Philadelphia, Pa (Sports Network) – The United States Men’s National Soccer team has accepted an invitation to compete in the 2007 Copa America, the regional tournament of South America. The 12-team tournament will run from June 26 to July 15 in nine cities across Venezuela.
The U.S. is competing in the biannual event for the first time since 1995, because of a number of reasons – the biggest being the U.S. Soccer Federation’s preoccupation with building Major League Soccer’s foundation in the United States.
The first phase of the tournament consists of three groups of four teams each that compete in a round-robin format. The top two teams from each group, along with the two best third-place teams, advance to the knockout phase. Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela have been designated to head the three groups.
Copa America is the second international tournament in which the U.S. will compete next summer, and will begin just a few days after the USA tries to defend its title against 11 other teams at the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, scheduled from June 6-24 in several cities across the United States.
One of the main issues that had to be resolved before the U.S. would accept the invitation to the tournament was scheduling conflicts involved with both the Gold Cup and the MLS.
“We have for several months been looking at the possibility of playing in Copa America, a process which started formally on July 8th when (U.S. Soccer Secretary General) Dan Flynn and I met with the General Secretary of CONCACAF Chuck Blazer in Berlin,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in a conference call Monday. “We had a very positive meeting the day before the World Cup final. Basically we laid out what I would say are some prerequisites for us to be able to consider our participation in Copa America. The most important of those prerequisites was that the date on which the U.S. might potentially start would need to be later in the first round of Copa America because the Gold Cup ends on June 24th and Copa America starts on June 26th.
“So physically, the thought of playing the final of the Gold Cup if the U.S. team were in it and the playing Copa America preliminary or first game two days later was an impossibility. They thought they would be able to work with us on that. It took some time for us to be able to get a confirmation of that in writing. They needed to go through their channels, but we finally got that we would not start in the beginning of the competition. We obviously would start in the first round, but in the latter part of the first round. So lets say the last day of group play,” Gulati added.
Another issue that needed to be dealt with was the fact that the tournament would fall right in the middle of the MLS season, which would make it hard to keep that league in top form, while putting together the best possible team for the American side.
Gulati and Flynn met with MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis to work out those details before accepting the Copa America invitation.
“We have gotten to a place that both Don and I are comfortable,” Gulati said. “We are very, very thankful that the MLS is going to be working with us as to make sure that we have a good team go to both of those events (The Gold Cup and Copa America). I can’t tell you what all of that means in terms of exact details, but I think it is safe to say that Don and the league (MLS) understand how important the events would be for us in terms of preparing the team and especially as we are starting a new cycle yet they are in the middle of the season.”
The third and final issue the U.S. Soccer Federation had to deal with before accepting the invitation to Copa America was that the new head coach of the team was comfortable playing in two tournaments so close together.
“What we have done to deal with that issue is asked the question of everyone of the people that Dan Flynn and I have talked to,” Gulati said.
Gulati also said that the federation would be naming a coach in late November or early December at the latest.
“I said a few weeks ago that we four to five people we are in the process of talking to and that is still the case,” Gulati said.
Gulati also confirmed that one of the potential candidates is former German coach Juergen Klinsmann.
“If it (the announcement of the U.S. National team’s new head coach) slips into the first week in December, I am not going to lose any sleep,” Gulati said, “but it is our intention still to make that announcement in November.”