2020 Copa America has plenty of potential regardless of location
A Copa Centenario plus four? A 16-team extravaganza held in the United States along the lines of the tournament held in 2016?
U.S. Soccer saw this as a genuine possibility. The door was opened by the decision to alter the four-year cycle of the Copa America, switching it from odd to even years. Brazil 2019 goes ahead this June and July. If the traditional order is respected, then 2024 will go to Ecuador -- leaving 2020 as a free hit, an extra competition that can legitimately be squeezed into the calendar.
Another tournament staged in the U.S. next year would have all of the upsides of 2016, and none of the down. Because it was undoubtedly weird to see South America stage a centenary celebration of the world's oldest continental competition on someone else's soil. But 2020, as an addition to the calendar, has no connotations of selling out the past --merely of using the opportunity to gather 16 national teams from the Americas in search of both glory and profit -- since the 2016 version was judged a clear financial success.
But South America has reportedly rejected the idea -- so far at least. There may be something of a negotiating position in this -- U.S. Soccer was reportedly under pressure to have the CONCACAF teams on equal billing to the CONMEBOL, which the latter would not be likely to accept.
But, more than finance, there could well be a political background to the South American refusal. There has been talk of Argentina stepping in to stage 2020 -- which, in political and pragmatic terms, might make some sense. One of the future battlegrounds of the global game is the fight to stage the 2030 World Cup. South America is optimistic of the force of a sentimental appeal. The tournament was born in Uruguay in 1930, and so to Uruguay it should return a hundred years later. But Uruguay has only one major city, and has not the slightest chance of being able to host a modern World Cup. And so a joint bid has been arranged -- Uruguay together with Argentina and Paraguay, with Chile close to joining and Bolivia also wanting in.
Whatever the mixture, two things are clear. Uruguay would have some of the showpiece occasions, and Argentina would stage the bulk of the games. This 2030 bid, then, suffered a major blow when Argentina proved unable to stage the final of the Copa Libertadores at the end of last year. Crowd violence ruined the second leg of the meeting between the old Buenos Aires rivals, Boca Juniors and River Plate, and the game was controversially moved to Madrid. The fact that Spain are also in the running to stage 2030 may well have been a factor in the change of venue. The whole sorry saga was a huge blow to the prestige of the organisational capacity of Argentine football.
Staging a successful Copa in 2020 would help wipe the slate clean. Wherever it takes place, there is the chance of a splendid tournament next year -- while this year's Copa might be a strange affair. The explanation lies in the fact that the next World Cup will take place at the end of 2022, rather the traditional June/July period. This has pushed back the start of South America's qualifying process. In a normal cycle it would get going later this year. The 2019 Copa, then, would be an important warm up. Sides would hope to leave Brazil with a squad ready to fight for a place in Qatar.
But the 2022 qualifiers will not start until March of next year. This means that the teams are in an early stage of preparation. Colombia, Bolivia and Paraguay have only just named their coaches. Argentina have a caretaker in charge. There is a real danger that some of the sides in Brazil this year will be seriously undercooked. But that will not apply at all to the 2020 Copa. By then the coaches will have taken advantage of the FIFA dates of September, October and November. They will have played the first two rounds of World Cup qualifiers. Wherever it ends up being played, a Copa in 2020 should prove a far more exacting test between well-prepared teams.