Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Your Copa América guide: How to sound smart for all 16 teams


Copa América is here!

For the first time since 2016 and just the second time ever, the championship of South America is actually being played in the good old United States. And as was the case eight years ago, Copa América has turned into something of a Copa Américas, since six representatives from Concacaf are once again joining the 10 Conmebol sides.

Turning the championship of South America into a championship of the Americas is a natural transition. The tournament first expanded in 1993, and naturally the first two invitees were the US and Mexico. This second expansion to 16 teams – four other Concacaf sides qualified alongside the two traditional giants of the region, as in 2016 – is now coming in conjunction with Conmebol deciding to make the Copa a quadrennial affair.

Inconsistent scheduling has always been an issue that’s somewhat dimmed the shine of this tournament. Sometimes it was held every two years, sometimes every three, or four, or in back-to-back years. Once they went six years between tourneys.

But it’s a more consistent affair now, and a bigger one. It’s not yet confirmed that it’ll stay at 16 teams for 2028 and beyond, but if this thing’s a success this summer, I’ve got to imagine this format’s here to stay. At least for a while.

Now that you’ve got that context, it’s time for previews – the types of thorough, leave-no-stone-unturned deep dives that can leave you with some real expertise on the teams involved.

This, to be clear, is not that kind of preview. Rather, this is the kind of preview that gives you just enough to know (or potentially say) about a team to not sound like a complete idiot. Just the bare bones and then maybe a little bit extra if you feel like showing off.



The reigning World Cup champs are also the reigning Copa América champs, and the greatest player in the sport’s history has hinted more than once that this will probably be his final major tournament for the Albiceleste. That’s right, folks – there’s a deeecent chance this is Lionel Messi’s international swan song, so appreciate the Inter Miami megastar while you’ve got him.

Preferred formation: 4-4-1-1ish 4-2-3-1 with Messi going wherever he wants.

Who’s their guy: Messi’s still their guy. But, you know, they’re the world champs. So they’ve got lots of guys.

What to say to sound smart: I know they probably don’t want to have to start Rodrigo de Paul, but Messi’s still at his best when he’s got a bodyguard.


This generation of Los Incas are getting one last bow on a big stage. In 2018, they brought their country back to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years. In Copa América, they’ve made at least the semifinals in four of the last five tournaments.

But now they are old and nailed to the bottom of Conmebol’s World Cup qualifying table. This feels like something of a farewell tour.

Preferred formation: 5-3-2

Who’s their guy: There really isn’t one anymore.

What to say to sound smart: Look for them to tilt to the left whenever they get on the front foot so that former Earthquakes defender Marcos López can offer both width and verticality.


Chile won Copa América for the first time in 2015, and then followed it up by winning the 2016 version as well. The vast majority of the players who made that possible have retired – a couple have still stuck around – and the new crop just don’t have anywhere near the talent or borderline unhinged ruggedness of that golden generation.

Preferred formation: 4-4-2ish 4-2-3-1

Who’s their guy: Alexis Sánchez hasn’t scored or assisted since March 2023, but I’m gonna say he’s still their guy.

What to say to sound smart: If they’re able to run everything through Marcelino Núñez, they will be able to run the game against most of the lesser teams they face. Even if Alexis is, in fact, past it.


The Canadians are making their first Copa América appearance, courtesy of a play-in round triumph over Trinidad & Tobago, which followed both teams’ Nations League campaign (the Nations League was smartly used as Concacaf’s qualifiers for this tournament).

They’re guided by former CF Montréal and New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch, which means lots of pressing.

Preferred formation: 4-2-2-2

Who’s their guy: There’s a non-zero chance left back Alphonso Davies ends up being the best player in the entire tournament. The Vancouver Whitecaps homegrown product is that kind of talent.

What to say to sound smart: Here’s what I wrote for their World Cup blurb 18 months ago: “Sure, [Jonathan] David and Davies are the two best players on the team, but central midfielder Stephen Eustáquio is actually the most important player on the roster.”

Still true, though maybe less so now with the ascent of Ismaël Koné (formerly of CF Montréal). This team’s got serious central midfield talent.



Long the dominant power in Concacaf, El Tri have twice been Copa América runners-up and made it as far as the semis three other times. But those days seem long past (they are factually long past, as their last semis appearance was way back in 2007), and most neutral observers* consider this to be the least talented Mexican national team in forever.

*Including me. I’m just so, so neutral about El Tri. So neutral.

Preferred formation: It’s mostly been a 4-3-3 since Jaime Lozano took over last spring.

Who’s their guy: Forward Santiago Giménez is considered by most to be their guy, even though he’s scored just four times in 27 appearances.

What to say to sound smart: When Mexico were at their very best, they always controlled the game’s tempo no matter who they played. Edson Álvarez isn’t that kind of No. 6, and the midfielders around him don’t seem to have that gene, either. As a team, they’ve lost their identity.


La Tricolor were a regional afterthought in the 20th century. In the 21st, they’ve become more competitive by qualifying for four of the past six World Cups.

