The US will host the 2024 Copa America, a pivotal opportunity for USMNT


Chile won the recent Copa America hosted by the United States in 2016. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Arguably the most competitive international football tournament outside of the World Cup, Copa America 2024 will be played in the United States – and the US men’s national team is likely to take part.

CONMEBOL, the South American football association, and CONCACAF, its North and Central American equivalent, announced the plan on Friday as part of a new “strategic cooperation agreement”.

The men’s Copa America, which normally features the 10 South American national teams and two guests, will expand to 16 teams in 2024 and welcome six from CONCACAF.

Those six will qualify via the 2023-24 CONCACAF Nations League – meaning the USA is not guaranteed a place at the tournament. But the USMNT — along with Mexico and Canada — is favored to earn a spot.

The tournament is likely to offer the three North American nations the most leveraged matches – and therefore need not qualify for – until the 2026 World Cup, which they will co-host.

While the 2026 World Cup games will be split between the three nations, the 2024 Copa America games will be played exclusively in the United States – in many of the same cities and stadiums that will greet the world two years later.

The competition will return to the United States just eight summers after its last visit, but on different terms. The 2016 Copa America Centenario was a one-off fiesta officially hosted by the United States. It brought in around $80 million in profit for the US Soccer Association.

The 2024 edition, on the other hand, is a regular Copa America, moving north because no South American country wanted to host it. It’s operated by CONMEBOL and technically hosted by CONCACAF and not US Soccer – meaning the US lucky break will be limited.

Hosting duties are normally assigned to one of the 10 CONMEBOL members on a rotating basis. In 2024 it was Ecuador’s turn. But Ecuador declined a nomination, and CONMEBOL went into 2023 without an agreed host.

The 2024 Copa America could be the last major tournament where Lionel Messi plays for Argentina. La Albiceleste won the 2021 tournament in Brazil. (Photo by Gustavo Pagano/Getty Images

CONCACAF and its most powerful federations, meanwhile, were scrambling for meaningful matches in 2024 and 2025. And “obviously,” as US Soccer CEO JT Batson told some reporters two weeks ago, “Copa America is hellish good. “

Batson also mentioned that while he was in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, he kept hearing from other associations: “A lot of people want to play football in our country. We have very passionate fans, we have great facilities and of course with the World Cup coming here the teams want to explore everything.”

A North American hosting arrangement made too much sense. Talks intensified after the 2022 World Cup and an agreement was reached this week.

The agreement extends beyond the Copa America and men’s football to include women’s and men’s football. CONCACAF will open its first women’s championship, the W Gold Cup, to four South American teams in 2024. This tournament is also held in the United States.

CONMEBOL and CONCACAF are also hoping to launch a ‘last four’ style club competition in 2024, featuring the top two teams from each region.

But the headliner is the Copa America, which could be Lionel Messi’s last major tournament with Argentina. It will at least bring the reigning world champions and a host of other stars to the US

It will also be a critical benchmark for the USMNT, perhaps the first and most important under a new coach. It will be an opportunity to assess the progress and staff at the halfway point between the 2022 and 2026 World Cups. It will also make the vacant positions of sporting director, general manager and head coach of US Soccer more attractive to potential candidates.

This was a top priority for US Soccer, who is leaving Qatar, as part of its review of the USMNT program.

“Obviously there is a lot of emphasis on who is the head coach of the men’s or women’s national team. But as part of our review, we’re looking at this broadly,” Batson said Jan. 13 at the United Soccer Coaches Convention. “Because of the hosting [in 2026]we don’t have a World Cup qualification, so what does that mean for the environment our men’s national team finds itself in over the next 3.5 years from a competitive perspective?”

On Friday they have come a long way to get an important answer.

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