The United States men’s national team will embark on its most important tournament of the year Friday, when it opens play in the Copa America Centenario.
Ten venues in the United States will serve as host sites for the 45th edition of Copa America, a 16-nation tournament that includes the likes of Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. It’s the first Copa America tournament to be hosted outside of South America.
The Americans will play Colombia at 8:30 p.m. Friday in Santa Clara, Calif. The championship match will be played on June 26 in East Rutherford, N.J.
Here are three things to watch over the course of the tournament.
1. How much will Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler and Graham Zusi play?
Matt Besler and Graham Zusi have been regular features for the U.S. men’s national team over the past three years, and they remain in coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans.
But neither have shown top form recently with Sporting Kansas City. Zusi is scoreless in 12 games this season. The typically-reliable Besler has been mistake-prone over the past couple of matches.
Besler started at left back in the Americans’ final tuneup, a 4-0 win against Bolivia on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park. But it was likely a one-game stint rather than a foreshadow of the Copa America scheme. Besler and Zusi appear poised to serve as substitutes for the Americans.
2. Can the Americans make a deep run?
Copa America is arguably the top men’s soccer competition played in the United States since the 1994 World Cup. But do the Americans have any real shot of winning?
A week ago, Klinsmann said his objective is to reach the semifinals of the tournament, and even that task seems daunting. The U.S. opens Friday against Colombia, who is ranked No. 4 in the FIFA World Rankings. The U.S., ranked No. 31, will also face Costa Rica (No. 23) and Paraguay (No. 44) in group play. The top two teams from each of the four groups advance to the knockout stage.
If the Americans don’t show well, it could be another strike against Klinsmann, who ought to be feeling pressure after failing to even make the final of last summer’s Gold Cup or win the ensuing playoff against rival Mexico for a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
On the other hand, for the first time since the 2014 World Cup, the United States has provided a glimmer of optimism, with the emergence of young players like Bobby Wood and 17-year-old Christian Pulisic.
3. The rest of the field
Five of the top-nine teams in the FIFA rankings are in the tournament.
None bring more intrigue than Argentina.
It is ranked No. 1 in the world, led by the consensus best player in the world, Lionel Messi, who will be playing in a major competition on U.S. soil for the first time.
Mexico, headlined by Javier Hernandez (better known as Chicharito), is on a 19-match unbeaten streak, the longest active streak in international soccer. The Mexicans figure to have plenty of fan support with group-stage matches scheduled in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Houston.
Sporting Kansas City defensive midfielder Soni Mustivar is on Haiti’s roster. Haiti was drawn into Group B with Brazil, Ecuador and Peru.