On their own, neither can compete with the European Championships in terms of viewership, fan interest, or simply the amount of dollars it generates. Some would argue that even the Copa America doesn’t possess the same depth in quality; the Gold Cup certainly isn’t. True, the Euros has now expanded to 24 teams which somewhat sacrifices the immediate seriousness of the tournament for more inclusion.
An amalgamation of the Gold Cup and Copa America would arguably satisfy three objectives. It would increase the depth of the competition, it would also (potentially) lead to more inclusion and it would definitely increase earning potential and viewership. Why potentially more inclusion? There is a distinct difference between the quality of the South and the North once we get past the top six or so in CONCACAF. Therefore, to include too many North American teams would weaken the overall standard. The onyl way there is more inclusion is if the overall tournament is also 24 teams. This would lead to too many weaker CONCACAF teams being in the tournament proper.
The recent 7-1 thrashing of Haiti by Brazil is exhibit A of these potential mismatches. The most likely and most sensible approach would be to have a qualifying tournament whereby we could arrive at 16 teams for the final tournament. What makes sense? Is it completely separate qualification tournaments or would a combination suffice? If so, what combination? So many questions but little concrete answers. A simple fix would be to have eight from CONMEBOL and seven from CONCACAF qualifying plus the host. This would mean that 80% of South American teams would qualify and just around one in six (7 from 41 teams from CONCACAF would qualify). Simplicity for now seems plausible.
The South Americans wouldn’t lose much, and it can be argued that teams such as Venezuela and Bolivia wouldn’t be automatic Euro Championship teams either. There would be two groups of five from which four qualify. Obviously, the qualification would be one in which only the worst is eliminated and the bigger teams could take it for granted. This is unless a seeding system is instituted – not on the basis of world rankings – but on the basis of performance in this qualification.
As for the North, it makes sense for there to be seven qualifiers. This is one more than the very competitive and evenly matched hexagonal qualification tournament which takes place every four years for that thing called the World Cup anyway. More competition can only further develop the CONCACAF region.
Now, this topic is only coming to the fore because of the current Copa Centenario, but it’s an interesting proposition whether or not U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati has shot down suggestions that such a move is on the cards. The question being asked now is not whether it is, but if it should be, and it should. It is a direct response to the Euro Championships where two cousin federations can combine to boost interest. Teams struggling along with a Gold Cup with only two or three realistic winners can now be part of something with much wider appeal. Viewership is already reported to be near record levels for more than one television outlet.
In terms of competitiveness, there are quite a few CONCACAF teams that can challenge the best from South America. Mexico, the USA, and Costa Rica are no mugs and others like Jamaica, Panama, and Trinidad & Tobago wouldn’t be embarrassed against the rest. Going forward, a Cup of the Americas has more entertainment value, regional and worldwide appeal and potential earning power than either of the two separate entities. When the sum of the individual parts is greater than the individuals then it makes perfect sense to merge. Logistically this can all be worked out. The ultimate aim is to have something similar in reach to a European Championship. Who knows, a CONCACAF team in Mexico is well poised to do very well this time around. If they ruffle many feathers -as they have already begun to do – it would be difficult for those with decision making power to ignore. Let’s hope the tournament gains traction as it goes on, this Copa Centenario.