The Copa America, first staged in Argentina in 1916, started inviting guest teams in 1993, when the USA and Mexico joined the 10 South American nations.
The USA, Coach Bora Milutinovic mainly testing his pool’s less experienced players for a shot at the 1994 World Cup roster, exited in the first round. Mexico, coached by Miguel Mejia Baron, finished runner-up, falling 2-1 in the final to Argentina on a pair of goals by Gabriel Batistuta.
Mejia Baron’s Mexico team was perhaps the greatest in the nation’s history with stars such as Hugo Sanchez, Luis Garcia, Zague, Ramon Ramirez, Claudio Saurez, Alberto Garcia Aspe and Jorge Campos.
Now Mexico, coached by former MLS coach Juan Carlos Osorio, looks like it may have the talent to rival the mid-1990s El Tri squad and enters the Copa Centenario, which kicks off on June 3, on a roll.
El Tri has won seven games in a row -- outscoring its opponents 16 to 3 -- and has not lost in 17 straight games. It won the USA-hosted 2015 Gold Cup and opened its 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with four wins without conceding a goal. Young, exciting attackers, 20-year-old Hirving “Chucky” Lozano and 23-year-old Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, have complemented the veterans from the 2014 World Cup team that beat Cameroon (1-0), tied host Brazil (0-0) and beat Croatia (3-1) before falling to the Netherlands in the round of 16.
Lozano, who scored the clutch goal for Pachuca’s Liga MX semifinal series, also scored in Mexico’s World Cup qualifying win over Canada, his second game for El Tri. Corona scored in both World Cup qualifying wins over Canada, including this gem in Azteca Stadium.
The emergence of Corona, who plays for Porto, Lozano and his speedy Pachuca teammate, the 23-year-old Jurgen Damm, and a deep pool of European-based veterans makes the absence of the Los Angeles Galaxy Giovani dos Santos an omission that hardly hurts El Tri’s prospects.
Defender Hector Moreno and midfielder Andres Guardado are coming off a club season in which they helped PSV Eindhoven beat out Ajax Amsterdam for the Dutch Eredivisie title and had a good run in the UEFA Champions League, losing to eventual finalist Atletico Madrid in the round of 16 on penalty kicks.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was the Bundesliga’s fourth leading scorer with 17 goals and struck 26 times in 43 games in all competitions for Bayer Leverkusen in the 2015-16 season.
With Porto, defender Miguel Layun, midfielder Hector Herrera and Corona finished third in the Liga Portugal, which was won by Benfica, home of striker Raul Jimenez. Central defender Diego Reyes is coming off a solid season with ninth-place La Liga finisher Real Sociedad.
Mexico has played in all Copa Americas since 1993. Costa Rica has played in four Copas, the USA in three, and Honduras has played in one. In nine Copa Americas, Mexico finished runner-up twice and third three times.
In 1995 the USA finished fourth in Uruguay wiith a run that included an historic 3-0 win over Argentina. In 2007 in Colombia, with a B team, the USA was eliminated in group play.
Aside from Mexico and the USA, Concacaf teams Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica and Panama complete the 16-team Copa Centenario to be staged in 10 U.S. cities.
The Copa America has been won most often by Uruguay (15 times), followed by Argentina (14) and Brazil (8), but Mexico not only has the talent lift the crown, it will -- because of the USA’s large Mexican-American population -- have a home-field advantage.