What Does the Copa America 2016 Mean for Soccer in the United States?

The Copa America Centenario 2016 Trophy. (Image: Delta News Hub via flickr/CC BY 2.0)
The Copa America Centenario 2016 Trophy. (Image: Delta News Hub via flickr/CC BY 2.0)

One of the oldest international soccer tournaments, Copa America, is currently in elimination rounds in the United States. As Copa America celebrates its 100th anniversary, it brings 16 teams together from countries through North, Central, and South America.

Ten American cities with stadiums capable of seating 50,000 people at each game are hosting matches, and bringing a new level of soccer enthusiasm to United States sports. The question remains if it can lure more people in the United States who are already addicted to America’s four most popular sports—baseball, basketball, hockey, and football.

In the United States, soccer is still more of a little kids’ weekend activity. When the kids get a little older, they usually move on to the sports America is known for and leave soccer behind.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t contingents of soccer enthusiasts that descend on soccer fields for weekend games, but they’re still in the minority. As much as soccer players in the United States would like it to, it still hasn’t caught on at the professional level in a major way.

The highest level soccer league in America is currently Major League Soccer. As nice as it would be if it did, it doesn’t get nearly as much media attention as the other major sports. The league has 17 teams in the U.S. and three teams in Canada who compete for the MLS Cup at the end of the season.

The MLS started in 1993, and struggled to survive and get Americans interested in attending soccer matches. Over the years, things have turned around, and the MLS has grown along with the sport in America.

But if the results of Copa America continue to create an uproar in the United States, it may encourage even more Americans to pay attention to the potential soccer holds as a professional sport. It can offer the type of hope to soccer fans in the United States that one day a soccer league championship can compete for viewership with the Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals, World Series, or even the Super Bowl.

Copa America is currently heading toward its final round. Two teams are left competing for a spot in the semifinals, after Argentina eliminated the United States. The United States will play again for a chance to win a 3rd place trophy. Then, Argentina will play the winner of the Colombia-Chile match for the championship.

The finals take place on June 26. Out of the 100 years and 45 editions of Copa America, Uruguay holds the most wins at 15, closely followed by Argentina at 14. Brazil is in third place with eight overall wins, but of those teams, only Argentina made it to the quarterfinals this year.

The United States team defeated Ecuador in the quarterfinals, but was defeated by the exceptional play of the Argentinian team in the semifinals. That was right after Venezuela also met defeat by the Lionel Messi-led Argentina team, hungry for victory after their World Cup defeat.

Other quarterfinals matches put Peru and Columbia against each other, while Mexico struggled against Chile.

The American team has been anchored in its defense by strong performances from John Brooks, who basically gets in the way of any player thinking about scoring a goal against the U.S., and Clint Dempsey on offense, kicking in tricky shots over surprised goalkeepers.

Sports Illustrated obtained a quote from team captain Michael Bradley before the frantic quarterfinals match saw one of the best performances by the United States in the tournament.

“Anybody who has watched any of these games in this tournament, it’s not surprising. Then when there’s a few red cards and when Ecuador gets back to 2-1, you know at that point it’s going to be a frantic finish. And style points go out the window. And it’s about the willingness from every guy to do whatever it takes.”

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