South American soccer governing body CONMEBOL will hold a special Copa America tournament in 2016 in the United States to commemorate the organization's 100th year.
CONMEBOL said at a meeting of its executive committee in the Argentine capital Wednesday that the tournament would include the 10 South American confederation teams, plus the United States, Mexico and four others from the CONCACAF region, which comprises North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The event will take place between the 2015 and 2019 Copa America tournaments.
CONMEBOL said in a statement that the four CONCACAF teams would be added according to their rankings in the Gold Cup, the CONCACAF regional championship.
CONMEBOL said the event will be played in July, but offered few other details. It's the first time the event will be played outside South America and could be a huge financial success showcasing Brazil and Argentina to North American fans.
Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Neymar, Oscar and Radamel Falcao are among the international stars who could represent South American teams.
The event will go head-to-head with the 2016 European championship in France, which will be expanded to 24 teams for the first time.
CONMEBOL also said Japan and Mexico will play in the 2015 Copa America as guest teams.
Uruguay won the 2011 Copa America, which was played in Argentina.
CONCACAF, which represents North and Central America and the Caribbean, holds its Gold Cup championship in odd-numbered years. Since 2007, South America's Copa America has been held every four years in the summers following World Cups. There have been two outside invitees since 1993, mostly from CONCACAF.
This is really exciting. The story doesn't say, but I'm assuming this will be an officially recognized tournament and clubs will have to release their players for the competition.
More negotiations are needed before Copa America, the championship tournament for South America, is staged in the United States in 2016.
An announcement that the tournament would take place in the United States was made Wednesday by CONMEBOL, the confederation overseeing South American soccer. But it was premature, according to CONCACAF, which runs the sport in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
"While the idea of a centennial tournament with some of the best teams in the hemisphere is certainly intriguing, it is not something we have agreed to host or participate in at this time," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said Thursday. "As CONCACAF stated, there are still a number of discussions that need to take place with CONMEBOL. U.S. Soccer would also need to be involved in discussions about hosting the tournament. We're looking forward to those discussions in the near future."
In July, CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb met with executive committee members of CONMEBOL in Sao Paulo to discuss collaborative opportunities between the two confederations. Among the items explored was the staging of a special Copa America in 2016 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of CONMEBOL that would involve CONCACAF's partnership and participation.
"Even though playing the 2016 Copa America in the CONCACAF region with our teams and those from CONMEBOL would be a wonderful experience for all fans, we are still in the midst of talks and negotiations between all parties involved in this decision," said Enrique Sanz, CONCACAF's general secretary. "This is an idea we are hoping to materialize, but we are still evaluating and discussing before it becomes official, but the intention is definitely there."
CONMEBOL said in its statement that a proposed tournament would include the 10 South American confederation teams, plus the United States, Mexico and four others from the CONCACAF region, which comprises North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The news was greeted by fans as a win-win on a multitude of levels. It would give the tournament a clear shot of adrenalin, especially given the game's expanding profile in North America. Factor in the United States' historical support for big events and the growing U.S. interest in competitions like the European championships, and you have a tournament that is bound to be well-attended.
A major problem with the proposal, pointed out by ESPN blogger Jeff Carlisle here, is that this would greatly diminish that year's Gold Cup, which is relied upon for a huge chunk of the funding to CONCACAF nations' youth development systems. Surely money to be had from this event can be used to offset that, and it's just a matter of negotiating with CONMEBOL.
A more alarming question, also raised by Carlise, is this:
The synergy of holding a Pan-American tournament seems obvious, given the depth of passion for the game in Central and North America and the size of the added markets. For that reason it's a wonder that the decision to create an expanded tournament wasn't made earlier.
But those reasons began to bubble to the surface on Thursday. For one, the tournament is not yet on FIFA's calendar, meaning clubs wouldn't be obligated to release players for a competition that would rely heavily on star power to make it compelling. Given that players would already be stretched thin by tournaments such as the 2015 Copa America and the 2017 Confederations Cup, not to mention World Cup qualifying, this would be no easy task. The 2016 Copa America would probably overlap with Euro 2016, meaning that the game's power brokers in Europe would likely take a dim view of having a direct competitor for media attention and money from sponsors. No doubt, they will make this known to the FIFA bigwigs in Zurich.
This would not be a regularly scheduled tournament - the Copa America is typically scheduled the year after each World Cup. If they can't get FIFA to put it on the official calendar and force clubs to release players, they might as well not do it.