The Runner Sports

Copa America Centenario Draw Unkind To United States

For the second consecutive major tournament, the United States Men’s national team has been handed one of the most difficult groups possible.  In the 2014 Brazil World Cup, the USMNT was drawn with eventual winner Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and perennial foil Ghana.  The United States, of course, did well, yet the group offered no favors.  This is the case yet again as the Copa America Centenario draw that took place last night pits the USMNT against what is being called “the group of death”.

For those unfamiliar with the manner in which FIFA sets up their tournaments, they begin with establishing something called pots.  For this particular tournament, there were four pots, the first was a seeded group that also had the host country (United States) and Mexico.  There was then a “best of South America” pot that had Chili, Columbia, Ecuador, and Uraguay.  The final two pots contained the rest of the field with CONCACAF and the lower ranked CONMEBOL nations.

One nation from each pot would be selected for every group, meaning that the groups should have a relatively even distribution of talent.  For example, Brazil and Argentina or the U.S. and Mexico couldn’t meet in the group stage.  This is done in the hopes of setting up juicy knockout round fixtures by keeping the big boys from knocking each other out early on.

The best case scenario for the USMNT would, of course, be the lowest ranked teams from the three other pots.  This means Ecuador, Haiti, and either Venezuela or Bolivia.

As it turns out, the best case scenario is far from what actually occurred as the United States was drawn against what is according to the official FIFA rankings one of the most difficult groups possible.  The three nations that will be joining the United States in Group A of the 2016 Copa America Centenario are:

1.) Columbia

2.) Costa Rica

3.) Paraguay

Chili is more highly rated in the FIFA rankings than Columbia, but the difference is negotiable.  Both nations were opponents that the United States were hoping to avoid in favor of the much weaker Ecuador. Highlights from Columbia’s roster include Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez, Arsenal’s David Ospina, Borussia Dortmund’s Adrian Ramos, and A.C. Milan’s Carlos Bacca and Cristian Zapata.  They will undoubtedly be a difficult foe for the United States to deal with.

Costa Rica is a well-documented nation that the United States struggles against.  In the history of this regional rivalry, both nations have traded blows and the United States should fear an upset considering the recent success of Costa Rica.  In the 2015 Gold Cup, Costa Rica took eventual champion Mexico to the brink of elimination in the knockout round and had an impressive quarter-final appearance in the 2014 World Cup.

The last team in the group, Paraguay, is also no pushover.  In the 2015 Copa America, Paraguay had a wonderful showing, defeating Jamaica and drawing both Argentina and Uruguay in the group stage.  In the knockout round, Paraguay defeated Brazil on penalties before bowing out to Argentina in the semi-finals.  While lacking the huge names of a Brazil or Argentina, Paraguay does have a few recognizable names including Raul Bobadilla of Augsburg and Nelson Valdez of Seattle.

Some will say that the difficult group works in favor of the United States, as they will be battle hardened in the knockout rounds.  I say what is the point of being battle hardened if you are eliminated in the group stage, which based on the United States’ current form is a ligament possibility.

Either way, the USMNT and manager Jurgen Klinsmann have until June to figure out how to navigate this difficult group in what will be the first major men’s tournament the United States has hosted since the 1994 World Cup.  A quality showing will be pivotal for the continued growth of the sport in the United States.

The remainder of the groups are as follows:

Group B: 

Brazil

Ecuador

Haiti

Peru

Group C: 

Mexico

Uruguay

Jamaica

Venezuela

Group D:

Argentina

Chili

Panama

Bolivia

John Harbeck

Ohio sports and all things soccer.If you like my writing follow me @JHarbeck5 on twitter

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