Contracts with 10 host cities were set to be executed. The tournament was supposed to be a showcase for the USA's organizational skills, less than a year before FIFA was to award the hosting rights to the 2026 World Cup.
Then the Federal indictments hit.
On May 27, 14 FIFA officials and sports marketing executives were indicted in a massive bribery case. The Copa Centenario was exposed to be a scam hatched by Conmebol to line the pockets of the heads of its 10 federations. Ever since, Conmebol, plunged into a financial crisis, scrambling to try to salvage the tournament.
Conmebol needs the money the Copa Centenario will surely generate from huge crowds across the United States, but it is at the mercy of U.S. Soccer, which can take it or leave it.
-- A big payday would be great, but it isn't like U.S. Soccer lacks for financial resources.
-- Showing off its ability to organize a tournament is nice and everything, but the Copa Centenario's raison d'être no longer exists from U.S. Soccer's perspective. The bidding process for the 2026 World Cup has been put on hold at least until next February when a new FIFA president will be elected.
-- Organizing the biggest men's tournament in the United States since the 1994 World Cup would galvanize interest in soccer on a national scale, making it perhaps the strongest argument in favor of its organization by the U.S. Soccer. But not at the expense of having the Feds on its back over the organization of a tournament for which Conmebol penciled in bribes of $20 million. Winning back the trust of U.S. authorities will be key if U.S. Soccer and, yes, FIFA, are to go to them for their blessing in organizing another World Cup in the United States.
About the only area where the Copa Centenario is an undisputed winner for U.S. Soccer is on the field. FIFA has placed the Copa Centenario on its calendar so clubs must release players. The tournament would give the national team -- in transition whether it wins the Oct. 10 Concacaf Cup against Mexico or not -- a chance to get at least three high quality matches. But the Copa Centenario doesn't have to be held in the United States for the national team to get those games.
Conmebol would take a huge financial hit if the tournament is held outside the United States, but that would at least solve a major problem. One of the inconvenient realities of the FIFA scandal is that numerous South American soccer officials won't step foot in the United States for fear of being arrested. Marco Polo Del Nero, president of the Brazil federation, did not travel with Brazil for its two matches in the United States in New Jersey and Massachusetts. Indeed, since fleeing Zurich after the first arrests were made, he has not left Brazil, not even to travel back to Zurich for his duties as a FIFA executive committee member.
Complicating matters is that Concacaf, Conmebol's partner in the Copa Centenario, is also trying to recover from the crushing blow of being implicated in the FIFA scandal. Jeffrey Webb, its president, was indicted, and its general secretary, Enrique Sanz, was dismissed after being identified by the Feds as an unindicted co-conspirator.
To put how bad the situation is in perspective, the two previous presidents of both of the Copa Centenario's organizers, Conmebol and Concacaf, were indicted, and the heads of the three marketing agencies that hold the commercial rights to the Copa Centenario were either indicted or have pleaded guilty. The only clear winners here will be the lawyers whose job it is to untangle the mess.
"We want to do it," Juan Angel Napout, installed as Conmebol president in March, said two weeks ago in Paraguay. "The 100 years are important and we have to celebrate. [The tournament] is on the official FIFA calendar and that is valued very highly. Originally, we want to keep going with what we've done, keep going with Concacaf but we understand the moment they are going through and we are not going to force anyone to do anything. What I can assure you is that the 100 years will be celebrated and that is going to be on the pitch."
Chile, the 2015 Copa America host, and Ecuador had been mentioned as possible hosts. Reports out of Argentina on Thursday suggested that Conmebol would move the tournament to Mexico. But later in the day those reports were shot down by a source close to the Mexican federation, who told the sports daily Record that it would support the tournament being played in the United States.
Late on Thursday, Conmebol released a statement that Napout and Honduran Alfredo Hawit, the interim president of Concacaf, will meet next Thursday in Mexico City to review how the tournament will be organized, emphasizing that both confederations remained firm in the belief that the 100th anniversary of the tournament should be commemorated in 2016.
A nostalgic gesture that got lost somewhere in the process.