Our Copas Runneth Over

It’s the first day of summer, which means a lot more sunlight, time outdoors, and sports white noise to sweat and sleep by.  Historically, for me that would mean baseball, and still often does.  But I’ve evolved, and I’m well aware a lot more of the world couldn’t care less about whether the gap between the fifth and thirteenth best teams in the National League at nearly the midway point of the season is exactly ONE GAME.  Some would call that mediocrity on steroids.

But in other continents, and among fellow evolutionists, soccer reins supreme.  And tonight in that historic hotbed of Hotlanta, 70,000 fans will be filling a thankfully enclosed stadium to watch anything but mediocrity.  Per CBS Sports’ Roger Gonzalez:

The 2024 Copa America kicks off on Thursday and goes until June 14 with the big final set for Miami. Argentina are the favorites and the reigning champions having won the last edition and the 2022 World Cup while the likes of Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia hope to dethrone Lionel Messi and company. The United States, meanwhile, hope to impress and build momentum ahead of the 2026 World Cup, which they will host alongside Mexico and Canada. 

And those 70,000 lucky people will get to see the favorites in tonight’s lidlifter against Canada, and Gonzalez explained why there’s such demand:

Picking a team with Messi to win a championship is expected, but Argentina are not a one-man team. They boast talent across the pitch in established stars like forward Lautaro Martinez and defender Cristian Romero, as well as exciting up-and-comers like Alejandro Garnacho and Valentin Carboni. Their recent success, coupled with optimism for the future and the fuel of sending off Messi on a high in what could be his final major international tournament should be more than plenty to see them lift the Copa America title for the 16th time.

And CNN’s Matias Genz amplified the urgency to see Messi, in this case a certainty to play versus his somewhat diminished utility by MLS’ Inter Miami this year:

There is the real possibility that the 2024 Copa América will be the last major international tournament Messi plays. After previously stating that the 2022 World Cup would be his last, Messi told Star+ in December that “time will tell.”

“As long as I feel I am well and that I am able to help, I will do it,” Messi, who will turn 37 during the Copa América, said. “Today, all I think about is to get well to the Copa América and play it. Fight for it again, as we always do, try to be the champions.”.

As for the host USMNT, there’s diminished expectations with Genz taking the side of gloom and doom:

The USA enters the Copa América off the back of winning a third straight Nations League title, beating bitter rival Mexico 2-0 in the final less than two months ago.

However, preparations for the tournament got off to the worst possible start with a 5-1 hammering at the hands of Colombia in Washington.

After the defeat, goalkeeper Matt Turner said the team needed to “bounce back in a big way,” and a much-improved performance followed in a morale-boosting 1-1 draw against Brazil.

Despite boasting several talented players, including Tim Weah, Christian Pulisic, Yunus Musah and Folarin Balogun, serious questions remain about whether the US men can consistently compete against teams outside of the weaker CONCACAF bubble.

But Gonzalez’ colleague Sandra Herrera offers a glimmer of hope for the Americans:

They were already tested against CONMEBOL sides, embarrassed by Colombia (5-1 loss), and resilient against Brazil (1-1 draw). As the current kings of the region, with few issues dominating other Concacaf rivals, they’re also tournament hosts. They’re finally a squad with expectations, and destiny is truly in their own hands so it’s time to live up to the privilege of pressure.

It’s a de facto dress rehearsal for the World Cup’s challenges both with competition and hosting.  It will be curious to see the degree of turnout, and how much of it will be domestic, at the other venues for the games that don’t involve Messi.  And especially since many will be competing for attention with the draw that’s already underway across the pond, per yet another Gonzalez compatriot James Benge with what has already gone down as of this writing just today:

England remain top of Group C at Euro 2024 but that might be all the good that can be said of a 1-1 draw with Denmark where an early Harry Kane opener was frittered away over another sloppy display by one of the pre-tournament favorites. Morten Hjulmand’s fine low drive earned the Danes a point but they could have got more from an opponent who seemed insistent on handing them possession with the sloppiest play this side has delivered in several tournaments.

Earlier in the day Luka Jovic’s last gasp header earned Serbia a priceless point in the same group, their 1-1 draw with Slovenia keeping hopes alive heading into the final round of fixtures. In a tournament of late drama there have been few moments quite as significant as the 96th minute strike that took the Serbs from the precipice of elimination — they might have been knocked out even before their final group game — to knowing that a win against Denmark in their final round of games would almost certainly be enough to reach the knockout rounds.

Because of the time zone differential, this is a potential bonanza for FOX and its sports networks, enhanced by the normally modestly rated Copa having increased prominence with both proximity and star power.  As many as six live games a day will be available between the two tourneys, bringing atypical viewership to these otherwise low-rated channels and their shoulder programming.  Not even a World Cup can bring that kind of stickiness to the table.

So get ready to shout “GOAL!!!”, or whatever translation applies best, a lot in the next month or so.   And if you merely smile, that’s OK, too.  Maybe that’s something that needs to evolve, too.

Courage…

 

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