They’ve yet to really break through with a memorable Copa performance, however, with just a pair of fourth-place finishes – the most recent in 1993 – to show for their efforts.

Preferred formation: Mostly been a pretty standard 4-2-3-1

Who’s their guy: Look, I could say the excellent center back Piero Hincapié or the excellent-er central midfielder Moisés Caicedo. But this column’s supposed to be fun, so, dammit, I’m gonna say 17-year-old No. 10 Kendry Páez, who’s one of the handful of best teenagers in the whole damn world.

What to say to sound smart: Over the past 30 years Ecuador’s produced a lot of rugged, battling midfielders and defenders, along with some speedy and tricky 1v1 wingers. Now, with Caicedo and Páez, they’ve got the chance to level up and become a ball-dominant team that can go toe-to-toe with anyone.


Venezuela are traditionally 10th out of 10 in Conmebol. They’re the only country in the region never to have qualified for the World Cup, and they’ve only made it as far as the semis in Copa América once. Their all-time record in the competition is 8W-45L-17D with a -128 goal differential.

But right now they sit fourth in World Cup qualifying. This current group is doing things.

Preferred formation: It’s mostly been a 4-2-3-1, but they did pop out a 3-4-2-1 in a friendly vs. Honduras this month. You’ve been warned.

Who’s their guy: Yangel Herrera is their guy! He’s been a star for them since leading his country to a runner-up finish at the 2017 U-20 World Cup (beating the US along the way). The former New York City FC midfielder is just awesome – everything you could want in a box-to-box role, as he showed with an excellent Girona side in LaLiga this season.

What to say to sound smart: Watch as Yeferson Soteldo (ex-Toronto FC) pinches in off that left wing to become a playmaker in half space. Cristian Cásseres Jr. (ex-RBNY) has got to provide some off-ball penetration to make that rotation effective.


Six games, six losses, zero goals scored from their previous two Copa América trips, so things can’t possibly get worse with this one. And they shouldn’t, as the Reggae Boyz’ roster is now stocked with England-born dual nationals who have been proving their mettle in Concacaf over the past couple of years. They’re veterans on both sides of the pond now.

Preferred formation: They’ve alternated between a 3-4-2-1 and a 4-4-2 diamond of late.

Who’s their guy: It would be Leon Bailey, but even though he’s on the final roster the Jamaican federation submitted, he ain’t gonna be there.

Personally, I’m a big Shamar Nicholson guy.

What to say to sound smart: Don’t expect this team to mess too much with build-up play. Do expect them to be smart and compact defensively, and ruthlessly opportunistic playing forward through their strikers and wingers.


United States

The youngest team at the 2022 World Cup finally has a handful of key players aging into their respective primes, which traditionally is a requirement for winning trophies at tournaments as significant as Copa América.

They’ve done it repeatedly against Concacaf foes, but this is a sterner test. Their good performances in Qatar 18 months ago were all inflected with naivete. Is that gone yet?

Preferred formation: 4-3-3 single pivot that is more often flexing into a 4-2-3-1 with a true No. 10 (Gio Reyna) these days. Mexico learned that to their horror in March’s Nations League final.

Who’s their guy: Christian Pulisic is probably their guy, but Matt Turner needed to be their guy in last week’s landmark draw vs. Brazil. It was nice to see Turner play that well again.

Truth is, though, Reyna’s the most talented player in the squad, and is in a much better place – both physically and mentally – than he was heading into Qatar. If he goes out there, stays healthy and is their guy game after game after game, the US will cook.

What to say to sound smart: They created a ton of verticality at the World Cup but too often failed to turn those moments into chances, let alone goals. If they have figured out how to be more effective in transition – looking your way, Pulisic and Reyna – they could beat anyone in the field.


It’s still jarring to look on the sideline and not see the legendary Óscar Tabárez, who was Uruguay’s manager from 2006 to 2021 – an eternity in any managerial position. After cycling through two more coaches in rapid succession, the even more legendary Marcelo Bielsa is now calling the shots.

That means fast-paced, physical, relentless soccer with a frankly jarring amount of man-marking. Oh, and for the first time in more than a decade, it won’t be Edinson Cavani or Luis Suárez leading the line (though Suárez is at the tournament).

Preferred formation: It’s Bielsa. They’ll flex from a 4-1-4-1 to a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 at the drop of a hat depending upon what the opponent does.

Who’s their guy: They’ve got so many guys, from the front line to the back, and because of that, they’re one of the three favorites to win this thing. Force me to pick one, though, and it’s midfielder Fede Valverde, the heir to the great Tony Kroos in Real Madrid’s midfield. Though Darwin Núñez, who’s the new focal point No. 9, is going to get the most pub.

What to say to sound smart: It’s funny that, after 100 years, Uruguay actually play the most attractive, attacking soccer of any team in Conmebol. They’ll still grind you down but man, if you let them start knocking the ball around, they won’t have to. They’ll just drop four on you and call it a day.


