By Peter Schwartz
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Soccer fans in the United States have been waiting patiently for something like this since 1994 when the World Cup was played in this country for the first time. Given the rising popularity of soccer in the United States, the hope is that the World Cup will return someday.
But this summer, there is a tournament coming to our country that will have a World Cup feel to it, and it could be a sneak peek at what’s to come down the road.READ MORE: NYPD: Delivery Worker Stabbed To Death, E-Bike Stolen Near Sara D. Roosevelt Park
From June 3 to June 26, the United States will host the 2016 Copa America Centenario, a tournament celebrating its 100th anniversary. It features 16 participating nations from the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL).
On Sunday night, the tournament draw was held at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan to determine the groups and the opening round matchups.
As far as the United States is concerned, it was a rough night.
For the 2014 World Cup, the United States men’s soccer team drew a very tough draw for the opening round, facing Germany, Portugal and Ghana. But somehow, the USA was able to finish second in the group and make it to the knockout stage.
This summer, it’s another “group of death” for the United States, which will be joined by Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay in Group A.
“Obviously it’s a difficult group, there’s no doubt about it,” said United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “But it’s doable. We had a similar kind of scenario in Brazil, and we went through, so now we start with Colombia right away instead of Ghana.”
The United States will play the opening game of the tournament when it meets Colombia on June 3 at the site of Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. When the 1994 World Cup was played in the United States, the USA scored a 2-1 win over Colombia in an opening-round game at the Rose Bowl.
Now that the groups and schedule have been determined, the United States will start doing its homework for all three first-round matches, especially the opener.
“We’ll do everything to prepare for Colombia, said Klinsmann. “We played them one and a half years ago in London, and we had them right on the edge, and then we gave up an easy goal at the end of the game. It was an even game for 90 minutes.”READ MORE: Gabby Petito Foundation Holds Fundraiser On Long Island
From there, the United States will move on to Chicago, where it will meet Costa Rica on June 7 at Soldier Field. USA will close out the opening round on June 11 when it faces Paraguay at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The United States is hoping for success on the field, and that means getting to the knockout stage and perhaps winning an elimination game. But just hosting this tournament is a big deal for soccer in our country.
“I think it’s hugely exciting,” said Klinsmann. “It’s an avalanche. It’s huge. The Copa America in the United States, after having a World Cup, is absolutely big. I think it will get all of the soccer people excited, and they’ll all want to be part of it.”
The tournament will be played at 10 venues across the country, including three games at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. The home of the Jets and Giants will host an opening-round match between Ecuador and Haiti on June 12, a quarterfinal game on June 17 and the tournament final on June 26.
Soccer fans across the country will get to see some of the best teams in the world. Group B will have Brazil, Ecuador, Haiti and Peru. Group C consists of Mexico, Uruguay, Jamaica and Venezuela. Group D has Argentina, Chile, Panama and Bolivia.
The United States is ready to show the world that we’re now a soccer country.
“I think it’s just a fantastic opportunity for us to show that the game is getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” said Klinsmann. “This will give the game a huge boost in the United States.”
Soccer has never been more popular in our country.
The men’s team did very well getting to the knockout stage at the World Cup in 2014, and the United States won the Women’s World Cup last summer. Major League Soccer continues to grow, and the beautiful game continues to be immensely popular among kids at all levels.MORE NEWS: Police: Suspect In Killing Of New Rochelle Taxi Driver Taken Into Custody After Shootout In Brooklyn
This summer, the Copa America tournament will bring incredible soccer to our country. There are many people in the soccer community that feel it’s just a matter of time before the United States is awarded another World Cup. A successful Copa America could very well expedite that process.
Follow Peter on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow all of the news about Copa America Centenaro 2016 @CA2016.