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May 062014

index CONCACAF and CONMEBOL: Copa America Friends With Benefits


One of the funny things about working two jobs is that it almost always seems like my phone blows up for one job while I am at the other. Whenever I am drafting an article at lunch, I seem to get 10-15 calls from people needing assistance with their government background investigations (I work as a Security Coordinator for a private contractor. It is as exciting as it sounds). But whenever I am at the 9 to 5, I always seem to get calls or emails from fellow journalists in the soccer world. It is part of the joy of working two jobs in very different careers.

The reason why I mention this was because while I was busy reviewing fingerprints on Thursday I received a flurry of texts and tweets. To summarize the deluge, let me put it down to one sentence:


While I had known that the Copa America would be coming to the United States in 2016, it had not really set in yet. The only subject that might have more rumors than football is perhaps soap operas. It seems like every week there is some preposterous rumor going around the footballing world. Far too many trees have been chopped down to cover “Wayne Rooney is leaving Manchester United” rumors over the years. Likewise here in the United States pretty much every fading football star has been lined up to play in MLS. So I take any rumor with a grain of salt until it finally happens.

So while the soccer world was reveling in the joy of the Copa America coming to the United States, I was working on fingerprints. And as I was thinking about this news that CONMEBOL’s regional tournament would be coming to the U.S. and that CONCACAF teams would be joining in on the 100th anniversary of the competition, one thought kept running through my head:
Who does this benefit?

There are three groups of people that should, in theory, benefit from this position: the United States, CONCACAF, and CONMEBOL.
Having finally had the opportunity to listen to Jeffrey Webb, the President of CONCACAF, Sunil Gulati, the President of the U.S. Soccer Federation, and Eugenio Figueredo, the President of CONMEBOL speech their thinking appears to be that this tournament will benefit North American and Central American soccer, that it will improve the game here in the United States, that it will be the biggest thing since World Cup 1994, and that it will unify the continents.

But these are blanket statements that pretty much every club and international team says when they come to the United States. You will see international teams come to the States, do a press tour, pass a couple of balls to the kids, play the match, and then leave. CONMEBOL is no different than Spain, Manchester United, Real Madrid, or any other club that has come here to the United States for the past fifty years. So is there really any more of a benefit for the average fan seeing Brazil than it does seeing Real Madrid? It is kind of a push really.

So from a CONCACAF standpoint, does this tournament really benefit anyone any more than the countries that are traditionally being invited to the same competition in a far more difficult environment? This deal also leaves out some very important historical information: the United States and CONCACAF teams already routinely play in the Copa America and against CONMEBOL opponents. Since 1994, there have been at least 2-3 CONCACAF teams in every Copa America. Mexico is pretty much a participant in every Copa America while sides like Honduras, Costa Rica, and the United States are routinely in the competition.

If this tournament were to truly benefit CONCACAF, why are matches only being held in the United States? Why not hold matches in Canada and Mexico? Webb made a rather interesting comment this week on the CONCACAF’s Gold Cup when he said “I don’t think the Gold Cup should always be in one country. It’s the best tournament in the area and all members should be able to hold that prize. The decision to have it in the United States has been solely for financial reasons.” And yet here we are on the same week and CONCACAF is announcing a major tournament that will only be taking place in the USA.

So this tournament really does not benefit the top level clubs in CONCACAF because they are already routinely invited to the tournament. But what about the lower level countries? According to the tournament guidelines, clubs who win the Caribbean Championship and the UNCAF Championship this year, as well as the top two clubs in CONCACAF who do not automatically qualify, will make the tournament. That means teams like El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago will have a chance to play against South America’s best.

How will these clubs do against Brazil and Argentina? Considering the talent level and resource difference, Brazil and Argentina should crush the minnows of CONCACAF. Perhaps the most interesting piece of news is that clubs like Guyana and Suriname, who are actually in South America, will have a chance to play in their continent’s tournament albeit in another continent.

As for the Stars and Stripes, U.S. Men’s National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann will probably make a comment in the next day or two saying how playing against competition from South America is good for the United States because it brings a new a challenge to the club, which is true. Anytime you get the chance to play Brazil or Argentina is a good thing.

However, how does this tournament benefit the United States any more than the previous 17 friendlies that have been scheduled over the past ten years against CONMEBOL teams? Wouldn’t the real challenge be going to Montevideo in Uruguay and playing Uruguay or playing Colombia in Bogota? This isn’t the Copa America where the U.S. has to play in some of the most famous parks in South America. It is the Copa America in sterile Dallas Stadium with a giant bloody T.V. and nine dollar beers.

Without question this tournament will be a tremendous success. Both Argentina and Brazil have a large presences here in the United States. Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay are four very strong soccer countries that should be very entertaining to watch. And Bolivia, Peru, and Venezuela are certainly very capable teams. These are also countries where players take national team service very seriously so one would expect plenty of interested players.

But in a window where players will have played in a Copa America in 2015, the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, the South American club season, and World Cup Qualifying it seems a little hopeful that players will bring their ‘A’ game to what amounts to an exhibition tournament. If you are F.C. Barcelona and you have a 29 year old Messi, do you want him playing in a third international tournament in as many years? Players and club teams have priorities, including their own international friendlies. This tournament might not be at the top of the list

Aside from those things that you can’t put a price on, like the glory of competition and unifying the continents, there are some things that we can put a price on from this tournament. All three parties stand to make a ton of money off of this tournament. If the tournament is a success and it helps further develop football programs in places like Haiti, Guyana, and Belize. But if it is a tournament where the strong get stronger and the minnows get beaten and humiliated then there is no difference between the 2016 Copa America and a random friendly in March.

The Copa America can be one of the most compelling tournaments in all of football. This tournament could be as well. But those that benefit will need to turn this into the Copa America and not just another money-grab by the powers of football.

This special relationship set up by CONCACAF and CONMEBOL should certainly benefit someone. But are the benefits going to go to the people who need it?

Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today, Soccerly, D.C. Soccer, Soccer Without Limits, and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

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