Neymar greets in Brazil training

The 2016 Summer Olympics are now underway, with the women's and men's soccer competitions kicking off on Wednesday and Thursday across Brazil. And while both the United States and Canada Under-23 teams failed to manage to book a spot in the men's tournament, North American fans still have plenty of reasons to tune in, and ample means of watching the action thanks to extensive TV and streaming coverage.


Here's a few reasons to watch Olympic men's soccer:

The Olympics are different


Over the years FIFA has shown wariness towards this tournament, fearing that it might threaten the primacy of the World Cup, as unlikely as such a scenario may sound. That's part of why the men's event is limited to U-23 squads, plus three overage roster slots per team. It's also a big factor in why teams sport different logos than their usual crest, and in many cases don't even wear their usual kits.


But there's much to celebrate in the distinctions. Olympic tournaments often feature new faces from outside the sport's traditional elite, with the likes of Mexico, Cameroon and Nigeria having won gold over the past two decades, and it generally rewards generators of young talent. This year we'll watch relative outsiders like Iraq, Fiji, South Africa and Honduras crash the party.


Plus, soccer at the Olympics is part of something bigger, just one thread (though a prominent one) in a rich sporting tapestry, despite much of the tournament being played outside the host city. Players are drawn to that, and the opportunities and experiences it offers. South Korea even exempts medal winners from compulsory military service. They also gain new audiences, especially in countries like the United States, where Olympic fever infects even non-sports fans.


The Passion of Neymar


Brazil's biggest soccer star is the feature attraction for the host nation's team, and sat out the Copa America Centenario in order to take part. Given his country's sporting proclivities, he's naturally become one of the biggest faces of the entire Olympiad and the public pressure has been piled on even more than usual. Why? Because amazingly, the nation that has collected more World Cups than any other has never managed to win Olympic gold – and bear in mind, soccer has been a medal sport since 1900.


Everything is lined up for Neymar to lead the Seleção's stable of young talent to glory on home turf this month. He has the help of blue-chip starlets like Gabriel Jesus (who just inked a reported $35 million January move to Manchester City) and Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa (the 19-year-old on the wish lists of Juventus, Inter Milan and many other elite European clubs). But the bitter sting of their stunning 2014 World Cup failure still lingers for a frustrated fanbase.


Who conducts the next hype train?


Like any big international event, the Olympics are a shop window for professional clubs around the world. While millions may already be familiar with names like the Brazilians mentioned above, new ones will rise to seize the spotlight this month, and possibly transform their careers and lives in the process.

Five rings: Reasons to watch the 2016 Olympic men's soccer tournament - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_landscape/s3/images/Chucky-Lozano,-Mex.png

Mexico's gold rush at London 2012 was both a breakthrough achievement to cap a slow-building developmental renaissance and a priceless showcase for up-and-comers like Hector Herrera, Marco Fabian and Raul Jimenez. MLS watchers know all about
Erick "Cubo" Torres
by now, but will
El Tri
wing prodigy
Hirving Lozano
 (pictured above) be next? Or Germany's playmaker
Max Meyer
? Or from even further out in left field, could it be striker
Iosefo Verevou
of Olympic Cinderellas Fiji?

Here is this weekend's Olympic men's soccer schedule:


Sunday, August 7

Noon: C1. Fiji vs. C3. Mexico at Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador (Telemundo, NBC Olympic Soccer Channel)
2 p.m.: D1. Honduras vs. D4. Portugal at Olympic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro (Telemundo)
3 p.m.: C4. Germany vs. C2. South Korea at Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador (NBCSN, NBC Olympic Soccer Channel)
5 p.m.: D4. Argentina vs. D2. Algeria at Olympic Stadium, Rio de Janeiro (CNBC, NBC Universo)
6 p.m.: A4. Denmark vs. A2. South Africa at Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, Brasilia (NBCOlympics.com)
6 p.m.: B1. Sweden vs. B3. Nigeria at Arena Amazônia, Manaus (NBCOlympics.com)
9 p.m.: A1. Brazil vs. A3. Iraq at Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, Brasilia (NBCSN, NBC Olympic Soccer Channel)
9 p.m.: B4. Japan vs. B2. Colombia at Arena Amazônia, Manaus (NBC Universo)