U.S. handed toughest draw for 2016 Copa America Centenario
NEW YORK -- The U.S. national team was dealt the toughest of the four groups in Sunday's gala Copa America Centenario draw at the Hammerstein Ballroom in midtown Manhattan.
The Americans, one of four seeded teams as host of the June competition that marks the 100th anniversary of South America's championship -- the world's oldest international soccer tournament -- will open the event with their first Group A match against Colombia on June 3 in Santa Clara, California. (Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are the other seeds.)
Jurgen Klinsmann's squad then travels to Chicago to face CONCACAF rival Costa Rica on June 7, before concluding its first-round slate June 11 against Paraguay in Philadelphia. Overall, it's close to a worst-case scenario for the U.S.
"I take full responsibility," joked former U.S. defender Alexi Lalas, one of four former pros who participated in the presentation. "I apologize to the nation."
The only way it could have been tougher for Klinsmann & Co. would be if they had been grouped with Uruguay -- boasting all-world strikers Luis Suarez (Barcelona) and Edinson Cavani -- rather than the Colombians, who are languishing in seventh place out of 10 teams in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.
But there's no real pushover among the Americans' four foes, as the three nations roundly considered the weakest in the 16-team tournament, Bolivia, Haiti and Venezuela, ended up elsewhere.
"Obviously, it's a difficult group, no doubt about it. But it's doable," Klinsmann said following the event. He pointed out that the U.S. advanced from a foursome that included Germany, Ghana, and Portugal at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Indeed, the Copa slate is manageable for the hosts -- if they play well. The U.S. has not lost a non-friendly match on home soil to Costa Rica since 1997. They're 1-1-2 against Paraguay in four meetings over the past two decades, and though the U.S. lost a friendly against Colombia in late 2014 in London, playing stateside should help. It did when the U.S. upset the Cafeteros in the 1994 World Cup.
Still, history will matter little when the games are underway. Like Colombia, led by James Rodriguez, Paraguay is the sort of fast, physical foe that creates matchup problems for the U.S. They also boast one of the top young players in the competition in 21-year-old attacker Derlis Gonzalez.
As always, winning the first game -- or at the least, not losing it -- will be crucial for the hosts.
"We'll do everything to prepare very, very early for Colombia," Klinsmann said. "It's good to know the teams. Now we can put a scouting plan together."
Klinsmann says he wants and expects Colombia and Paraguay to bring full-strength squads, even though the former could be involved in the Olympics in August, and Paraguayan coach Ramon Diaz has suggested he could bring a young roster to the United States.
"They all have to come with their best teams," he said. "Would you like an easier group? Maybe on paper. But no group is easy. We'll take it the way it is."
Asked his objective this summer, Klinsmann said it was to advance to the quarterfinals as the Group A winner or runner-up. Should the U.S. finish second, an elimination game against Group B favorite Brazil could await.
"The objective is clearly getting out of the group, even if it's not easy," he said. "First or second with that group is both tremendously fine. We'll just take it the way it is."
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.