U.S. to play Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia
CARACAS, Venezuela -- The United States will play Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia in the first round of this summer's Copa America, soccer's championship of South America.
The Americans, invited as a guest, are in Group C and open June 28 against Argentina in Maracaibo. The United States plays Paraguay on July 2 in Barinas and Colombia on July 5 in Barquisimeto, according to Wednesday's draw.
"Quite obviously we have been put in a very competitive group," U.S. interim coach Bob Bradley said during a telephone conference call.
The U.S. opener comes just four days after the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean, which will be played in Chicago. The U.S. team figures to make several roster changes between tournaments.
"The Gold Cup still is the most important event for us," Bradley said. "Obviously, it's our confederation championship. But the main reason that I think it's extra important is because winning the Gold Cup will earn us three games -- three very, very good games --in South Africa in 2009."
The Gold Cup champion advances to the eight-nation FIFA Confederations Cup, which will be played a year ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The United States, trying to rebound from its first-round elimination in last year's World Cup, is appearing in the Copa America for the first time since 1995, when it beat Argentina 3-0 in its final first-round game and finished fourth in the tournament.
Bradley is not sure he will even be around to coach the team. He was hired on an interim basis after former Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann withdrew and has led the Americans to exhibition victories over Denmark and Mexico.
He was happy to open against what appears to be the toughest team in the group.
"Oftentimes when you can play that team first, it gives you the ability to really prepare well for the first game," he said.
Defending champion Brazil is in Group B of the 12-nation tournament along with Chile, Ecuador and Mexico. Host Venezuela was drawn into Group A with Bolivia, Peru and Uruguay. The top two teams in each group and the best two third-place teams advance to the quarterfinals.
Venezuela plays on the opening day against Bolivia on June 26 at Merida. The tournament will be played in nine cities, with the final July 15 in Maracaibo.
Because of the two tournaments, some players will be missing from Major League Soccer for extended periods.
"I know that there's always been discussions, and we will work together, as we always do," Bradley said. "Everybody understands that both events are important for U.S. Soccer."