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Copa America moving north for its Centenario? The perks of being a soccer fan in the United States

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One of soccer’s worst kept secrets is a secret no more. South American soccer will be invading the U.S. in 2016, bringing its confederation championship to the United States for a joint CONMEBOL-CONCACAF Copa America. The details still need to be worked out, but the 16-team tournament is set to combine South America’s 10 teams with six from the northern half of the hemisphere. Copa America Centenario, as they’re calling it, could be the most prestigious competition in the States since the 2003 Women’s World Cup, the most anticipated since the 1999 women’s championship, and, in terms of overall popularity, end up being second only to the 1994 World Cup.

It’s easy to embrace those dreams now, two years from the event. We can see the seats teams like Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico have filled in the United States and use that to fuel dreams of a globally significant competition. This isn’t the Gold Cup, which has trouble resonating beyond soccer hardcores, and it isn’t the Women’s World Cup, which too many still won’t give a chance. This is an event that will have Lionel Messi, Neymar, Sergio Agüero and Arturo Vidal. It enthrall draw those that dismiss MLS. It will entice people who prefer Spain and Italy to Premier League soccer.

It’s hard to imagine a North America-based men’s soccer fan that won’t be excited by this event, but that doesn’t totally answer the obvious question: Why? Why is this event coming to the United States? This is the South American championship, isn’t it? Certainly, there’s a tradition of CONCACAF teams rounding out Copa America’s field, but the tournament still happens in South America. Why is CONMEBOL’s championship going to be waged on CONCACAF’s turf?

For the 100-year anniversary of the continental title, CONMEBOL clearly wants to do something special. That’s why they’re waging the quadrennial tournament in an off-year, after all. As evidenced by all the stadiums that sell out for visits from the Seleçao and Albiceleste, there’s a huge demand to see South America’s giants in this part of the world. And by including Mexico and the United States, the commercial opportunities for the competition explode. If you’re going to have the tournament in a special year, might was well be in a special place.

It’s that sentiment that gets to be the heart of this announcement: In the soccer world, there’s still no place as special as the United States. There are more hallowed grounds, and there are a number of nations around the world that have more colorful and robust traditions, yet the U.S. still holds the distinction of being the soccer world’s holy grail. As a nation, we’re not in love with the sport yet, but we have one of the most passionate sports markets in the world. It’s not only a matter of entities like CONMEBOL — as well as the myriad huge European clubs that tour here every year — looking at the U.S. and saying “if only we could tap into that.” Those actors have a chance to frame how U.S. soccer develops.

source: Getty Images
Brazil’s Neymar will be among the stars on display as Copa America comes to the U.S. in 2016. (Source: Getty Images)

Some people, besmirched, see that view as patronizing. U.S. soccer has its own soccer culture. The idea that South America or Europe can come in and instill their own, even in part, is insulting. If the United States is a type of holy grail — one of the few remaining places on the planet that soccer has yet to conquer — it’s a holy grail that will be protected by the people on the ground.  Soccer is a growth opportunity in the U.S. It’s not a charity case.

All of that may be true, but the view undercuts the country’s potential. The U.S. can have a major, vibrant culture for domestic soccer, one that will always see the national teams as a focal point for the sport. It can also have a huge, eastern-looking group that will always love the standards and history of the European game. At the same time, it can have millions that look south to embrace the passion and traditions of the Latin and South Americans games. And in time, as leagues in Japan, South Korea, and China grow, we’ll have people who stay up until 2 a.m. Eastern to watch Guangzhou face Kashima in Champions League.

For fans in the United States, that’s what this tournament could be about. As much as the talents of Messi and the prestige of Brazil may dominate headlines, the subtext will be about the future. If a Copa America in the United States can meet our loftiest expectations, it will establish the country as the target location for any prestigious competition, be that a confederation title, club tournamenst, or a potential summer league of European teams that’s been hinted at by the Champions Cup. Whereas FIFA’s decision to award the 1994 World Cup to the United States was met with questions about potential apathy, the world is now racing to leverage two decades of growth.

There as never been a better time to be a soccer fan in the United States, and between the growth of Major League Soccer, the huge access to the club game on television, and events like Copa America’s Centenario, there may be no better place in the world to absorb the game. If Copa is successful, it will get even better.

Sounders add Uruguay star Lodeiro as Designated Player

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 19:  Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Rodriguez of Uruguay celebrate a 2-1 victory in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Uruguay and England at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 19, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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SEATTLE (AP) Nicolas Lodeiro, the attacking midfielder who just helped Argentina powerhouse Boca Juniors reach the semifinals of the prestigious Copa Libertadores club championship in South America, has signed with the Seattle Sounders as a designated player.