Panama’s probably still more of a baseball country than a soccer country, though that’s changed a bit over the past quarter century. In large part that’s thanks to a golden generation of players that 1) first made them relevant in Concacaf, and 2) finally qualified for a World Cup in 2018, the country’s first.

Those guys are gone now, and this new generation has already distinguished itself with a runners-up finish in the 2023 Gold Cup and a semifinal appearance in this year’s Nations League.

Preferred formation: It’s mostly been a 5-4-1, though there’s been some 4-2-3-1 as well.

Who’s their guy: Coco Carrasquilla! I love Coco Carrasquilla:

Dude was the best player at the 2023 Gold Cup.

What to say to sound smart: If Eduardo Guerrero can drag the opposing center backs around, Panama’s wingers will hit those gaps and make their way into the box. And Coco’s good enough to find them against anyone.


It feels like a million years since the great Marco Etcheverry led La Verde to a runners-up finish on home turf back in 1997, which was the last time Bolivia were really relevant. They’ve since managed to get out of the group stage at Copa América just once, and haven’t come close to qualifying for the World Cup. It looks to be the case once again for 2026.

Preferred formation: 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 3-4-2-1… they’re all over the map.

Who’s their guy: I regret to inform you that they do not have a guy.

What to say to sound smart: Zago’s brought one of the youngest squads in the tournament, and seems determined to have them play a little more ambitiously than past groups. It almost feels like his eye’s more on 2028 than 2024, and that level of planning and stability would be a great thing for this program.



Believe it or not, Brazil are only the third-most successful team in Copa history. They’ve got nine titles, while Uruguay and Argentina each have 15. Pretty wild, right?

This group doesn’t seem ready to bring them a 10th. They currently sit sixth in World Cup qualifying and weren’t great in their warm-up friendlies despite having, on balance, more talent than any other team on the planet.

Preferred formation: Probably a 4-2-3-1. Maybe a 4-3-3.

Who’s their guy: With Real Madrid, Vinícius Júnior has won three LaLigas, three SuperCopas de Espana, two Champions Leagues, two Club World Cups, one Copa del Rey and UEFA SuperCup. He has scored 83 goals and handed out 75 assists in 264 games for his club, all before the age of 24, and is, at worst, the third-best player in the world right now.

Vinícius Júnior with Brazil has 3g/5a in 30 games. It’s wild.

What to say to sound smart: The Seleção are at their best these days when they’re pressing way upfield and turning defense into offense. They can still dance on the ball individually, but the big, flowing movements of past versions? That’s definitely not their strength.


Arguably the hottest team in the world right now, Los Cafeteros are 22 games unbeaten, including a 3W-0L-3D record in Conmebol World Cup qualifying. And there's also an absolute hiding of a good US side 10 days back, stuffing them in a body bag in a 5-1 final.

They’ve buried the shame and disappointment of 2022’s qualifying failure. If anyone’s going to knock off the three favorites, Colombia feel like the best bet.

Preferred formation: 4-3-3 that flexes into a 4-3-1-2 depending upon what sort of midfield spaces James Rodríguez is sniffing out.

Who’s their guy: James – the last of the classic No. 10s – is still their guy. In a better world, he was Inter Miami’s original DP signing five years ago.

What to say to sound smart: Colombia don’t have the top-to-bottom talent of the three favorites, but their pieces fit together perfectly all over the field and because of that they’re always in the game. And then, because of James, they’re always just one touch from breaking the game open.


Starting in 1998, Los Guaraníes made four straight World Cups and got out of the group stage in three of them. That golden generation then brought their success to the Copa, making it to the 2011 final (under Tata Martino!) before getting stomped by Uruguay.

Since then, they’ve failed to qualify for the World Cup and have won just one Copa knockout game. And this roster is largely composed of guys who’ve been central to this disappointing past dozen years.

Preferred formation: They’ve bounced between a 4-4-2, a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 over the past year.

Who’s their guy: Former Atlanta United star Miguel Almirón is their guy! Though young No. 10 Julio Enciso might have something to say about that by the time this thing wraps up.

What to say to sound smart: Don’t expect them to come upfield unless they’re desperate. Almirón’s open-field speed is still their greatest weapon, so they’ll likely trade possession and field position for space to attack into.

Costa Rica

The Ticos burst onto the world stage in 1990 when they not only qualified for the World Cup for the first time, but actually made it out of the knockout rounds. Since then, they’ve been almost constant participants.

They have generally done it playing some of the most rugged and aesthetically unpleasant soccer in the known universe. Generation after generation was schooled to just grind the game into dust. Though it did feel, at Qatar 2022, like the talent gap was suddenly far too wide to overcome.

Preferred formation: 5-4-1 with everyone behind the ball. Good luck breaking them down and watch your shins.

Who’s their guy: In theory, center forward Manfred Ugalde is their guy.

What to say to sound smart: Second balls in front of their own backline are actually Costa Rica’s best weapon, because they always let the weak-side wingback leak out in transition. Give them enough chances in the open field like that, and they will make you pay.