U.S. Soccer Invites South American Teams for Rich New Tournament in 2020

U.S. Soccer has invited South America’s 10 soccer federations to bring their national teams to the United States in 2020 for a new intercontinental championship that would run concurrently with that summer’s European Championship.

The offer, a package that includes almost $200 million in guarantees to the invited teams and their governing bodies, was made Tuesday in a letter from U.S. Soccer’s president, Carlos Cordeiro, to his counterparts at the 10 South American federations. For the past year, soccer officials across the Americas have held discussions about creating a quadrennial tournament involving national teams from both hemispheres, but with no agreement in sight, U.S. Soccer, eager to fill a gap in the global soccer calendar and bearing an enticing nine-figure offer, is now proposing to establish its own.

In the letter, Cordeiro said U.S. Soccer was offering to underwrite the new event and guarantee each nation — and both confederations — millions of dollars in appearance fees, subsidized travel and bonuses for each point earned. The champions could take home a prize of more than $11 million. Cordeiro has invited the South Americans to a meeting to discuss the proposal next week in Miami.

The proposed 16-team tournament would resemble, in structure though most likely not in name, the 2016 Copa América Centenario. That tournament, a relocated version of the South American championship — expanded to celebrate the event’s 100th anniversary — brought the 10 members of the South American confederation, Conmebol, to the United States for a month to face off not only against one another, but also a half-dozen opponents from Concacaf, the regional confederation made up of North and Central America and the Caribbean.

That tournament was considered a sporting and — perhaps more important — a financial success, and was won by Chile, which beat Argentina in a penalty-kick shootout in the final in East Rutherford, N.J. The new event would take place in June and July next year.

The proposed 2020 tournament would again include all 10 South American teams, plus six from Concacaf, and most likely feature a group stage and then a knockout round to determine a champion. U.S. Soccer’s role in the offer, and Concacaf consent, would be criticial to making the event happen, since both would have to approve any plans to hold such an event in the United States.

In his letter, a draft of which was seen by The New York Times, Cordeiro took pains to emphasize that the new event would be a singular tournament, and not meant to replace existing events like the Copa América or the Gold Cup, which would continue separately. Conmebol, which will contest this year’s Copa in June and July in Brazil, said last year that it was planning to shift the Copa América to a quadrennial schedule starting in 2020, to coincide with UEFA’s European Championship. Concacaf holds its own regional championship, the Gold Cup, in odd-numbered years; this year’s Gold Cup matches will be played in the United States, Costa Rica and at least one Caribbean nation.

For next summer, though, Cordeiro is proposing a larger, intercontinental event in the United States. The event could fill a gap in the global soccer calendar — at the moment, the Euros are the only major championship scheduled for that summer — but despite the millions being offered, it is unclear how South American and Conmebol officials will react to a tournament that would conflict with their Copa América plans.

The Copa América has included guest teams for years; Mexico and the United States have participated in it several times, and this year it will include Japan and Qatar.

For the United States, though, the event could have several positives. FIFA is expected to choose the dozen or so host cities for the 2026 World Cup in the next two years, so the tournament could be a chance for the 17 finalists to make their case for inclusion. It also would offer meaningful competition for the United States men’s national team as it heads into qualifying for the 2022 World Cup; that process began later than hoped because the search for the team’s head coach, Gregg Berhalter, was delayed, first by the World Cup bid and then by the search for a general manager to run the national team program. Hired in December, Berhalter has coached only two friendlies to date as he prepares for this summer’s Gold Cup.

If the proposed tournament with Conmebol does not come to fruition, U.S. Soccer could still press ahead with a new event, possibly a scaled-down tournament involving teams from other continents.

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