Tue | Jun 18, 2019

Tanya Lee | No Concacaf teams in Copa America is a big mistake

Published:Friday | May 24, 2019 | 12:12 AM
Jamaica’s Lance Laing (front) and Argentina’s Lucas Biglia struggle for control of the ball during a Copa America Group B match at the Sausalito Stadium in Vina del Mar, Chile, on Saturday, June 20, 2015. Argentina won 1-0.

The 2019 edition of the Copa America kicks off across six of Brazil’s most prominent cities from June 14 to July 6, and for the first time since 1991, there will be no team from Concacaf in the competition. Concacaf powerhouse Mexico have competed in all 10 editions since 1993, and the USA has been to four tournaments, including hosting the Copa America Centenario in 2016.

The most recent Copa, in 2016, was a 16-team tournament that featured all of six Concacaf teams in Jamaica, USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Haiti, and Panama. No participation in what is easily the second-biggest confederation cup in the world is, in my estimation, a big mistake, given where Concacaf sits currently in global football.

Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz were a part of the 2015 and 2016 editions. Although failing to register a win in the competition, the Copa America holds immense value in giving Concacaf teams quality opponents, and the ability to match their skills against some of the world’s best ­players, ahead of World Cup qualification bid. The experience is frankly immeasurable, considering that South America accounts for not only the biggest names in football (Messi, Neymar, Saurez), but all of five South American countries (Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia and Chile) are within the FIFA top 20 rankings.

NO THREAT

It is my view that Concacaf has taken somewhat of a plunge in recent years and no longer poses a threat in global football. The players, leagues and national teams have stagnated; not enjoying the kind of emergence projected some 14 years ago when then powerhouses USA and Mexico sat loftily within FIFA’s top 10 rankings. In 2005, Mexico were fifth and the US were ranked eighth in the world. The USA enjoyed a glory period, beating the likes of Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. Players were plying their trade across Europe, with the likes of Clint Dempsey at Tottenham and Michael Bradley at Roma.

But things have seemingly regressed for Concacaf. They have no teams in the world top 10, and Mexico has dropped to 18 and USA, 24. The confederation’s biggest names are largely plying their trade in the MLS [Major League Soccer]. Jamaica, per capita, is probably the most significant contributor to the MLS player pool, but the MLS hasn’t quite emerged as the superior league it was previously projected to be when the likes of David Beckham and Kaka gave them a massive shot in the arm years ago. With the USA missing out on the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification, and Mexico crashing out in the first round in Russia, Concacaf could benefit from quality competition and brand visibility over the summer.

CONMEBOL insists they invited the teams to participate “over 300 times”, but it was Concacaf who couldn’t quite make it work because of schedule conflicts with the 2019 Gold Cup tournament. The Mexican Football Federation confirmed that Concacaf could not reach an agreement to avoid a schedule conflict.

“There were formal invitation given to the federations of the USA and Mexico. We followed all the protocols, also sending a personal invitation to each football federation president.” Said CONMEBOL Vice-President Ramon Jesurun.

In response, a source from the Mexican Federation told ESPN, “We are obliged to send our A team to the Gold Cup because we belong to Concacaf. They did not agree with the dates, so with both tournaments to be played at the same time, our only option will be to send a B team without our main coaching staff to play Copa America.” Mexico opted not to do that. It is worth noting that in previous years, Mexico have sent two different teams to both competitions.

For the 2019 Copa America, the guest teams will be Asian Cup Champions and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, and Asian Cup runners-up, Japan. South America’s Confederation, CONMEBOL, cites their close links and excellent relationship with the Asian Football Confederation as the main reason for their invites.

One Love.