Copa America Centenario dream for United States

The Copa America Centenario kicks off this Friday with the hosts United States inviting some of South America’s finest talents to compete in the 45th edition in the tournament’s history.

Reigning champions Chile will be looking to defend their title after they upset favourites Argentina 4-2 on penalties last year. For the first time in the competition’s history, the Copa America Centenario will be held outside of South America in celebration of the 100th year of the CONMEBOL federation.

It’s no secret that South America is home to some of the games most exotic and passionate footballers and supporters. Spectators will be elevated to see the likes of Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez, Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez descend on America’s shores as they look to lead their country to glory over the next month.

Despite being a tradition of the tournament, the format for the knock-out stages of the tournament has been kept in place for the Centenario. This will see teams skip extra-time and move on straight to penalty shoot-outs at the end of regular time

The news of United States hosting the tournament in such a big year caused dejection from some of the South American nations. Both Argentina and Uruguay threatened to boycott the tournament, with Argentina citing the America’s political situation as their reason to withdraw its national team from the Centenario. In a quick turnaround, the Argentina FA retracted their claim and played down the possibility of withdrawing its national team from the competition in June.

The United States goes in to the Copa America Centenario as CONCAF’s second ranked team with North American neighbours Mexico claiming top spot. The Americans will be hoping to put on a better showing since their last Copa America back in 2007. Bob Bradley’s side finished dead last in their group, which included a heavy 4-1 loss to eventual runners-up Argentina that featured a young Lionel Messi.

To add to their pressure as hosts, US manager Jürgen Klinsmann stares down the barrel of the gun after a poor run of poor performances. Anything less than a semi-final birth would be deemed as a failure for the host nation. Reaching the semi-final will definitely be a tough task for The Stars and Stripes, but Klinsmann will hope that an abundance of youth and experience in his side will get them over the line. Klinsmann has added ammo to his arsenal with the inclusions of Borussia Dortmund young gun (17-year old) Christian Pulisic and San Jose Earthquakes veteran (33-year old) Chris Wondoloski. Wondoloski could be the sleeping giant and surprise package for the US, after scoring seven goals from 12 appearances. The United States have been grouped with Costa Rica, Colombia and Paraguay, dubbing it as the ‘group of death’ by the various media outlets.

In true fashion, the Copa America Centenario will show off its fine display of world-class talent playing in some of Europe’s best leagues. Whether it’s the sheer precision of finishing accuracy in Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani or the abundance of experience in players such as Rafael Marquez and Tim Howard, we’re bound to see the new generation of talent coming through North and South America. Christian Pulisic is clear example. Breaking in to the starting eleven of German giants Borussia Dortmund, Pulisic will make his major tournament debut in his home nation. The 17-year old offers the USMNT a burst of vibrancy and eagerness to their side as he’ll be looking to make an impact in a young and determined United States side.

Even though it has been less than a year since the last Copa America, the Centenario couldn’t come any quicker. The passion and exuberance shown by the fans of the competing nations was entirely infectious and just showed how much football means to the people of this region of the world.

Let the games begin.

Ben Owusu