Not sure if you've heard, but there's a fairly notable tournament taking place in the United States this summer -- and it kicks off on Friday June 3rd. The Copa América Centenario is a special 100th anniversary of the quadrennial CONMEBOL tournament. This marks the first time the Copa América (Spanish & Portuguese for "America Cup") is being held outside of South America; 16 teams will be competing in 10 different American cities, with the final being held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
If you don't follow much international soccer besides the US national team (who haven't played in the tournament since 2007), you might be wondering...why should I care? We've collected all the important info on the Copa America for confused, bemused, and curious among you. Below you'll find out where and when to watch Seattle Sounders players (and former/potential players...), as well as the lowdown on the three matches being held at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Teams with Seattle Sounders players:
United States (Clint Dempsey, former Sounder DeAndre Yedlin):
My assumption is that this doesn't need to be pointed out -- most soccer fans in Seattle have already marked the USMNT's matches onto their calendars. Unlike years past, the Sounders only lost one current player to the national team -- though he's kind of a big deal. I expect Clint Dempsey to start every single match in this tournament. Former Seattle homegrown player DeAndre Yedlin also looks likely start at right-back for the USA throughout the tournament after his excellent run of form for Sunderland in the EPL. As the hosts, the USA has high expectations -- especially in their opening match against Colombia. This tournament could be make or break for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who said this week that his goal for the team is to at least make the semi-finals.
FIFA Ranking: 29
vs. Colombia: June 3rd 6:30 PM PT, Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
vs. Costa Rica: June 7th 5:00 PM PT, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
vs. Paraguay: June 11th 4:00 PM PT, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
Must-watch match: The opener vs. Colombia will be a huge test for the United States, and set the tone for the team for the rest of the tournament. Colombia may be missing a few key members of their squad, but it's still packed with talent. Real Madrid midfielder James Rodriguez was one of the standout players of the 2014 World Cup, and probably one of the best players in this tournament. AC Milan forward Carlos Bacca is coming off an 18-goal season in Serie A, and will likely give the US defense a load of problems. The USMNT will be amped up to open up such a big tournament at home against a South American powerhouse.
Other players to watch: I'm sure I'm not alone amongst Seattle fans in wishing that Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe had cropped up on the other side of the Columbia River, but regardless of his club loyalty he's a very exciting player to watch. He scored a nice little winner against the USA's friendly against Ecuador earlier this week, and I expect even more magic moments from him in this tournament. In-form Germany-based striker Bobby Wood also looks to feature quite a bit in this tournament, and could start up top with Dempsey if it suits the formation.
Prediction: I think the USA will get out of the group, probably behind Colombia. This could pit them up against Brazil or Peru in the quarterfinals -- Peru would be preferable but neither would be a breeze. The semis are possible, but a likely QF matchup with Brazil could make it that much harder.
Paraguay (Nelson Haedo Valdez):
A bit of an under-the-radar team, Paraguay comes into this tournament having finished in fourth place in the 2015 Copa América tournament. Paraguay miraculously knocked out Brazil on penalty kicks in the quarter-finals of that tournament, but were blown out 6-1 by Argentina in the semi-finals and lost the third-place match 2-0 to Peru. They'll be hoping to change their fortunes in this tournament, but they've got a tough group. Sounders fans will obviously be watching for Nelson Valdez, who they'll be hoping will finally rediscover his scoring ability and bring it back to Seattle. Valdez has never scored more than 11 goals in a season, and the last time he did that was in 2006. He does have the most international goals on the current Paraguay roster, most recently against Argentina in the 2015 Copa group stage. He hasn't started for his country in awhile (November 2015), but his experience and scoring record may be relied on this summer.
FIFA Ranking: 39
vs. Costa Rica: June 4, 2 PM PT, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
vs. Colombia: June 7, 7:30 PM PT, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
vs. United States: June 11th 4:00 PM PT, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
Must-watch match: It kind of feels like cheating, but Paraguay's penultimate group stage match against he USA could be make-or-break for both teams. Plus, it's the only match that could pit two Sounders against each other. Depending on how the rest of the group stage goes, this match could be the deciding factor in who moves on to the next stage.
Other players to watch: Édgar Benítez, of Mexican club Querétaro, has the second-most goals for his country aside from Valdez, and could be Paraguay's most dangerous goalscoring threat.
Prediction: I don't see Paraguay beating both Colombia and the US, so I don't think they'll make it out of the group.
Uruguay (potential signing Nicolás Lodeiro):
I know the Sounders haven't signed Nicolas Lodeiro -- yet. If you've been following the saga on our site, you know that it seems highly likely at this point. So why not give fans a chance to scout their (likely) newest player this summer? And either way, Uruguay are a hell of a team to watch. If I had to pick a favorite, I think Uruguay just might be it. They currently sit at the very top of the CONMEBOL 2018 World Cup Qualifying table, though there are still plenty of matches to play. Lodeiro only recently returned to play with his nation, going 45 minutes and looking good while doing it.
