U.S. will host 2024 Copa America, a critical opportunity for USMNT

Chile won the most recent Copa America hosted by the United States in 2016. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Chile won the most recent Copa America hosted by the United States in 2016. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The 2024 Copa America, arguably the most competitive international soccer tournament outside the World Cup, will be played in the United States — and the U.S. men's national team will likely participate.

CONMEBOL, the South American soccer governing body, and CONCACAF, its North and Central American equivalent, announced the plan Friday as part of a new "strategic collaboration agreement."

The men's Copa America, which typically includes South America's 10 national teams and two guests, will expand to 16 teams and welcome six from CONCACAF in 2024.

Those six will qualify via the 2023-24 CONCACAF Nations League — meaning the U.S. is not guaranteed a place at the tournament. But the USMNT — along with Mexico and Canada — will be favored to earn a place.

The tournament will likely give the three North American nations their highest-leverage games between now and the 2026 World Cup, which they will co-host — and for which they therefore won't have to qualify.

Whereas 2026 World Cup games will be shared among the three nations, 2024 Copa America games will be played exclusively in the U.S. — in many of the same cities and stadiums that will welcome the world two years later.

The competition will return to the U.S. just eight summers after it last visited but on different terms. The 2016 Copa America Centenario was a one-off fiesta officially hosted by the United States. It netted the U.S. Soccer Federation some $80 million in profit.

The 2024 edition, on the other hand, is a regularly scheduled Copa America that is moving north because no South American nation wanted to host it. It will be run by CONMEBOL and hosted, technically, by CONCACAF, not by U.S. Soccer — meaning the stateside windfall will be limited.

Hosting duties are typically assigned on a rotating basis to one of CONMEBOL's 10 members. It was Ecuador's turn in 2024. But Ecuador declined a nomination, and CONMEBOL entered 2023 without an agreed-upon host.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 10: Lionel Messi of Argentina lifts the trophy after winning the final of Copa America Brazil 2021 between Brazil and Argentina at Maracana Stadium on July 10, 2021 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Gustavo Pagano/Getty Images)

CONCACAF and its most powerful federations, meanwhile, were searching for meaningful games in 2024 and 2025. And "obviously," as U.S. Soccer CEO JT Batson told a couple of reporters two weeks ago, "Copa America is a hell of a property."

Batson also mentioned that, while in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, he heard consistently from other federations: "A lot of people want to come play soccer in our country. We have very impassioned fans, we've got great facilities, and of course, with the World Cup coming here, teams want to scout it out."

A North American hosting arrangement made too much sense. Discussions intensified after the 2022 World Cup, and an agreement was finalized this week.

The agreement stretches beyond the Copa America and beyond men's soccer to the women's game and the men's club game. CONCACAF will open its inaugural women's championship, the W Gold Cup, to four South American teams in 2024. That tournament will also be played in the United States.

CONMEBOL and CONCACAF also hope to launch a "final four"-style club competition in 2024 featuring the top two teams from each region.

But the headliner is the Copa America, which could be Lionel Messi's last major tournament with Argentina. It will, at the very least, bring the reigning world champs and a host of other stars to the U.S.

It will also be a critical measuring stick for the USMNT, perhaps the first and most important under a new coach. It will be an opportunity to assess progress and personnel at the midway point between the 2022 and 2026 World Cups. It will also make U.S. Soccer's vacant sporting director, general manager and head coach jobs more attractive to potential candidates.

This was a key priority for U.S. Soccer coming out of Qatar, as part of its review of the USMNT program.

"Obviously there's a lot of focus on who men's national team or women's national team head coach is. But as a part of our review, we're looking at this broadly," Batson said Jan. 13 at the United Soccer Coaches Convention. "By virtue of hosting [in 2026], we don't have World Cup qualification, so what does that mean for the environments our men's national team are in, from a competitive games standpoint, over the next 3.5 years?"

On Friday, they went a long way to securing one important answer.