The group-stage draw for the 2016 Copa America Centenario, which takes place on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET) in New York City, could go a long way toward determining the U.S. national team’s fate at this summer’s tournament to be played in cities across the United States.
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Just as with the World Cup, a bad draw for the group stage could hand the USMNT three dauntingly difficult fixtures from which they need a minimum of four points to advance to the knockout stage.
Fortunately for the USMNT, their worst-case scenario group-stage draw isn’t half as bad — at least on paper — as what we thought they would face at the 2014 World Cup. Having been placed into pot 1, thanks to their host nation status, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side will avoid Argentina, Brazil and Mexico until the knockout stage, should they advance that far. Unlike the Chileans, though, who hosted and won the 2015 Copa America, the Yanks’ home-field advantage will be decidedly lessened when facing any nation with a significant population living in the States, which is to say, most nations from the Americas and Caribbean.
Based largely upon their respective showings at the 2015 Copa America, 2015 Gold Cup and a bit of the eye test, the difficulty (from most difficult to least difficult) of teams making up pots 2-4 looks something like this:
Pot 2: Chile, Colombia Uruguay, Ecuador — Nothing about this pot can spell good news for the USMT. Chile and Colombia are neck and neck at the top of the group, with a slight advantage going to the former as the current Copa holders. Uruguay have the undisputed best player of the four nations, though, in Luis Suarez. Simple math says there’s a 75 percent chance the USMNT gets one of the above South American giants, and a 25 percent shot at Ecuador, a largely disappointing side (failed to advance from the group stage) at last summer’s Copa.
Pot 3: Jamaica, Costa Rica, Panama, Haiti — Competition the USMNT knows very well, and against which they typically perform well. Jamiaca gets the nod ahead of Costa based on, 1) their experience from playing in last year’s Copa, and 2) the massive improvement they showed during the ensuing Gold Cup, where they finished runners-up to Mexico (and beat the USMNT in the semifinals). Speaking of sides who troubled the USMNT more than a bit last summer, Panama (third-place finishers) and Haiti (outplayed but ultimately fell to the USMNT during the group stage) round out CONCACAF’s representatives.
Pot 4: Peru, Paraguay, Venezuela, Bolivia — Peru knocked off Paraguay to finish third at last summer’s Copa, buoyed by the tournament’s joint-top scorer, Paolo Guerrero (4 goals), so the USMNT wants little to do with either of those sides, really. As for Venezuela and Bolivia, the former came within a point of advancing from a group that featured Brazil, Colombia and Peru, while the latter snuck out of a group that included Chile, Ecuador and a B-team Mexico side.
With that said, the USMNT’s best- and worst-possible draws, in this writer’s opinion, are as follows, while anything else falls somewhere in between based upon the above rankings.
Best-possible draw: USA, Ecuador, Haiti, Bolivia
Worst-possible draw: USA, Chile, Jamaica, Peru