The Summer of Soccer is here. And with that comes the Copa America, the biggest soccer event held in the United States since World Cup 1994. Here is a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about tournament:
Columbia, USA, Costa Rica and Paraguay
How to watch
You can see the official calendar here. Every match will be televised on Fox, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2 or FX, and Unimas and Univision have the Spanish-language broadcasts. Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated has everything you need to know in terms of media and television coverage here.
The cities that will host Copa America matches are as follows:
Santa Clara, Calif. (Levi's Stadium, also the site of the 2016 Super Bowl and 49ers' games); Foxborough, Mass. (Foxborough Stadium, the home of the NFL's Patriots and the New England Revolution); Chicago, Ill. (Soldier Field, home of the Bears and former home of the Fire); Houston, TX (NRG Stadium, home of the Texans);
East Rutherford, NJ (home of the final, and where the Giants and the Jets play); Orlando, FL (Orlando City's Camping World Stadium, also known as the Citrus Bowl); Pasadena, Calif. (the world-famous Rose Bowl); Philadelphia, PA (Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles); Glendale, AZ (University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Cardinals and next year's Final Four); and Seattle, Wash. (Century Link Field, home of the Sounders and Seahawks).
Buy tickets here.
I linked to the calendar above, but I think this is more useful:
I think I'm in love. pic.twitter.com/W05VQfHQ7E— Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13) May 31, 2016
For the most part, there is no overlap between Copa games and Euro 2016 games.
Every team's expectations
What every team's goal should be going into the Copa America:
Costa Rica: Beating out the USA for a spot in the quarterfinals should be a goal.
USA: Jurgen Klinsmann said semis, and I agree. It's time for a breakthrough.
Paraguay: Get out of the group.
Brazil: Even with multiple key players at the Olympics, Brazil should be targeting victory.
Ecuador: Getting out of this group should be a given, so winning in the quarters should be the goal.
Peru: A win would be nice.
Haiti: Shock the world!
Uruguay: Challenging for the title would be ideal, but getting out of the group is the first priority.
Mexico: Many have them in contention for a championship, and I don't doubt their ability.
Jamaica: Prove their worth in a tough group.
Venezuela: Like Haiti, be the Cinderella team.
Argentina: Win it all!
Chile: Repeat as champions and win the group.
Panama: Play spoiler.
Bolivia: Don't get killed.
Michael Bradley (USMNT): US manager Jurgen Klinsmann finally gave Bradley an opportunity to play in defensive midfield against Bolivia and Ecuador in pre-Copa tune-up friendlies, and boy, was it amazing. He has excelled in that role this season for Toronto FC—aside from Sebastian Giovinco, he's been their best player—and despite the small sample size and weak competition, he looked capable of playing there at the international level as well.
It's taken a while for Klinsmann to find Bradley's best position, but now that he has, it will be huge for the US to have someone as smart and technically sound at the number-six position. Bradley's distribution from deep is at a world-class level, which is great for long-ball moochers and channel-runners like Gyasi Zardes and Bobby Wood. He has incredible stamina and consistently makes plays like this defensively:
He can be a difference-maker in the midfield, if, of course, Klinsmann plays him in the correct position. Knowing Jurgen, Bradley probably will play higher up the field as an attempt as a box-to-box player or trequartista or number-ten.
But if the TFC man does get the opportunity to play his best position, it would be huge for the US. And yes, that would mean taking Kyle Beckerman out of the starting lineup.
Patrick Pemberton (Costa Rica): With Costa Rica's starting goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, injured while playing for Real Madrid in the Champions League Final and ruled out of the Copa America, Pemberton has been thrown into the spotlight. The 34-year old will likely be given the task of replacing Navas—arguably the best Tico—at the Copa.
Here's some background information on Pemberton: He has played for Costa Rican club Alajuelense since 2003—going on loan in 2004 and 2005—and has won six Primera Divison championships. He earned 25 caps for his national team in the process, beginning in 2009 against Honduras, and earned a spot on the 2014 World Cup squad, although he has mostly been bumped out of the starting XI due to Navas's rise to international stardom. Pemberton is the captain of Alajuelense and has played multiple times in the CONCACAF Champions League.
So, he's not Keylor Navas. But he is a wily veteran with experience, albeit not on the highest level. Here's a highlight video of his at Alajuelense I found on YouTube:
Pemberton has a very important job for Costa Rica at the Copa America. Navas was one of their most important players and crucial to their success, so with him out, Los Ticos will need Pemberton to step up and adequately replace the star's production.
If he doesn't, it could send the US through to the semifinals. If does, well, the Americans will have a tougher task on their hands.
Willian (Brazil): We jump from a veteran backup goalkeeper in the Costa Rican league to a starter in the Premier League and on the Brazilian national team.
Willian—one of the few high-profile players allowed to go to the Copa America with Brazil—starts for Chelsea and has 34 international caps. He plays on the wing and uses individual skill and creative dribbling to create chances and score goals, and can take free-kicks as well as anyone in the world. Like many of his South American counterparts, he can be a pretty explosive player:
He will likely get considerable time in the starting lineup due to Neymar's absence, so Brazil will partly be relying on him for goal-scoring.
