Every four years, the national soccer teams of South America’s 10 countries, plus a couple of guests, duke it out for continental supremacy.
It’s happening again starting Friday, but this one will be like no other: CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, world soccer’s North, Central and South American confederations, have joined forces to make it bigger, better and truly Pan-American.
The United States will host Copa America 2016, and Mexico, Haiti, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Panama will join the party.
As an official FIFA-sanctioned event, the teams will bring the brightest stars in search of glory. That means the likes of Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and others will demonstrate their talents and fill U.S. stadiums from coast-to-coast.
The tournament has generated rich storylines before a ball has even been kicked. Plenty more will follow.
Why is it important?
Copa America 2016 is a one-off tournament, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first South American championship. Thus, we’re set to witness the Copa America “Centenario.”
Only the European championship rivals Copa America in prestige among regional championship tournament’s worldwide.
We expect Copa America 2016 to show how much the United States has grown — both on and off the field — as a soccer nation. It’s simply the biggest men’s soccer tournament to take place on U.S. soil since the 1994 FIFA World Cup. A successful Copa America 2016 could set the stage for the World Cup to return to the U.S. in 2026 — or perhaps sooner. Soccer in America and around the world will never be the same after Copa America 2016.
As we wrote two years ago when organizers first announced the tournament, “We don’t need vice president Joe Biden to tell us how big of a (explative deleted) this is. Copa America 2016 speaks for itself.
Of course, the final, semifinals and quarterfinals fall into this category. Knockout rounds are scheduled to begin June 15.
But the group stage also will serve fans some tantalizing matchups. Chief among them are (all times EST):
USA-Colombia (June 3, at 9 p.m.): The tournament opener featuring the home team against one of the world’s most entertaining sides.
Mexico-Uruguay (June 5, at 8 p.m.): “El Tri” is looking to win the tournament, but another of the leading contenders will be their first opponents.
Argentina-Chile (June 6, at 10 p.m.): A rematch of the Copa America 2015 final, which host Chile won on penalty kicks. Both sides are among the favorites to win this year and will be keen to make an early statement.
If you don’t believe us, take it from Kobe.
Thumbnail photo via Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports Images