When the 2016 Copa America kicks off with 10 South American teams battling CONCACAF's best, long-time rivals USA and Mexico will be on the same side for once, defending the regionIt's a plotline you'll have seen in movies before. Enemies begrudgingly forced into partnerships in order to fight a greater foe. Whether it was Jewish and Arab armies teaming up in the movie Independence Day, or Rocky and Apollo training together to try and stop Clubber Lang, there is something special about seeing enemies setting aside differences and working together.
The U.S. national team and Mexico aren't exactly going to take the field together as one group when the 2016 Copa America kicks off across the country, but they will be competing with similar goals in mind. One is obviously to win the tournament. The other, the one both the USA and Mexico will share, is the goal of representing CONCACAF well and defending the region's reputation against South American powers intent on dominating the competition.
No, we aren't likely to see U.S. fans and Mexico fans cheering for each other's teams. That would be a bit much to ask for, and we learned last year, when the U.S. essentially helped save Mexico's World Cup berth, there aren't really any instances when hardcore U.S. fans will be happy about Mexican national team success.
The reality though, is that a good CONCACAF showing in the 2016 Copa America will be good for all the region's teams. Whether it's just respect, or for FIFA ranking improvement, or even just the experience of taking on elite international competition, the tournament will offer plenty for the CONCACAF region, and if the USA and Mexico were to face each other in the Copa America final, it would be a dream come true for a confederation that has long played the little brother to its South American counterpart.
This won't be the first time South American teams have come to North America to compete for trophies. The CONCACAF Gold Cup has had guest teams in the past, and whether you're talking Colombia in 2000 or Brazil in 2004, those teams have provided good competition. What those teams never did, though, is win a Gold Cup. Brazil came closest, reaching the Gold Cup finals in 1998 and 2004 only to lose to Mexico on both occasions.
The Copa America will have considerably different stakes. While it may be played on American soil, it will still be a tournament, and a trophy, that means something to the South American teams and the likes of Argentina and Brazil will travel north set on bringing back a trophy commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the competition.
The fact CONMEBOL agreed to play such a symbolic regional competition outside of South America almost makes it feels like it is taking it for granted that the CONCACAF teams taking part won't pose a threat. Which isn't exactly a stretch considering the strength of South America's best teams, and the track record of CONCACAF teams in international competitions.
Along those lines, the 2016 Copa America might be seem like a tough assignment for USA and Mexico, and it is, but the competition is a blessing for both. It will give the Americans and 'El Tri' tournament experience against high-level competition, something both sides don't get enough of in CONCACAF. Mexico has not advanced past the Round of 16 at the World Cup since 1986, and the Americans have only done so once in the modern era, with that 2002 quarterfinal run coming on the strength of a Round of 16 win against Mexico.
The 2016 Copa America will give the USA and Mexico a chance to face some of the world's best teams, and also allow American fans (and the millions of Mexican fans in the USA) a chance to see their favorite teams face some of the best teams and players in the world. The buzz the tournament will create will only serve to help the sport in this country by giving us a World Cup-like atmosphere as fans from South America make the trip north to take part in the festivities.
Something else to remember is that while the USA and Mexico will esentially be the home teams in the 2016 Copa America in terms of fan support, the Copa America will also cater to the large South American immigrant populations in the USA. Whether we're talking about the Brazilians in Boston, the Argentines in Florida or the Peruvians in New Jersey, South Americans ex-pats will be out in force, and the U.S. national team will have a chance to not only impress its fans, but also try and win over some of those South Americans who maybe haven't adopted the U.S. team as their second favorite team.
That is an ancillary benefit though. The chance to compete against strong competition, and the opportunity to win a prestigious trophy will make the 2016 Copa America special for the USA and Mexico, and if the two CONCACAF powers can have strong showings, it just might raise CONCACAF's profile and give the region some momentum heading toward the 2018 World Cup.