Best, worst Copa América Centenario scenarios for USMNT, Mexico
In one sense, the Copa América Centenario draw holds relatively little significance for Mexico and the United States. The broad strokes — the top seeds in Group A (U.S.) and Group C (Mexico), the possible semifinal matchups — are already in place. The expectations of a place in the knockout stages are fixed no matter the opposition.
Those realities are steadfast, but they mask the varying difficulties of the potential roads ahead. The draw on Sunday night (live, 8 p.m. ET, FS2, FOX Sports GO) carries potentially safe paths and particularly arduous ones.
POT 4: Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela
The lowest-ranked CONMEBOL sides are scheduled to come out of the post first. Paraguay loom as the most awkward opponent in this pot given their run to the semifinals in last summer’s Copa América and their penchant for application and organization. Peru also present a difficult task with their proficiency on the break and the threats posed by Jefferson Farfan and Paolo Guerrero, though the Americans defeated the Peruvians in a friendly in September. Venezuela are currently mired in crisis after the European-based veterans in the squad — including Salomon Rondon — failed in a bid to oust coach Noel Sanvincente in December, but a group of younger players emerged with a 1-0 victory against Costa Rica in a rather nasty friendly earlier this month. Bolivia are widely considered the worst team in South America and coach Julio Cesar Baldivieso is weighing whether to bring his top players with the close of the Bolivian season scheduled for just a few days prior to the start of the tournament.
Best case: Bolivia hold exactly two wins on foreign soil in this century (a narrow 1-0 triumph in South Africa in 2007 and a stunning 3-2 victory over Ecuador in the Copa América last summer). They are the preferred opposition if either Mexico or the U.S. needs a victory in the final group fixture.
Worst case: Paraguay is probably the most difficult option in this pot, but their menace arrives with a caveat after coach Ramon Diaz suggested he might use the tournament to test alternatives for the future. In any case, Mexico and the U.S. would be favored to win their final group stage game if necessary.
POT 3: Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama
This pot carries the other four CONCACAF nations. All four opponents are familiar to Mexico and the U.S., but they vary in terms of difficulty. Costa Rica present the most difficult challenge given the experience in the squad and the successful run to the last eight in the 2014 World Cup. Jamaica are meticulously organized under the German coach Winfried Schäfer, but their form dipped after reaching the CONCACAF Gold Cup final last summer. Panama remain a troublesome opponent given their experience and their physical gifts, but they are also wobbling a bit after finishing third in the Gold Cup last summer. Haiti are in the draw after surprising Trinidad and Tobago in a one-off playoff in January. This group now boasts the discipline required to make the best use of its threat on the counter.
Worst case: Mexico and the U.S. enter a match against any of these four sides as favorites on American soil (even with the recent U.S. setbacks against Costa Rica and Panama in the country), but Costa Rica present a challenge. The combination of a formidable defense (marshaled impeccably by Giancarlo Gonzalez) and the threat of Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz poses a threat to any team in tournament.
POT 2: Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay
The top-ranked sides in CONMEBOL — including Copa América champions Chile — offer the most peril to Mexico and the U.S. There are no easy opponents in this particular pot. Chile are in the midst of transition after the departure of Jorge Sampaoli and the arrival of former Club León coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, but the reigning champions retain Alexis Sánchez and the core of a strong side. Colombia are probably the most settled team in this pot and they boast one of the stars in the tournament in James Rodriguez. Ecuador face some pressure to improve upon a miserable showing the Copa last summer and sustain their recent form in World Cup qualifying on this stage. Uruguay enter this tournament with a point to prove after the irrepressible Luis Suarez missed out last summer, but the aging core of the side presents some complications given the demands of this particular tournament.
Best case: Ecuador are probably the safest opponent among this formidable quartet, but they still pose a challenge given their recent form. This group managed to win in Argentina and defeat Uruguay on home soil in World Cup qualifying last fall. Their status as the preferred opponent speaks more to the strength of other options than any particular vulnerabilities.
Best case draw: Bolivia, Haiti, Ecuador
Worst case draw: Paraguay, Costa Rica, Chile