FIFA Ranking: 9
vs. Mexico: June 5, 5:00 PM PT, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
vs. Venezuela: June 9, 4:30 PM PT, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
vs. Jamaica: June 13, 7:00 PM PT, Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
Other players to watch: Love him or hate him (I personally love him), Luis Suárez is one of the best players in the world. He absolutely tore it up for Barcelona this past season, somehow shining despite being part of an attacking trio that also includes Lionel Messi and Neymar. The other side of the Suárez coin is his unpredictable, almost sociopathic personality; Uruguay will either win the whole thing or go down in flames on the back of the enigmatic striker. Just a few notches in talent below Suárez (but nearly as important to the team) is Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani, Uruguay's other key attacker. Coming off a 25-goal season for his club, Cavani is a very skilled forward that complements Suárez well, making the duo possibly the most dangerous strike force in the tournament.
Prediction: I think Uruguay will breeze through the group stage; if they're firing on all cylinders, the way is paved for them to make it all the way to the final and win it all.
Matches hosted by Seattle:
Seattle was lucky to be one of 10 cities chosen to host matches for this tournament, and I really hope the city welcomes fans and players well. Who wants to be the one venue or city that treats Lionel Messi poorly? Grass is being rolled in for these matches, and the level of scrutiny is going to be astronomical. After all, Seattle will want to make a good impression for when the World Cup eventually makes its way back to the USA.
Haiti v. Peru (June 4, 4:30 PM PT): While not the most glamorous of matches, this could still be an entertaining event to the objective viewer. FIFA has Peru ranked 46 in the world and Haiti at 71 right now, and the Centenario is the first time Haiti has been invited to the Copa América. For Peru, keep an eye on veteran Paolo Guerrero -- the former Bayern Munich forward has 26 international goals, including two in 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Haiti's Copa squad is very young (no players over 30) and doesn't have any real standout goalscorers -- Duckens Nazon of France's Laval played well in the Gold Cup last year, and could be Haiti's only hope of netting in this match. Haiti's biggest hopes rest on captain and goalkeeper Johnny Placide, described by some as the best goalkeeper in the Caribbean. But in the end, I see Peru winning this one by a goal or two.
Argentina v. Bolivia (June 14, 7:00 PM PT): This is the big one; this is when Lionel Messi descends into our city to grace CenturyLink Field with his presence. I have no idea what the crowds for these matches is going to be like, but I have a feeling this match is gonna be packed. Argentina heads into this tournament ranked number ONE in all of world soccer with not just Messi, but a squad full of world class talent. Bolivia, on the other hand, is ranked 79 by FIFA world rankings and hasn't won the Copa since 1963. Nearly the entire team plays in the Bolivian league, and the player with the most international goals is Juan Carlos Arce, who has 8 goals in 49 appearances. Aside from Messi, Argentina's attack also fields Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain and Manchester City's Sergio Agüero. Other top players you'll see in the famous sky blue and white jersey are Barcelona's Javier Mascherano, Paris Saint-Germain's Javier Pastore and Ángel Di María, and Tottenham Hotspur's Érik Lamela. I want to say that this match will be competitive, but even though Argentina don't always get the chemistry right, I think they'll dominate Bolivia from start to finish. Seattle will likely see an excellent performance from one of the tournament favorites.
Quarter-final (June 16, 6:30 PM PT): The matchup has yet to be determined for this one, but we do know from which groups the two teams will come. The winner of group A (by my estimation, likely Colombia or the USA) will be up against the runner-up of group B (either Brazil or Ecuador). I'd be tempted to say that Brazil will win group B, but Ecuador is much further up the 2018 World Cup qualifying table and could be a surprise dark horse if they can defeat Brazil. You never want to count out Brazil, and they'll be itching to erase the world's memories of their 7-1 trouncing at the hands of Germany in the 2014 World Cup semi-final. Ideally for USA fans, this quarterfinal would be between the USA and Ecuador; a rematch of this week's friendly would likely go the USA's way, especially in front of a raucous Seattle crowd.
Other teams to watch:
Brazil: Much to the tournament organizers' chagrin, Barcelona superstar Neymar is not in the squad for the Copa. But the eight-time tournament winners still have plenty of top talent at their disposal, including Zenit St. Petersburg's bulky forward Hulk, Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho, and Barcelona defender Dani Alves. He won't likely start most matches, but Orlando City's Kaká could also make some substitute appearances in this tournament. Brazil aren't my tournament favorites by any means, but you can never count out the most successful soccer country in the world, even when they're not at their best.
Mexico: The USA's biggest rivals head into this tournament at a respectable FIFA ranking of 16, though I'm not sure if they deserve to be that much higher than the US. Most of their players are based in Mexico right now, but they still have a few players plying their trades at top European clubs. Javier Hernández, now with Bayer Leverkusen, may still be their best attacking threat. PSV's Andrés Guardado can never be counted out either, and can be expected to have a pretty solid tournament. Porto's midfielder Jesús Manuel Corona has been red-hot for Mexico (and his club) as of late, and may just make a name for himself this summer.