Philly Sports Live

US May Host Hemispheric Mega-Tournament in 2016

Lionel Messi of Argentina contests the ball against Landon Donovan & Michael Bradley in a 2011 match. Photo Courtesy of Zygos


A soccer tournament one hundred years in the making is coming to the United States.  Or is it?

Surprise has been the order of the last two days in western-hemisphere soccer circles, as the Confederacion Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL), the governing body for soccer in South America announced Wednesday that it had finally reached an agreement with its opposite number to the north, the Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) to stage a long rumored joint tournament in the United States in 2016.  Today however, word came down from US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati that significant hurdles remain in organizing the tournament, and that no formal agreement had been reached.

According to CONMEBOL, the Copa America Centario would be held in venues across the United States in July 2016.  A celebration of the 100th anniversary of the prestigious Copa America, the South American Championship comparable to the UEFA Euro Championship, the Centario would be contested by a 16 team field: the ten CONMEBOL nations, the United States, Mexico and four other representatives of CONCACAF.  North American nations have traditionally been invited to contest the Copa America as guests; the United States has done so three times, most recently in 2007.

Properly managed, the proposed Centario would have the possibility to surpass the success of the 1994 World Cup, still the benchmark for attendance and profitability for a soccer tournament.  The availability of US football stadiums, the large immigrant communities within the country, and the opportunity to see players such as Argentina’s Lionel Messi & Brasil’s Neymar match up against Javier Hernandez, Michael Bradley & North America’s best will ensure sellout crowds across the country.

The establishment of a hemispheric tournament to compete with the Euros and World Cup has been one of the stated objectives of newly installed CONCACAF General Secretary Enrique Sanz, himself a Columbian with close ties to South American Football through his former employer Traffic Sports.  Traffic controls broadcast rights for a number of nations in both confederations including Brasil, and would likely be involved in media deals regarding the Centario.

As Mr. Gulati said today, there are significant hurdles still to be overcome before the Centario could become reality.  The normally scheduled Copa America and Gold Cups would still have to be held in 2015 to determine entrants for the Confederations Cup.  Early stages of World Cup Qualifying in both confederations would have to be rescheduled or amended.

Most importantly, FIFA would have to approve the establishment of the tournament, and determine if international dates would be altered to compel clubs to release players for international duty.  With the Euros being held the same year this may be a bridge too far for some leagues. The expected retirement of embattled FIFA President Sepp Blatter following the 2014 World Cup is another major factor, as the debate over the Centario may prove an early bellwether of the emerging divisions in FIFA’s leadership.

Grant Wahl has reported tat the earliest the FIFA executive committee could vote on these issues would be their scheduled meeting in early December.

Stick with Philly Sports Live for updates on the Centario as the story develops.