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Summer of Soccer: Checking in on the Copa América


Whew. Another group stage has concluded, this time a bit closer to home and much later at night. I’m still losing sleep, but at this point, delirium is setting in, so we’re all good. Soccer will sustain me! Or is it killing me? I don’t know; I’m enjoying it either way. Let’s see if I can get through a quick recap of the Copa América that’s been before I lose my mind completely. Prepare yourselves; Hot Take Hayward is here, and he’s on FIRE right now.

Red, White and Boo

Yes, the Copa América is CONMEBOL’s tournament. But if you’re going to invite your friends from Concacaf to play with you, you should probably treat them a little nicer. Let them use your favorite Hot Wheel for a little bit, right? WRONG.

Apparently, no one told the fine soccer nations of South America to play nice. After 14 cross-confederation matchups, CONMEBOL ended up with seven wins and three draws, leaving just four wins for Concacaf. Of the 16 teams to enter the tournament, 10 were from CONMEBOL and six were from Concacaf. In the final eight, we’ve got six CONMEBOL teams and just TWO Concacaf squads. I know the deck was stacked against us, but come on guys! Just two?! This is no good. Unless you’re from Canada or Panama, in which case, congratu-freaking-lations.

If I told you that two Concacaf teams made it through the group stage before the tournament was played, I think we all know who we would’ve guessed. No offense to Jamaica, Canada, Panama, or Costa Rica, but the USA and Mexico have historically been the big dogs, and I thought for certain they’d both make it through. But alas, another tournament, another disappointment in the eyes of pundits and fans across the southern part of North America. I guess uninspired soccer gets you nowhere. Luckily, the Panamanians have inspiration in spades.

Am I showing my US allegiance too much? Oh, I just wrote that in the article? Well, dang it, I guess they’re going to know. Quit distracting yourself, Kyle.

With my Concacaf grievances out of the way, it’s time to heap praise upon the outstanding performances we’ve seen from CONMEBOL’s best. Uruguay has been the team of the tournament in my eyes, scoring nine goals across three games and conceding just once (to the mighty Panama). They’re one of three teams to win all three group-stage games (along with Venezuela and Argentina), and they’ve done it in style. Marcelo Bielsa has his boys playing some pretty footy; it’s going to be hard to stop.

Before we start looking forward, though, I want to give some flowers to the most surprising performances thus far. Costa Rica’s 0-0 draw with Brazil felt like a win for Los Ticos, and they deserve more for their efforts in this tournament. Venezuela’s run has been so impressive, taking down a downtrodden Mexico after showing incredible resilience against Ecuador in game one.

We’ve seen 53 goals in 24 games, good enough for 2.21 goals per game. That’s slightly less than the Euros (2.25), which is incredibly frustrating for an American soccer stan. Especially because the Copa América teams have taken the bold strategy of not scoring on themselves, unlike their European counterparts. Lautaro Martinez has four goals already (the highest tally in the tournament), and the way Argentina are playing, I’d wager he’ll add a few more before it’s all said and done. Now let’s get to predicting!

More Where That Came From

I’m sure all of you devoted readers were just as nervous as I was watching Austria vs. Türkiye, as I was a perfect seven for seven on my Euros predictions at that point. I’m not mad at Türkiye for ruining the streak, though I am a bit upset in general. I digress; let’s list the quarter-final matchups for Copa América and give me another chance at grasping perfection:

July 4

  • Argentina vs. Ecuador at 8:00 p.m.

July 5

  • Venezuela vs. Canada at 8:00 p.m.

July 6

  • Colombia vs. Panama at 5:00 p.m.
  • Uruguay vs. Brazil at 8:00 p.m.

There’s no “easy” side of this bracket, with capable teams filling the entire thing. The winners of the first two matches will face off in the semis, as will the winners of the latter two. Admittedly, this is a harder tournament for yours truly to predict, but I shy away from no challenge!

So, here they are—the predictions you’ve all been waiting for.

Argentina gets past a stubborn Ecuador performance; Venezuela overpowers Canada. Panama takedown Colombia in extra time, and Uruguay are going to teach Brazil a lesson. Here’s where I struggle: do I try to be clever, or do I just trust the best player of all-time like I should? My heart says Venezuela, but literally everything else says Argentina. I suppose I’ll listen to the voices.

Uruguay and Argentina will meet in the final and produce one of the best soccer games of the year, and perhaps all time. But Messi triumphs again in the end, making it three in a row at major international tournaments for the GOAT.


There are a LOT of MLS players at this tournament, and a whole bunch of them are still in it. That includes three Loons, as Tani Oluwaseyi, Dayne St. Clair, and Carlos Harvey are still kicking it with their respective national teams. Alejandro Bran will be returning to Minnesota following Costa Rica’s elimination, giving the Black and Blue a needed midfield boost.

A Word on the USMNT

Okay, I only have a little bit of mental clarity left in me, and I want to end on a slightly more serious note. I know that US soccer fans are disappointed right now, perhaps even angry. As one of that number, I found myself deeply saddened by our early exit from the tournament, and after some time to reflect, I’d like to share my thoughts on the current climate around the USMNT.

When we’re young and impressionable, we look to the heroes we’re presented with for inspiration. We see ourselves in them, and we hope to someday be in their shoes. For all intents and purposes, we hope to become them. For myself—and many of the players on the national team right now—that meant watching Demarcus Beasley show the world what a kid from Indiana could do with some speed and a whole lot of heart, watching Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey score goals on the biggest stages in the sport, and witnessing the brick wall that is Tim Howard.

The legends of yesterday gave us their all with a chip on their shoulder and little to no expectation weighing them down, and it worked; it inspired the next generation. And now that more eyes are watching, the expectations have risen. Now that a few youngsters are playing in Europe, we think we should be winning every tournament. Imagine shouldering the moniker of “Golden Generation” with an average squad age that’s under 24. Imagine coming up against the likes of Lionel Messi and hearing your fans say, “Win it all or you’re a failure.”

These guys haven’t done anything that the last generation didn’t do. They haven’t won anything that the last guys didn’t—at least not yet. Right now, this group is only golden because of the newly realized hopes and dreams we’re projecting onto them, and that’s unfair. They are undoubtedly talented, and I have no doubt they can accomplish something special. Let them play, and support them. Love the game, and it will improve. Give them a little grace, and they’ll be golden.

High standards are good; they push us to improve and reach great heights. But the environment around the USMNT is not healthy right now. Those are people on the field, on the sidelines, on the training pitch. I’ll be the first to admit they didn’t look very inspired out there, but they’re carrying the torch for what seems to be an unsupportive mass. That must be one hell of a challenge; a little empathy might go a long way. I’m not saying we give them a free pass, but I’ll certainly be keeping the criticism on the constructive side of things.

That said, I’ll step off the literal soapbox I’m standing on and call it a night. Oh, look, the sun is shining. What time is it? What DAY is it? WHERE AM I?! I guess it doesn’t matter; it’s the summer of soccer.