U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann says the Copa Centenario is on a par with the European Championship -- a case can be made that the top 10 teams are tougher -- but that hasn't stopped
him from setting a lofty goal for the USA: the semifinals.
Centenario will feature eight teams -- five of the six South American entrants and three of the four Concacaf teams -- that reached the round of 16 of the 2014 World Cup. In addition, Bolivia, Peru
and Paraguay, which didn't qualify for the 2014 World Cup, made the quarterfinals of the 2015 Copa America, meaning that all but Venezuela among the Conmebol 10 reached the knockout stage of one or
Klinsmann pointed to how competitive the current World Cup 2018 qualifying tournament is. After six games, Uruguay and Ecuador are tied for first place, and Copa
Centenario seeds Argentina and Brazil are only third and sixth.
"If you look at their World Cup qualifying campaign and look at who’s on top right now, who’s fighting
four, five, six, that’s impressive," he said at Tuesday's press conference ahead of Wednesday's friendly against Ecuador in Frisco, Texas. "It’s not an easy go for Argentina, Brazil,
even if you always say these guys should win the World Cup.So what you’re going to see now in this upcoming Copa America is very special and easily can compete with the European
Championship. That’s big, and you want your players to realize that."
The USA will have to get through a group that Klinsmann referred to as the most difficult group at the
Copa Centenario, which begins with its opening game opponent, Colombia.
"They deserve a lot of respect," he said. "We had them on the edge two years ago in Fulham but we just conceded a
late, late goal with a roster that was not the roster that we have together right now. That's exciting."
Despite the opposition in Group A -- Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay have all
beaten the USA in their last meetings in official competition and friendlies -- Klinsmann says the situation is no different than at the 2014 World Cup, where the USA made it out of a group that
included eventual champion Germany, Ghana and Portugal.
The problem was, the USA had nothing left for its round-of-16 match and needed a heroic game from Tim Howard in goal to hold
off Belgium until overtime, where the Red Devils won, 2-1.
"After the game against Belgium," Klinsmann said, "we said we have to learn to come through the knockout games. I hope that will
be the learning curve for us at this Copa America, that we find a way to get though the group with these very difficult three opponents, but then when you get through the group you want go further.
The goal then really is the final four."
The USA will host the runner-up in Group B -- Brazil, Ecuador, Haiti or Peru -- in Seattle if it wins Group A; the USA will meet in the Group B
winner in East Rutherford, New Jersey, if it finishes second. Making the semifinals would be a huge feat, though.
The USA has only won two knockout games in the history of its
participation in the World Cup and Copa America. Both came against Mexico -- 2-0 win at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and shootout win after 0-0 tie at the 1995 Copa America in Uruguay.
USA in Knockout Stage: WORLD CUP 1930: Argentina 1-6 1934: DNQ 1950: DNQ 1990:
DNQ 1994: Brazil 0-1 1998: DNQ 2002: Mexico 2-0, Germany 0-1 2006: DNQ 2010: Ghana 1-2 (OT) 2014: Belgium 1-2 (OT) COPA AMERICA 1993: DNQ 1995: Mexico 0-0 (4-1 on PKs), Brazil 0-1 2007: DNQ