For the first time, the 2016 Copa America will be held in the United States, CONMEBOL and CONCACAF, the governing bodies of South and North America, announced on Thursday.
The 2016 edition, christened the Copa America Centenario, will mark the 100th anniversary of the tournament, as well as the founding of CONMEBOL. For those reasons, CONMEBOL decided an expanded competition was needed to mark the occasion. The tournament, set for June 3-26, 2016, will be the first time that the Copa has been held outside of South America.
"For the first time, Copa America comes home; comes north," said Jeffrey Webb, CONCACAF president, who added that the U.S. venues have not yet been opened for bidding and thus are not yet known. "What football can do is unite the Americas like never before and reach a previously unexplored pinnacle."
In addition to the 10 members of CONMEBOL, six countries from CONCACAF will take part. The U.S. and Mexico are automatically invited, as will the 2014 Copa Centroamericana winner (also hosted in the U.S. this September), and the 2014 Caribbean Cup winner. The remaining two teams will come from the top four finishers from the 2015 Gold Cup that have yet to be invited, after a playoff involving those four sides.
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"This is an irrefutable message that football is able to carry forward the best purposes as well as those who dreamt about football in South America and CONCACAF," said CONMEBOL president Eugenio Figueredo, who added that he did not yet know whether the Cup would be a FIFA date. "We value CONCACAF allowing us to build a joint history and we want to strengthen."
As for stadiums, USSF president Sunil Gulati insisted that "absolutely no decision" had been made in terms of the number of venues or specific host cities, but that the jockeying for position had already begun.
"One benefit we have in a country like the U.S., is that we have many, many venues that can host this," he said. "A number of venues have been in contact with us in the last 48 hours that want to host it. Some [candidates] in person here in Miami have talked to us, and a number by email."
Gulati added that U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann was "ecstatic" about the news, and that he was "very excited and pleased we were able to get this done."
The Centenario will be a special event outside of the Copa's regular quadrennial schedule, and the regularly scheduled Copas in Chile in 2015 and 2019 in Brazil will continue as scheduled.
The plans for an expanded Copa America have been in the works for some time, with CONMEBOL announcing in October 2012 its initial plans for the tournament. But there have been several obstacles that delayed an official announcement, the biggest being the release of CONCACAF players by their clubs.
Since CONCACAF teams are technically being invited as guests to partake in what is ostensibly a South American tournament, clubs were not obligated to release players.
"We are making this effort with Jeffrey [Webb] and FIFA so all national teams can bring their best [teams]," said Figueredo. "Each country will be competing to become the champion, and they are definitely going to try to have their best team."
U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati had long maintained that unless players from CONCACAF were released, there would be little point in hosting the tournament. That stumbling block is in the process of being resolved.
Another sticking point is the impact that the tournament will have on the FIFA calendar, given that Euro 2016, World Cup qualifying, and the Olympic soccer tournament are all set to take place during the summer. That issue is still being negotiated as well.
"I'm not clear if it will be on a FIFA date or not," said Figueredo. "We have been of late insisting that should be on the FIFA calendar."
The 2016 edition of the Copa will mark the fourth time the U.S. has participated in the tournament. The U.S. were eliminated in the group stage in 1993 and 2007, but reached the semifinals in 1995, when they was beaten 1-0 by Brazil.
The U.S. sent an under-strength squad to the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela, where they lost group-stage games to Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia.
The tournament will overlap with Euro 2016, which kicks off on June 10 of that year.