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Gulati, other organizers interested in more Copa America mash-ups

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NEW YORK (AP) After staging a successful expanded Copa America in the United States for the tournament’s 100th anniversary, soccer officials intend to discuss whether to establish a new event that would see regular competition between the regions.

And, the U.S. Soccer Federation hopes this year’s tournament could be a springboard to hosting a World Cup for the second time.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | Copa America 2016 ]

“We hope it influences where the 2026 World Cup will be,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said Friday.

With only the final and third-place game remaining, the 16-nation tournament has drawn 1.36 million fans, an average of 45,491. That’s down from the 1994 World Cup in the U.S., but nearly double the average crowd of last year’s Copa America in Chile.

“These are World Cup numbers – World Cup numbers for an event organized in seven months with 16 teams,” Gulati said.

The Copa America, South America’s championship, is played quadrennially a year after the World Cup and includes that federation’s 10 nations and two invited teams. The CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean, is a 12-nation tournament played in odd-numbered years.

This year’s special Copa included 10 South American teams and six from CONCACAF. New CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani said a new event could be scheduled for the even-numbered years between World Cups – when the European Championship is played – or the year before World Cups.

[ MORE: Will USMNT go young in 3rd-place game vs. Colombia? ]

“Those are the two years that make sense,” he told The Associated Press. “Having said that, we still have to talk to FIFA. There’s a few hurdles to jump over: European clubs, all that kind of stuff. So we’ll see.”

Montagliani said CONCACAF would have to scale back the Gold Cup to once every four years to create room on soccer’s crowded calendar.

“We remain open to hearing any proposals and ideas,” new CONMEBOL President Alejandro Dominguez said. “It’s very important to remain open-minded, and this has been a success.”

Gulati joked that following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, a new event could include England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Victor and I actually kicked around the idea this morning of 10 teams from CONMEBOL, 10 teams from CONCACAF and the four British teams that are now apparently looking for a place to play. It could be an interesting 24-team tournament to rival the Euro,” he said before turning serious. “The idea of doing a special event that is every four years or every eight years or every 100 years, whatever it might be, that’s something we can look at and talk about. That would be a situation that FIFA would need to put on the calendar for the non-CONMEBOL teams. Without that, it’s almost impossible for us to do it. Obviously, the event has gone well. It’s something that we should look at.”

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This year’s Copa is the most significant soccer event in the U.S. since the 1994 World Cup, when the 52 matches set records with 3.59 million total attendance and a 68,991 average.

“Maybe in some markets lowering price would have led to more people; it would also have meant a huge effect on revenue in markets where you sold out, unless you’ve got variable pricing,” Gulati said.

Attendance and TV viewership, according to Gulati, are evidence “the U.S. is really very much an immigrant community.” Because of federal indictments of COMBEBOL and CONCACAF leaders, the event was not finalized until October.

U.S. games have ranged from 1.5 million to 3.3 million viewers on Fox Sports 1, but some Copa games had a small audience: 138,000 for Haiti-Peru, and 148,000 for Ecuador-Peru, both on Fox Sports 2, were the lows.

[ MORE: Gulati assigns significance of winning third-place game ]

Univision’s ratings for its Spanish-language telecasts have ranged from 5.6 million (Mexico-Jamaica, Mexico-Venezuela and Mexico-Chile) to 1.2 million (Panama-Bolivia). Argentina’s 4-0 semifinal win over the U.S. on Tuesday was seen by 8.1 million viewers in the U.S.: 4.8 million viewers on Univision and 3.3 million on Fox Sports 1. Chile’s rain-interrupted semifinal victory over Colombia on Wednesday averaged 971,000 viewers on Fox Sports 1 and 4 million on Univision.

Still, the audiences were well below World Cup levels. Germany’s win over Argentina in the 2014 final was seen by 26.5 million people on U.S. television: 17.3 million on ABC and 9.2 million on Univision.