That means cutting in from the wing, creating scoring chances and getting on the ball often. He has to be effective and dynamic in attack—and, most importantly, has to find a finished product—or Brazil could go down early.
Yoshimar Yotun (Peru): It appeared that Peru was a team on the upswing after miraculously finishing third in last year's Copa America. They were young and talented and had found a way to pick up points against superior opposition.
But after a number of factors kept many of the key players from last year's Copa off of this year's team, it seems that Peru are back to being a doormat in South America. They were placed in a group that includes one powerhouse—Brazil—and another top international side—Ecuador, the 12th-best team in the world according to the flawed yet telling FIFA rankings—and have been written off by many in their quest for a berth in the quarterfinals despite the presence of Haiti—likely the worst team in the tournament—in Group C. Los Incas are currently third to last in the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying standings, five points behind Paraguay and six points out of fifth, and haven't reached the World Cup since 1982.
One of the main reasons for their recent troubles has been the turnover the starting lineup has experienced. Many of the nation's most talented players have been left off this year's Copa roster, including starting defenders Juan Manuel Vargas, Luis Advincula, Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Ascues, top scorers Jefferson Farfan and Claudio Pizarro, and veteran midfielders Josepmir Ballon and Carlos Lobaton.
Yotun, now the starting left-back, is the one symbol of promise and continuity left in the squad. The 26-year old is seasoned enough—over 50 caps—to become a leader for this inexperienced team, which has only three players over 30 and 12 players who are 25 or younger. He is also talented enough to be a mainstay on the international level, very important for the ever-changing Peru.
They will need him and other players to step up at the Copa America, or they won't come close to matching the success they had last year. And in the future, they need more players like Yotun to arrive on the scene.
Can Mexico play with the big guns?
In international soccer, there are imaginary tiers that separate the best teams in the world. These made-up, completely fictional tiers take time to change, but they can be heavily influenced by the most recent major tournaments, like the World Cup or the Copa America or the European Championship.
Tier 1 includes teams like Brazil, France, Spain, Germany, and Argentina who are always in contention for these tournaments and consistently produce world-class players. Tier 2 is similar to Tier 1 in that the teams always come up with top world players, but may not be consistently winning the major tournaments; England, Chile, Italy, Portugal and, maybe, Colombia would be examples of this.
The US, the Netherlands, Belgium, Uruguay and an African team like Ghana or Cote d'Iviore make up Tier 3. These are the teams that mostly qualify for the big tournaments—although the Dutch flamed out of Euro 2016 qualifying—and will often cause some of the big guns problems in these tournaments. There is one team in Tier 3 who has been hovering on the tip of Tier 2 for some time now: Mexico.
El Tri have been to every World Cup since 1994—and only missed Italy 1990 due to rules violations—and every year, they've managed to qualify for at least the Round of 16. Their consistency is impressive, but the fact that they haven't become a genuine contender for the final over the past 20 years speaks to a disturbing weakness that has yet to be overcome: The ability to win in high-pressure games against world-class teams.
Over the last five World Cups, Mexico have been eliminated by Germany (1998), the Netherlands (2014), the USA (2002) and Argentina (2006 and 2010). They have done well in other competitions—winning the 1999 Confederation's Cup and the 2012 Summer Olympics—and have had success recently. El Tri won the Gold Cup last year—albeit with significant help from Mark Geiger—and defeated the US on American soil last October to qualify for the 2017 Confederation's Cup. But they have yet to prove their place among the world's best. This Copa America is a chance for them to do that.
Can they? Like I said above, I don't doubt their abilities.
Mexico are headed by star forward Javier Hernandez, who has been good enough to warrant a (very good) Sports Illustrated profile by Grant Wahl. Chicharito has been great for Bayer Leverkusen since arriving at the German club from Manchester United in 2015, scoring 17 Bundesliga goals and netting five in six Champions League matches. Although he will be Mexico's most high-profile player, they have multiple other important pieces as well.
Andres Guardado will be a key cog in the midfield, for example. The PSV man links passes and helps in build-up play, often sending long balls to channel-runners and attempting to get forwards like Hernandez in behind. Veteran striker Oribe Peralta could prove to be an important asset on the wing, while center-back Hector Moreno has played well in the Netherlands and for Mexico.
This is a team with an experienced core, multiple talented attackers, an effective midfield and a solid, battle-tested defense. Given the home-field advantage Mexico will receive while playing so close to home (they drew over 60,000 fans in Atlanta in a tune-up match), they appear to be realistic contenders for the title.
If they are able to advance farther than the quarterfinals—which would mean eliminating Chile or Argentina—it would not only advance them out of the imaginary Tier 3, it would cement their place among the world's best and prove, once and for all, that Mexico can play with world-class competition.
How will Venezuela do amid serious domestic struggles?
It hasn't been good in Venezuela recently.
President Nicolas Maduro declared a state of emergency due to the horrendous economy struggles the country is experiencing right now, and the majority of citizens don't have access to basic necessities like food, water, and power. Protesters have rioted against Maduro throughout the South American state and the government is in limbo with the controversies surrounding it. Inflation is high, and the situation is looking dire.
