It’s not secret that soccer in the United States has a low ceiling compared to the our other great professional sport institutions. With every year, a new generation comes to the vital age when sports begin to mean something. Yet, I feel soccer is growing with every new generation due to easy cable access to the Premier League, Bundesliga and Champions League, the global brand of superstars (i.e. CR7, Messi, and I am Zlatan), online gambling, and the United States having success in the latest world cup. The old guard, people like my father and The Pope (Mike Francesca of WFAN, New York), however, will never give the sport a chance.
Enough about where we are, as this is about where we are going. The United States has been selected to host the Copa America Centenario this summer starting June 3rd. This is the first Copa America held outside of South America–a credit to how large the soccer community in the US has grown. For lesser Spanish-speaking readers Centenario means the 100th anniversary of the tournament. The tournament consists of the host (U.S.A!) ten nations in CONMEBOL (South America), and six CONCACAF (North America) teams including the US. Games will be played all over our great country, including the soccer mecca of East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Copa is filled with stars, including Barcelona’s famed MSN–Messi, Suarez, Neymar (although reports suggest that Suarez will miss the group stage), the golden boot winner (most goals in a World Cup), Real Madrid’s James Rodriquez. And of course, the always interesting USMNT will be competing. However, whether they can make the improvement to be competitive on a global scale is another question. For now, I will break down why you should watch all the major contenders, in alphabetical order.
MESSI MESSI MESSI! This team comes in as the favorite at +200 according to book32.com. After reaching the final in the last World Cup before Mario Götze and Germany clinched the title, the Argentinians walked away defeated, but now they thirst to end a 23 year trophy drought. There is no doubt about the quality of the Argentinian players which is evident by their presence in the top European soccer clubs. Gonzalo Higuain led Seria A (Italy) in goals and the talents of Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aquero, Nickolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano, Javier Pastore, and Erik Lamela make Argentina the deepest team in the tournament. The key word here is tournament, and while these competitions usually consist of scripts filled with plot twists or turns, the favorite rarely has their time in the sun. Argentina made it to the final last year and this year, so they are poised to make a brilliant run like Messi has so many times against lesser defenders.
Only Brazil is able to match the talent that Argentina can put on the pitch. Finishing in the top four of the last World Cup, they enter the 2016 Copa America second in odds at +450. Their finish in the world cup, however, was not a pretty sight by any means (please, parents, do not show that clip to young children). Unlike their World Cup semifinal against Germany, Neymar Jr. will be back in action, allowing everyone else to play their proper role. Personally, I believe Brazil to be a great wager. They are probably only being sold rather low due to the recent and disappointing memory of the last world cup.
THE CHAMP IS HERE! Chile enters the tournament holding the title belt, in large part thanks to their hard work rate and the great play of their two stars, Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, in the last tournament. Actually, screw that last sentence–I’m short selling the fantastic goalkeeping of Claudio Bravo. So many times, these tournaments come down to what goalkeeper bailed them out the most. Look at Germany with Neuer in the World Cup, America with Tim Howard against Belgium and David De Gea against any Manchester United opponent (more on this in the upcoming UEFA Euro Preview). It is very similar to how Bill Simmons’ “best player in the NBA series” theory usually wins, but in this case, it is always the best goalkeeper in the tournament that wins the cup.
Other then the US, I am pulling for Chile because I love their team. I realize for many Arsenal fans, Alexis can be frustrating with all the injuries, but he really did play with a chip on his shoulder against Messi in the last tournament. Now to Arturo Vidal, my favorite player in soccer. This guy is the fucking man…the epitome of the “Move Bitch” mentality. Neither I nor this blog in no way condone drunk driving, but who else is going to crash a Ferrari in Chile? I’m guessing its a very short list (like Trump’s VP’s). I doubt Chile will have back to back successes; however, for the human aspect of rooting for a team, they check all the boxes.
A fairly interesting team. Falcao is finished, James has lost his way at Real Madrid, but they have talent and could make a run. I could believe virtually any outcome for this squad. I suppose we will see.
Our CONCACAF rivals come with a team that is both deep and familiar with each other: traits that are always dangerous for opponents. Under new management, Mexico will look to revive their dominance over the North America region by competing with the best teams that South America has to offer. Chicharito is once again one of the great strikers in Europe, and the quality throughout the team rivals both Chile and Colombia. If Donaldo Trumpez has anything to say, he will make Mexico great again.
Ahh finally, the USMNT. I feel that this tournament will be the ultimate test of what the USA squad will look like in the next World Cup (Russia 2018). US greats like Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones, and DaMarcus Beasley are just becoming too old to compete on an international level. At the same time, Michael Bradley has never become the midfield general that so many have expected. Thankfully, the Jozy Altidore era of terrible first touches and clumsy shots seems to be behind us. The decomposition of the old does brings new nutrients allowing the team to grow. Bobby Wood is a very promising striker scoring 17 goals in the second German league and making a move to the Bundesliga at Hamburger SV. Matt Miazga, a talented defender has been signed by Chelsea, and a seemingly promising campaign for John Brooks of the Bundesliga has put him back in the main running for a starting spot on the USMNT. Previously, Brooks performed poorly in important games due to a lack of experience during high level competitions.
Fabian Johnson has legitimized himself as a wing creator on the right side with Borussia Mönchengladbach. The X-Factor for this tournament and the cups to come, rests on the shoulder of a 17 year old kid name Christian Pulisic. Already playing for European contender Borussia Dortmund, Pulisic has impressed everyone with his ball-skills and vision on the field. I hate to put expectations on a kid younger than me, but the talent is undeniable and I wish all the best for him and the United States. A poor performance at this tournament (i.e. not making the top 8) could very easily result in a change of management within the USMNT.
See Colombia, a team filled with talent that has a strong history of claiming this title. Uruguay has the most Copa America titles in history with 15 . The feared attack of Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez can never be underestimated (as long as Suarez is healthy and doesn’t go crazy biting someone with all the cameras on him). With Atletico Madrid’s defensive aces Diego Godin and Miguel Jose Gimenez (both playing in the Champions League final) being the anchors of Uruguay’s defense, scoring will be no easy task.
I have begun to love soccer, but to call this summer “The Summer of Soccer” is an overreaction. Having stars playing on US soils excites many journalists, but we are still very initially discouraging of foreign things. Yet, the American sports culture has changed over the years, and as time goes on I believe soccer will creep into our culture as it has done in most of the developed countries around the world. The Copa America Centenario will be a great chance for Americans to see how exciting the low scoring sport can be at it’s greatest, right in their backyard.
I FEEL LIKE PABLO!