Last year’s Copa America averaged 25,223, according to figures in match reports. The 2011 tournament in Argentina drew just under 34,000 and the 2007 edition in Venezuela about 40,000.

NOTES: Dominguez said CONMEBOL had proposed to the European governing body UEFA that the winner of Sunday’s Argentina-Chile final meet the winner of the European Championship on July 10 in a one-game match in South America this year. He said UEFA has not yet replied.

FOLLOW LIVE, Gold Cup: USMNT closes out group v. Panama

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It’s a fully-changed starting XI for the U.S. Men’s National Team as it closes out the group stage against Panama at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Omar Gonzalez and Matt Miazga start together in the backline, Jozy Altidore returns to the starting lineup up top, and Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis feature on the wings alongside Altidore. Ten of the 11 players now ply their trade in MLS, including the Gonzalez, who recently moved to Toronto FC.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT takes on Panama in Kansas City]

Hit the link above to follow along for the next two hours, and check back on PST for a full recap and in-depth analysis after the final whistle.

Must-See Goal: Wayne Rooney v. Orlando City

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I’m going to go out on a limb and say it. Wayne Rooney just scored the most amazing goal in Audi Field’s young history.

In the 10th minute of D.C. United’s match against Orlando City SC on Wednesday evening, Rooney noticed Orlando’s Brian Rowe straying way off his line. And so, with an audacious but accurate attempt, Rooney let fly from 65 yards and SCORED. Just check this goal out below.

[FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT v. Panama]

Rooney took advantage of a crazy bounce and with his literal first touch, unleashed a thunderbolt that Rowe couldn’t catch up to. It automatically becomes one of the top contenders for the MLS Goal of the Year, and should make it on every top ten countdown this evening and tomorrow.

Benfica: Atletico Madrid make $143 million bid for Felix

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The legend of Joao Felix appears to have reached full market value potential.

The 19-year-old Portuguese striker is coming off a breakout year for Benfica, and now the Portuguese giants have received an impressive $143 million offer from Atletico Madrid for Felix. The club confirmed the offer in a statement on its website, stating it was analyzing the deal. Felix has a $136.5 million release clause in his contract, but it appears the additional $7 million is in processing costs.

[READ: Kroos wants to retire at Real Madrid]

Felix was outstanding at Benfica last year, scoring 15 goals with seven assists in 26 league games and three goals and one assist in five Europa League game. Felix has already made his international debut for Portugal.

If confirmed, Felix would become the fifth-most expensive transfer in world history, and the second-most expensive transfer for a teenager behind Kylian Mbappe.

AFCON: Nigeria 1st team through to round of 16 at African Cup, joined by host Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Former champion Nigeria became the first team to reach the last 16 at the African Cup of Nations after defender Kenneth Omeruo‘s second-half goal delivered a 1-0 win over Guinea on Wednesday.

The Nigerians were unimpressive in the first half in Alexandria but lifted their game in the second. Alex Iwobi‘s rasping shot was pushed away by Guinea goalkeeper Ibrahim Kone and Ahmed Musa almost set up Odion Ighalo on a counterattack.

The former Chelsea defender Omeruo did what the forwards had not been able to do when he beat Kone with a glancing header at the near post off Moses Simon’s corner in the 73rd minute.

Nigeria, which won the title in 2013, has two wins from two games in Group B. It beat Burundi 1-0 in its first match and now needs a draw from its last fixture against Madagascar to finish top and stay in Alexandria for the last 16.

There was more good news for Nigeria when Samuel Kalu came on as a substitute near the end. The midfield player collapsed at a training session the day before the first game, suffering from dehydration, and was hospitalized.

Coach Gernot Rohr rested captain John Obi Mikel against Guinea.

Elsewhere, Egypt also confirmed a place in the knockout stages with a 2-0 win over the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ahmad Elmohamady and Mohamed Salah each scored in the first half to lead the Pharoahs to victory, the hosts second-straight win in the competition.

In the other match of the day, Uganda tied Zimbabwe, 1-1.