The popularity of soccer in the United States is seemingly on the rise, and that upward trend figures to continue when the U.S. hosts the 2016 Copa America.
According to ESPN FC, this will mark the first time in the country's history that it will host the prestigious tournament:
The 2016 Copa America will be played in the US for the first time and will feature 10 CONMEBOL and 6 CONCACAF teams.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 1, 2014
The Copa America, in its current form, has been held 14 times since 1975, and it features both North American and South American teams. Although the United States have entered the tourney on four previous occasions, it has never necessarily been considered a priority.
Per Jeff Carlisle of ESPNFC.com, CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb expects that to change.
Is hosting the 2016 Copa America a positive for USA soccer?
"For the first time, Copa America comes home; comes north," Webb said. "What football can do is unite the Americas like never before and reach a previously unexplored pinnacle."
Although it is unclear where the matches will be hosted at this point, they are set to take place from June 3 through June 26 in 2016, and clubs have agreed to release their players to ensure a high-level tournament.
Also, the United States and Mexico have already been guaranteed spots. The U.S. did not qualify for the last tournament in 2011, while Mexico was knocked out in the group stage. Uruguay went on to win it.
While North American and South American clubs have tournaments of their own, they are overshadowed by the European Championship. While Euro is still the standard bearer, Copa America has an opportunity to become an elite event.
CONMEBOL president Eugenio Figueredo is excited about the possibilities that this partnership will present, according to Carlisle's report:
This is an irrefutable message that football is able to carry forward the best purposes as well as those who dreamt about football in South America and CONCACAF. We value CONCACAF allowing us to build a joint history and we want to strengthen. [...]
We are making the effort for all counties to bring their best strength. Each country wants to be the champions and so will want to bring their best team. I think all first line players will be part of our selection.
As ESPN's Paul Carr pointed out, Copa America figures to feature many of the world's best teams in 2016:
If best CONCACAF teams qualify, Copa América 2016 would have 11 of top 25 teams in ESPN's Soccer Power Index.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) May 1, 2014
Dan Levy of Bleacher Report also put the announcement into perspective in terms of weight the tournament will carry:
For non-soccer folks, it’s hard to put into words how big Copa America will be. Would give us a major tourney every 2 years, like Euros— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) May 1, 2014
Not only is it great for the South American squads to get some new competition in the form of CONCACAF, but the United States and Mexico will also benefit in a big way.
Neither USA nor Mexico is considered elite at this point, but playing against the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay can help them trend in that direction.
European teams have the advantage of playing each other with great regularity. The United States has some decent competition in CONCACAF, but it can only improve so much from playing Honduras and Costa Rica.
The U.S. will have a chance to see how it measures up outside of the World Cup, and that is a huge victory for American soccer fans.
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