When these kinds of things are happening, it's hard to focus on soccer. Many of Venezuela's players called up to this tournament play their club soccer in their home country, so they witness first-hand or even experience all of the terrible things going on right now. Keeping a focus on the task at hand will be tough.
But if this group of players can manage to push all the bad things out of their brain for 90 minutes at a time, they just might be able to pull off some upsets in a group that includes Mexico, Uruguay, and Jamaica. They certainly have the skill.
Tomas Rincon, currently playing for Genoa in Italy, Salomon Rondon, of West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League, and Juan Pablo Anor, of Spain's Malaga, make up three of the squad's players who currently ply their trade outside of South America. There are others as well—Rolf Feltscher, Adalberto Penaranda, Josef Martinez—proving that this team is not lacking in the talent department. If they can pick up a scrappy point here or there in Group C, they just might be able to pull off an upset.
To do that, they'll have to overcome significant domestic difficulties. If they can, it would be a meaningful morale booster for a country in disarray. And that's what this game is about, right?
Can Argentina break the title drought?
The Argentina national team has not won a major international soccer tournament since 1993. Despite the presence of some of the world's best players throughout all those years—including, for the last decade, Lionel Messi—they somehow have failed to lift a single Copa America or World Cup trophy. They came close in the 2014 World Cup, losing in extra time of the final to Germany, and in the 2015 Copa America, falling on penalties in the final to Chile, but as we enter the 100th edition of South America's biggest tournament, their 23-year title drought remains.
There is a very good chance Argentina break the spell this year.
Led by a determined Messi and a cast of other top Europe-based players, La Albiceleste likely will seriously challenge for the championship. They are the favorites going in, and there are plenty of reasons why.
Not the least of which is the depth and supporting cast they have around Messi. Players like Javier Mascherano, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Javier Pastore are among the many star players Gerardo Martino has at his disposal.
Mascherano—a versatile defender who can also play in defensive midfield—heads a sturdy, experienced backline that includes three Premier League starters. PSG teammates Di Maria and Pastore will lead a creative and possession-based midfield that will be tasked with providing service to the exceptionally talented striking core. Alongside Messi, Aguero (arguably the best striker in the Premier League), Ezequiel Lavezzi (a longtime PSG star who now plays in China), and Higuain (Europe's third-best goal-scorer) will make up the forward corps.
This team will put a lot of balls in the net. Higuain—who scored 36 goals for Napoli in the Serie A this season—is a big reason for that:
Argentina are the team who many think will win it all, and for good reason. But they've been the favorites before, and look how that turned out.
1. Colombia (5 points)
Colombia win Group A by a slim, slim margin.
2. United States (5 points)
The US slide through the group stage after picking up crucial points against Costa Rica and Colombia.
3. Costa Rica (3 points)
A draw against Paraguay dooms Los Ticos.
4. Paraguay (1 point)
Paraguay challenge, but losses to the US and Colombia eliminate them. They do get an opportunity to play spoiler, as their ability to take a point from Costa Rica gives the US an easier path to the quarterfinal.
1. Brazil (7 points)
Blowouts of Peru and Haiti send Brazil to first place on goal differential.
2. Ecuador (7 points)
A draw against Brazil isn't enough for Ecuador to grab first place.
3. Haiti (3 points)
Haiti surprise many with a win over Peru, giving them third place.
4. Peru (0 points)
It's an ugly one for the Peruvians.
1. Mexico (9 points)
Mexico are the only team to sweep the group stage.
2. Jamaica (6 points)
Upset alert! Jamaica become the lovable Cinderella story of the tournament.
3. Uruguay (3 points)
The loss of Luis Suarez kills the Uruguayans.
4. Venezuela (0 points)
Venezuela become the pushover team in Group C.
1. Argentina (7 points)
Argentina cruise through a relatively easy group stage, with the obvious exception of a draw against Chile.
2. Chile (7 points)
The defending champs don't have a problem with Panama or Bolivia, sending them through without much concern.
3. Panama (1 point)
A fairly disappointing tournament results in only a draw against Bolivia.
4. Bolivia (1 point)
At least they got one point.
Colombia vs. Ecuador -- 2-3
Ecuador beat Colombia in a high-scoring thriller to advance to the semifinal.
Argentina vs. Jamaica -- 3-1
Jamaica lasted this long, but when they run into a dominating Argentina team in the quarterfinal, they can't contend.
Brazil vs. United States -- 2-0
The USMNT whimper out against Brazil, losing by two goals and failing to score a goal.
Mexico vs. Chile -- 2-2 (Mexico win on PKs)
It's a tight one between Mexico and Chile, but El Tri squeak through on penalties.
Argentina vs. Ecuador -- 4-2
Another high-scoring game involving Ecuador goes the way of Argentina, who advance to the final thanks to another brace by Messi.
Mexico vs. Brazil -- 2-1
Mexico one-up the USMNT with a win over Brazil.
Mexico vs. Argentina -- 2-1 (ET)
The drought is over! Argentina win the Copa America in extra-time.