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Copa América is coming to 12 U.S. cities, including Glendale. Here's what to expect

Lionel Messi works out with his team, team Argentina during a practice before a COPA America soccer match, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Kennesaw, Ga. Argentina plays team Canada on June 20, in Atlanta.
Mike Stewart/AP
Lionel Messi works out with his team, team Argentina during a practice before a COPA America soccer match, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Kennesaw, Ga. Argentina plays team Canada on June 20, in Atlanta.

A major soccer tournament gets underway Thursday – as Argentina takes on Canada in Atlanta. Copa América will be played in 12 American cities over the next several weeks, including two matches at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

With me to talk more about the tournament is Elias Burke, a journalist for The Athletic.

Full conversation

MARK BRODIE: Elias, let's start with what exactly is Copa América?

ELIAS BURKE: Yeah, so, Copa América is the kind of premier continental tournament that happens in South America — or takes place around South America — every four years involving all of the best South American nations. So, you know, the ones that you can kind of normally associate with football, like Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, those kind of great teams and great nations. And it's something that's really, really thought of super, super highly in the world of football. And, particularly in South America, for many international players, outside of the World Cup, it's seen as almost like the next pinnacle alongside the Euros, which is actually taking place at a similar time involving European countries.

So, South America and Copa América is normally governed by CONMEBOL, which is the kind of overarching power over all of these South American countries in its confederation. And, as I say, involves all of those teams that I just mentioned. But on this occasion — and in previous occasions, like in 2016, which was the Centenario tournament — it's actually involving countries from other confederations, like, in this case, CONCACAF, which is a North American confederation, and that's got the U.S. in it, Mexico, it's got Panama, it's got Jamaica in it as well. So it's going to be a big party full of all the best and most exciting players in nations across the Americas, which makes this tournament actually really one of the most exciting in recent times.

BRODIE: Okay. So when you talk about the best players participating, obviously everyone knows Lionel Messi. Who else should we be watching out for? Who are some of the other amazing talents that will be performing?

BURKE: Yeah, I mean, Messi is obviously the big one. Messi is the biggest star still, approaching his mid-30s now. He's still in global football. He's a massive draw and he'll bring lots of eyes from around the world onto this tournament. But I mean from a Brazil perspective, let's say, Vinícius Júnior is super, super exciting. He won the Champions League with Real Madrid just a couple of weeks ago, and he's actually one of the favorites to win the Ballon d'Or this year. Ballon d'Or is like the MVP equivalent of football, the best player in the world for that year. Colombia are going to be really exciting. They have Luis Díaz who plays for Liverpool, super, super exciting winger. He's kind of the winger that takes bums off seats sort of thing, really brilliant dribbler, super fast, creative with both feet. He's a really, really exciting player.

And from the U.S. perspective, I mean Christian Pulisic is the big star there, the big attacking star. He's coming off a great season with AC Milan in Italy, and then Uruguay as well, who are one of the other big kind of competitive nations at this tournament. Darwin Núñez is their big attacking focal point. So yeah, plenty of stars on show at this summer's Copa América.

BRODIE: Yeah. Well, so what is the significance of the matches being played outside of South America with this many being played in the U.S.? Like, is this an attempt to try to build up support for soccer in the U.S., maybe in advance of the next World Cup, which will be in North and Central America?

BURKE: Yeah, you'd have to say so. I think football is growing massively in the United States, and they would kind of be a bit silly not to pick up on the fact that America is the biggest sporting market in the world. If you can crack America ... in almost any industry actually, you're doing a pretty good job, and you get in hundreds of millions of eyes and lots of money, essentially, onto your brand and onto your league and onto the sport as a whole.

So I think there's a concerted effort from FIFA and within the confederations themselves that America is the market that they really need to be looking at next as the one to really kind of make a massive impression on. So, yeah, there's ... mixed feelings within South America about the tournament taking place in the United States this year. I mean, lots of them want the South American tournament, and they think that it should be given to South American teams, and naturally, you can kind of sympathize with that. There are lots of nations that haven't hosted Copa América in a really long time. That probably should do, and, that's in — this year it will be the U.S. have had it, hosted two in eight years, which doesn't seem particularly fair. But you know, at the end of the day, it's a market and that's how the sport works in many ways.

Elias Burke
The Athletic
Elias Burke

BRODIE: Right. So let me ask you about the two matches that will be played in Arizona. You talked about some of the players for these teams, but I'm curious about the teams themselves. We have Colombia against Costa Rica and then Mexico versus Ecuador. Are you expecting these to be fairly competitive matches? Are any of these teams favorites maybe to win the whole tournament?

BURKE: Yeah. As I mentioned, Colombia are a really strong team. I wouldn't say that they're the ultimate favorites going into the tournament — probably make them about fourth in a tier with the U.S. But they're definitely a team to watch out for, and they're definitely a team full of lots of talent. I mean, Costa Rica, you'd probably expect Colombia to go into that game against Costa Rica as considerable favorites. But, again, it's football. It's tournament football. I mean, you can never really be quite sure what's going to happen at any point. It's 100% going to be a competitive game, but you'd probably favor Colombia in that fixture.

And then from a Mexico perspective, they're going through a bit of a tougher period at the moment than they have done in the past kind of 10 or 15 years. They're really kind of waiting for the next era of stars to emerge. But yeah, this is probably a transitional period for Mexico, and if they can get out of that group, anything can happen. But there isn't massive expectation there. I would say with Ecuador, though, Ecuador have lots of players playing in the Premier League and they've got good talent. Again, probably not major favorites, but I think that Mexico-Ecuador game could be really — it could be one that people should look to as a really, really exciting game potentially, you know, fireworks in that one. I think it'll be really good.

BRODIE: So, you alluded to this, but I've got to ask specifically about the U.S., what are the U.S. prospects for this tournament?

BURKE: Yeah, I mean, it's a tough period for the U.S. Their team is still quite young, and they've had the golden generation tag branded on them and that's a lot of pressure. They've got a lot of players playing in top European leagues, and, as I said, I probably make them about fourth or fifth favorites. And they definitely, you know, they can be competitive. ... They played against Brazil and drew the game, which shows you they've got quality and can defend and can be stable. But you'd probably have them within the third tier of favorites. That's not to say that they couldn't reach a quarterfinal or a semifinal. They definitely have the quality to do that.

BRODIE: Right, but they also got blown out by Colombia, what, 5 to 1 just before they played Brazil. Right?

BURKE: Yeah, that's the quiet part. It's one of those. Colombia are super, super talented and if Luis Díaz kind of hits his highest form and plays really, really well, then Colombia can kind of do that to anyone. And that's the thing about international football — perhaps more than club football — you can kind of never really predict what's about to happen.

BRODIE: Oh that is interesting. Alright, well it sounds like it'll be a lot of fun to watch. Elias Burke covers soccer for The Athletic. Thank you so much for your time and enjoy the tournament.

BURKE: Thank you I will. I'll be keeping a keen eye from London in the UK.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text is edited for length and clarity, and may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

State Farm Stadium
Bridget Dowd/KJZZ
The Arizona Cardinals play at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.
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