FIFA has added the 2016 Copa America to their international calendar, essentially cementing its status as a major, elite tournament. The inclusion on the calendar means that teams can call upon whatever players they want and clubs will have to release players for it.
The tournament marks the 100th anniversary since the first Copa America, a competition that normally crowns the champion of South America. But this edition is being moved to the U.S. and will include teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean, making it a 16-team tournament for the championship of all of the Americas.
While the Copa America Centenario has been widely hyped in North America as a chance for teams to get into an elite competition outside of the World Cup, there was no guarantee it would happen. Sure, the big name teams like Brazil and Argentina would come to the U.S. for the tournament and people would pack the stands, but it would be a cash cow and hardly elite without the best players. That was a real fear because, originally, it wasn't on the FIFA calendar and clubs could have barred their players from playing, which they probably would have.
Now that the tournament is on the FIFA calendar, national teams will be free to call in whoever they want and it can really be an elite competition. It will feature every team from South America, as well as six from CONCACAF. The United States and Mexico automatically qualified and Costa Rica earned a spot by winning the Copa Centroamericana. The winner of the Caribbean Cup will qualify, and two more, as determined by the Gold Cup and a playoff.
With Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and the rest of South America set to join the U.S., Mexico, Costa Rica and the rest, the Americas will have a tournament as good and high profile as the Euros, which will also be played in 2016. The matches will be held around the U.S., at venues yet to be determined, and likely in front of gigantic crowds with huge TV and media coverage.
The tournament will run from June 3-26, 2016. It will be the biggest non-World Cup test the U.S. has ever faced, a huge chance to grow the sport in the country and a true measuring stick for Jurgen Klinsmann's team.
Are the Yanks really going to reach the next level that Klinsmann promised? We'll have an idea in June 2016.