The 27-year-old Lodeiro also has 48 caps for the Uruguay national team, including this summer’s Copa America Centenario in the United States.

[ REPORT: Timbers add NUFC man ]

“With the performance the Sounders typically have, they have always played in the playoff every season and are an important team in the MLS overall,” Lodeiro said through a translator during a press conference Wednesday. “That convinced me to come over here and be part of this project and be part of this team, and to help the team to continue to be successful.”

Success has been elusive for the Sounders this season, as they lag near the bottom of the standings with a 6-12-2 record. Wednesday’s move was their second major one in 24 hours.

On Tuesday, the team announced it had parted ways with coach Sigi Schmid, who had been in charge since Seattle joined MLS in 2009. Longtime assistant Brian Schmetzer was named the interim head coach and was delighted to add Lodeiro to the roster in just his second day on the job.

“I’m very keen on getting Nico and Clint Dempsey together,” Schmetzer said about pairing the newcomer with the U.S. national team forward. “All the guys, I’m sure, are going to get a good burst of energy from Nico’s appearance with the club.”

[ MORE: Full PL preseason schedule ]

Pending the receipt of his P-1 visa and international transfer clearance, Lodeiro could be available as soon as Sunday when the Sounders host the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“The decision of where I play is up to the coach,” he said. “The most important thing to me is to play with great players.

Added Schmetzer, “It gives us new options. Nicolas is going to have a big impact on the team, on and off the field. He’s going to work hard and he’s going to work smart.”

Loderio has played in three Copa Americas, including 2011 when Uruguay won it. He has been in two World Cups, helping the country finish fourth in 2010 and reach the round of 16 in 2014. He also was in the 2012 London Olympics.

Professionally, Lodeiro played three seasons with Uruguay’s Nacional, three seasons with Dutch side Ajax, two with Brazil’s Botafogo, and one with Corinthians of Brazil. He joined Boca Juniors in 2015, scoring three goals.

With Dempsey, rookie Jordan Morris, and veteran Nelson Valdez up front, Sounders officials said adding an attacking midfielder was a priority.

[ MORE: Immobile finds new team ]

“Nicolas is going to be a tremendous presence for us going forward,” general manager and president of soccer Garth Lagerway said. “Even five years ago, the thought that the playmaking midfielder for Boca Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in all of the Americas, would come and play in MLS in the prime of his career at age 27 was unbelievable.

“This is a game-changer for us.”

Nicolas Lodeiro, the attacking midfielder who just helped Argentina powerhouse Boca Juniors reach the semifinals of the prestigious Copa Libertadores club championship in South America, has signed with the Seattle Sounders as a designated player.

The 27-year-old Lodeiro also has 48 caps for the Uruguay national team, including this summer’s Copa America Centenario in the United States.

“With the performance the Sounders typically have, they have always played in the playoff every season and are an important team in the MLS overall,” Lodeiro said through a translator during a press conference Wednesday. “That convinced me to come over here and be part of this project and be part of this team, and to help the team to continue to be successful.”

Success has been elusive for the Sounders this season, as they lag near the bottom of the standings with a 6-12-2 record. Wednesday’s move was their second major one in 24 hours.

[ MORE: Conte questions PL spending ]

On Tuesday, the team announced it had parted ways with coach Sigi Schmid, who had been in charge since Seattle joined MLS in 2009. Longtime assistant Brian Schmetzer was named the interim head coach and was delighted to add Lodeiro to the roster in just his second day on the job.

“I’m very keen on getting Nico and Clint Dempsey together,” Schmetzer said about pairing the newcomer with the U.S. national team forward. “All the guys, I’m sure, are going to get a good burst of energy from Nico’s appearance with the club.”

Pending the receipt of his P-1 visa and international transfer clearance, Lodeiro could be available as soon as Sunday when the Sounders host the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“The decision of where I play is up to the coach,” he said. “The most important thing to me is to play with great players.

Added Schmetzer, “It gives us new options. Nicolas is going to have a big impact on the team, on and off the field. He’s going to work hard and he’s going to work smart.”

Loderio has played in three Copa Americas, including 2011 when Uruguay won it. He has been in two World Cups, helping the country finish fourth in 2010 and reach the round of 16 in 2014. He also was in the 2012 London Olympics.

