SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Part of what makes the Copa America Centenario so exciting for fans is its once-in-a-lifetime appeal. The US is not only taking part in South America’s premier soccer tournament, but hosting it as well.
But what if that weren’t so uncommon?
If the Copa America is as big a success as many observers believe it can be, there will undoubtedly be more talk about potential partnerships -- or perhaps even a merger -- between the South American confederation, CONMEBOL, and their northern counterparts, CONCACAF.
Logistical issues aside, such a move would represent a massive shift in standing for the US team, which would go from being a perennial power, along with Mexico, to a team trying to keep up with some of the best sides in the world. CONMEBOL currently boasts six of the top 12 teams in FIFA’s world rankings.
That includes third-ranked Colombia, who face the US in the tournament’s opening match on Friday night at Levi’s Stadium (9:30 pm ET, FS1).
“It’s a huge tournament, a prestigious tournament to be a part of, and for us to host it,” US goalkeeper Brad Guzan told reporters Tuesday. “We know it’s going to be a test for us in terms of rising to the challenge against these good teams. We’re probably not the favorites to win the tournament, whereas in [World Cup] qualifying and certain games, we’re probably expected to win more of those games than not.”
While the level of competition in World Cup qualifiers for a combined CONMEBOL/CONCACAF entity would increase, so too would the number of slots in the finals. CONMEBOL has four guaranteed berths in the 2018 edition, while CONCACAF gets at least three representatives. Both groups have a chance for an additional team to qualify through inter-confederation playoffs.
Houston Dynamo left back DaMarcus Beasley, a veteran of four World Cup campaigns, is in the no-change camp.
“I think the system is fine where it’s at,” Beasley said. “I don't think there’s any problems with it. All the teams have a fair shot at trying to get to the World Cup. I don't think it should change.”
Whatever the future holds for CONCACAF, this tournament represents a rare chance for the US to measure themselves against some of the world’s best in full competition at the very midpoint between two World Cups.
“It’s full of quality,” US coach Jurgen Klinsmann said of Colombia’s roster. “If you look where the players play, what clubs, then yeah, you have to admit that this is a different caliber. This is, for us, a huge, huge benchmark. This is, for us, an opportunity to show them, ‘Hey, we are ready for you. You may be playing for Juventus or AC Milan or Inter Milan or Real Madrid, but we are here to get you.’”