Mexico will draw more fans than U.S. for Copa America - Uruguay coach
Mexico will be the home team when they play Uruguay in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 5 to kick off the Copa America Centenario, Celeste manager Oscar Washington Tabarez said.
The two teams play in a first-round group that also features Venezuela and Jamaica in a tournament that will be played across the United States from June 3-26. The Uruguay coach said he believes more Mexico supporters will turn out to watch the special event than will fans of the United States national team.
"[Mexico] is always a difficult rival and in addition to that, the way I see it, it is going to be the home team, more so than the United States, and for that we are going to have a very interesting debut [in Phoenix]," Tabarez said on Monday as Uruguay began training. "Mexico is a North American power and in addition to that it has a great organization with powerful internal football process."
Tabarez added that he was not looking forward to playing Copa America Centenario in the United States due to the travel involved between stadiums and the extreme heat in some of the locations. Uruguay must cross from the west coast to the east coast and back again to play the first round in the span of eight days.
"This is being played across the United States. I don't like that," he said. "The teams that reach the final will have crossed the entire United States, and it is an impressively big country. It will be hot as well, which will make the distances we need to travel even more demanding and that is why this is not a typical Copa America."
Uruguay begins Copa America in a group that includes Jamaica, Mexico and Venezuela and the Celeste debut against Mexico on June 5 in Phoenix, Arizona. Four days later they take on Venezuela in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, followed by a match vs. Jamaica in San Francisco on June 13.
"It is a very special Copa America that I don't even dare to call Copa America because for me, a Copa America is something completely different," Tabarez said in reference to the six CONCACAF teams that will be joining in on the CONMEBOL event for this 100-year anniversary.
Tabarez also said Uruguay would have little time to prepare, but he did concede that playing in the tournament would give the Celeste the chance to show all the work the team has done up to this point.
"And, if it is possible, to improve," he said, adding that the team's primary goal will be World Cup qualifying in September.
"In order of importance, for me the most important matches happen from September on."
Tabarez praised the work of his star forward Luis Suarez this season at Barcelona as he comes from leading the club to their 24th La Liga title as well as finishing with a scoring record that earned him Pichichi honors. But Tabarez stressed that football is a team sport.
"We would never ask any one player to shoulder the responsibility and thinking that they must make us champions," he said.
He added that he is waiting on fitness updates from Nicolas Lodeiro and Sebastian Coates and that they have not been completely ruled out for Copa America.
Tabarez said that of the three first-round rivals, he is most familiar with Venezuela. He said they have some young players and won't be easy to beat. He added that Uruguay beat Jamaica in Copa America 2015 in Chile by a score of 1-0 but "there was drama."
Jamaica and Mexico were the two CONCACAF teams added to Copa America 2015 to round out the 10 teams.
Uruguay will play a friendly against Trinidad-Tobago in Montevideo on May 27 before traveling to the United States on June 1. Tabarez said he was not sure when Atletico Madrid players Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez would join up with the squad, but added that they will likely travel directly to the United States after the May 28 Champions League final vs. Real Madrid.
"We haven't yet firmed up these plans because it is the wish of the players, one of whom is the captain [Godin] to leave for Copa America from Montevideo, but we won't allow that if we feel it affects his rest and recuperation," Tabarez said.