Professionally, Lodeiro played three seasons with Uruguay’s Nacional, three seasons with Dutch side Ajax, two with Brazil’s Botafogo, and one with Corinthians of Brazil. He joined Boca Juniors in 2015, scoring three goals.

With Dempsey, rookie Jordan Morris, and veteran Nelson Valdez up front, Sounders officials said adding an attacking midfielder was a priority.

“Nicolas is going to be a tremendous presence for us going forward,” general manager and president of soccer Garth Lagerway said. “Even five years ago, the thought that the playmaking midfielder for Boca Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in all of the Americas, would come and play in MLS in the prime of his career at age 27 was unbelievable.

“This is a game-changer for us.”

Premier League preseason: Four road sides win, Chelsea faces Liverpool tonight

KINGSTON UPON THAMES, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Yannick Bolasie of Crystal Palace celebrates with Freddie Ladapo of Crystal Palaces after he scores his sides second goal during the pre-season friendly between AFC Wimbledon and Crystal Palace at The Cherry Red Records Stadium on July 27, 2016 in Kingston upon Thames, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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The main event of Wednesday’s preseason schedule is still to come, but we have four results in the books before dinner time.

[ REPORT: Timbers add NUFC man ]

Chelsea and Liverpool will tangle in an International Champions Cup date at the Rose Bowl come 11 p.m. ET, but Sunderland, Southampton, Swansea and Crystal Palace all played earlier.

Dijon 2-3 Sunderland

David Moyes oversaw another win for the Black Cats, who took on a Ligue 1 side in Dijon. Star midfielder Wahbi Khazri scored again for Sunderland, Fabio Borini converted a penalty and Joel Asoro also scored. Sunderland never trailed but gave away a pair of leads on the evening.

FC Twente 1-2 Southampton

Virgil Van Dijk and Sam Gallagher scored for Saints as by all accounts they had a rather comfortable afternoon despite the hosts scoring with a quarter-hour remaining in the friendly.

[ MORE: Full PL preseason schedule ]

Swindon 0-3 Swansea

Modou Barrow had a goal and two assists as Swansea won its third match of the preseason, with Andre Ayew and Jay Fulton also netting in the victory.

AFC Wimbledon 2-3 Crystal Palace

Palace led 1-0 and 3-1, but had to hold on for the win after a Papa Souare own goal brought the hosts to within one in the second half. Palace’s goal scorers were Connor Wickham, Yannick Bolasie and new boy Freddie Ladapo.

Chelsea vs. Liverpool — 11 p.m. ET

Report: Steven Taylor to join Timbers, give PDX another nasty CB

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - MARCH 02:  Steven Taylor of Newcastle United during the warm up prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Newcastle United at the Britannia Stadium on March 2, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Nat Borchers’ achilles injury was a huge blow for Portland, but the Timbers are about to make up for it (perhaps and then some).

Longtime Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor is set to join ex-Premier League center back Liam Ridgwell in the Portland back line, according to Sky Sources.

[ MORE: Immobile finds new team ]

Taylor, 30, has made 265 appearances for Newcastle but did not have a place under new coach Rafa Benitez.

Any concerns about how he’ll fare in Major League Soccer have nothing to do with skill or intelligence, rather his injury history; Taylor has dealt with achilles, knee and head injuries in several of his 13 seasons with the Magpies.

It’s a huge pickup for Portland, though the Timbers need a lot of help to repeat the form that got them to the 2015 MLS Cup; Portland is 7th in the West and winless on the road.

Shy of injuries, Taylor’s skill set will instantly translate to MLS. Look for him to pitch in offensively as well, and be an instant leader. Most notably, Taylor turned down interest from around the PL when Newcastle was relegated in 2009, opting to stay alongside Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez in instantly returning NUFC to the top flight.

Immobile on the move again, switching to Lazio

MONTPELLIER, FRANCE - JUNE 29:  Ciro Immobile of Italy speaks with the media during a press conference at Casa Azzurri on June 29, 2016 in Montpellier, France.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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The Ciro Immobile odyssey continues, though this move is within Serie A.

Since debuting for Juventus in 2009, Immobile has played for eight teams. He joins a ninth, Lazio, this season, after playing for Torino on loan from Sevilla last season.

[ MORE: Conte questions PL spending ]

Immobile, 26, earned a move away from Juve after scoring 28 goals for Serie B side Pescara in 2012.

He’s also played for Borussia Dortmund, Genoa, Siena, and Grossetto, and has 15 caps with one goal for the Italian national team.

Immobile appeared as a sub in two matches at EURO 2016, while Lazio finished eighth in Serie A last season.