NEW YORK – Hosting the biggest soccer event on its shores since the 1994 World Cup, the United States will have to do it the hard way simply to keep their participation going beyond the group stage. At the draw for the Copa América Centenario at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom on Sunday, the United States men’s national team was paired with Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay in Group A.
As hosts, the U.S. had been given the advantage of being one of the four seeds in the 100th anniversary edition of South America’s championship, combining the 10 teams from South America as well as six from the North, Central América and Caribbean region. However, it was handed arguably the toughest draw available. With two teams to progress to the quarterfinals from each of the four groups, the U.S. will battle it out with two quarterfinalists from the 2014 World Cup, Colombia and Costa Rica, as well as a Paraguay team that has made a strong start to 2018 World Cup qualifying.
It is a particularly tough assignment for coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who is under pressure after a shock early exit at last year’s Gold Cup and a subsequent defeat to Mexico to miss out on a trip to the 2017 Confederations Cup.
For the U.S. and Klinsmann, though, a difficult draw in a major tournament is nothing new. In Brazil for the last World Cup, the U.S. was dropped in what was instantly deemed the “Group of Death,” alongside, Germany, Portugal and Ghana, and prevailed.
“Obviously it’s a difficult group, no doubt about it, but it’s doable,” Klinsmann said afterward. “We had a similar scenario in Brazil and we went through. So now we start with Colombia right away instead of Ghana. We start right on our toes with the opening whistle in Santa Clara, it’s exciting.”
That game against Colombia in Santa Clara, California, on June 3 will be the curtain raiser for an event which will take in 10 cities over the course of three weeks and is expected to be attended by two million fans.
Mexico can be guaranteed a huge percentage of that support in a country that has become its second home for international fixtures. El Tri faces a tricky opening match against the most successful side in Copa América history, 14-time champion Uruguay, which is set to be spearheaded by Luis Suárez , fresh from serving his long international suspension for a notorious biting incident at the 2014 World Cup. Alongside them in Group C, will be the team Mexico beat in the final of last year’s Gold Cup, Jamaica, as well as Venezuela.
Chile enters the tournament as the holders after claiming its country’s first ever international title on home soil last year. But, curiously, it was not seeded, and has paid the price by being put in a group with the team it beat in the 2015 Copa América final, Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Joining them in Group D will be Panama and Bolivia.
Brazil, looking for much-needed positivity following humiliation at the World Cup on home soil and disappointment at the 2015 Copa América will face off against Ecuador, Haiti and Peru. It remains to be seen, though, whether Brazil will have talisman Neymar available.
With the tournament following hot on the heels of last year’s Copa América and right before the 2016 Olympics, there has been much discussion about whether the South Américan teams, in particular, would bring their strongest teams to the event. Klinsmann, at least, is convinced that will happen.
“I think we all want to see the best players from South América,” he said. “We can’t wait to have James Rodríguez , here, Messi, Neymar, all these wonderful players showcasing themselves in the us. They all have to come with their best players. They will [be here], there’s no doubt about it.”