have international soccer in our country. The infrastructure in the U.S., not to mention the immigrant populations from many of these countries scattered around and the general prosperity of the U.S. compared to most countries in the Americas, makes it an ideal staging ground for games. It's why Mexico play most of their friendlies in the U.S. and Argentina and Brazil are increasingly playing games here.
But our lust for hot, fresh international soccer blinds us to many problems. It is absurd that the Gold Cup is held mostly or entirely in the United States time after time, and almost as absurd that it's held every two years, when all of the other confederations' championships are held every four years (except when South America just makes up a cash-grab tournament, of course). Yes, the United States would rock the shit out of hosting another World Cup, that's not up for debate.
But while rampant corruption in soccer is not a problem solely in CONMEBOL and CONCACAF, the arrests made in May disproportionately hit those confederations, likely because they primarily came at the behest of the U.S. government. What does that tell us? Instead of holding up FIFA as the only soccer governing body that needs to be cleaned up, it reinforces that there's working to be done closer to home, too, and given the timing, it doesn't seem like the Copa America Centenario is worth rushing through.
It could all still come off, of course. All in all, thanks, but maybe we can do without a Copa America staged in the United States next year, for the good of the game.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!