During the 2005 Gold Cup, I wrote a column suggesting that the moribund tournament be merged with the Copa America to stage a single quadrennial competition for the Americas — one that would be worth watching, and worth talking about. A colleague in the press box at D.C. United was quite indignant, and told me that the column was "asinine." I was interested to know why. Because the Gold Cup, he said, needed time to develop. Like the European Championship, say, which had also started out as a small tournament and grown over the decades.
That was a fair point, almost 18 years ago. But how much time does the Gold Cup need? Only the USA and Mexico have won it besides Canada's sole triumph in 2000. The USA being repeat host deprives the tournament of character, as well as weighting the odds in the home nation's favor every single tournament. As a biennial competition, it seems to be always just around the corner, like a visit to the grandparents. The Gold Cup? Again? Do we have to, mom?
Meanwhile, guest countries from outside the region dilute its chances of being taken seriously. This year, Qatar has been invited for the second successive tournament. There's no need to ask why. It's the same reason that the Gold Cup is always hosted by the USA. There are financial considerations. Tough luck, Aruba, and St. Kitts & Nevis too.
This week, however, the American confederations Concacaf (North and Central) and Conmebol (South) announced that for the second time — following 2016's centenary edition, the Copa America Centenario — the 2024 Copa America will be staged in the USA and involve countries from across the American hemisphere. The 10 South American countries are grandfathered in and qualify directly. Concacaf will use its Nations League to determine which six countries participate. No need to 'invite' Qatar to buy itself a spot.
The competition will take place concurrently with the 2024 European Championship in Germany, which will be hard for those of us following both tournaments, but makes sense in terms of soccer's overcrowded calendar. In terms of sporting quality, the two competitions will certainly be rivals. Although let's not pretend that the initiative for a US-hosted, trans-regional Copa América is driven by anything other than commerce.
On the field, the merged tournament should strengthen the standard of play in Concacaf. The U.S. men's team games against England and the Netherlands at last year's World Cup were their first competitive opponents outside of Concacaf since it played Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia (twice) and Ecuador at the 2016 Copa. The U.S. team's lack of tournament savvy against major soccer nations shows at every World Cup. Not that playing all those South American nations in 2016 helped them at the following World Cup in Russia, but it surely would have, had they qualified. Though some things we'll never know.
It will be interesting to contrast the quality of, and enthusiasm for, this year's Gold Cup compared with next year's Copa. And that includes crowd numbers, broadcast rights income, and sponsorship revenues. It's true that the Gold Cup provides an opportunity for USA-based Central American fans to support their teams, and they do so without fail and in decent numbers. Is that financial injection to Concacaf enough reason, though, to sustain a tournament that's as predictable as it is unmemorable? (I had to look up who won the 2005 edition — it was the USA, on PKs after a 0-0 tie with Panama, a game that I undoubtedly spent two hours of my life watching, but have no memory of at all.)
In the long run, a 16-team Copa America every four years involving the entire region from north to south makes the most sense. Hosting should be shared and not just the property of the USA, while the commercial earnings should be distributed to ensure that nations failing to qualify are compensated too. South American teams should be made to qualify as well (the bottom four teams from the single World Cup qualification group could play off), so that there's a fairer eight-to-eight split in participation.
The late Chuck Blazer, at that time Concacaf's General Secretary, admitted to journalists at the 2011 Gold Cup that it was "a commercial event for the purpose of serving the needs of member countries. We recognize we put different teams in different places on this tour so as to maximize revenue and attendance." Corrupt Chuck's time has been and gone, though. The mediocre Gold Cup should follow suit and stop cluttering up the calendar every two years, to make way for a dynamic tournament that would resonate across the world.