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Can U.S. host South American soccer showpiece?

By Tom McGowan, CNN
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Fri October 26, 2012
Luis Suarez's Uruguay won the 2011 Copa America, but will he be playing in the U.S. in 2016?
Luis Suarez's Uruguay won the 2011 Copa America, but will he be playing in the U.S. in 2016?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Announcement that the 2016 Copa America will be in the U.S. yet to be confirmed
  • South American federation plans to move tournament to celebrate its centenary
  • CONCACAF is open to the idea, but insists talks over the proposals are ongoing
  • Soccer expert Grant Wahl suggests the tournament could be lucrative for CONMEBOL

(CNN) -- South American soccer officials hope to take their showpiece tournament to the United States in 2016 for a centenary celebration that could have big benefits for all concerned, but this week's announcement appears to be somewhat premature.

CONCACAF, which runs the game in North and Central America and the Caribbean, said talks regarding what would be a historic tournament are still ongoing, though it is open to the possibility of having the likes of superstars Lionel Messi and Neymar parading their skills in front of sellout crowds.

World governing body FIFA has also yet to sanction the event -- which would involve 10 South American nations, the U.S. and Mexico plus four other countries from the CONCACAF region -- in the busy international calendar.

The Copa America, which has featured guest nations from CONCACAF since 1993, was last staged in 2011 -- when it was won by Uruguay.

The next edition is due to be held in Brazil in 2015, one year after it hosts the 2014 World Cup, while the CONMEBOL federation hopes to stage an additional Copa in the U.S. 12 months later to mark the ruling body's 100th year of existence.

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"Even though playing the 2016 Copa America in the CONCACAF region with our teams and those from CONMEBOL would be a wonderful experience for all fans, we are still in the midst of talks and negotiations between all parties involved in this decision," CONCACAF general secretary Enrique Sanz said in a statement.

"This is an idea we are hoping to materialize but we are still evaluating and discussing before it becomes official but the intention is definitely there."

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CONCACAF's continental tournament is the biennial Gold Cup, which Mexico won in the U.S. last year. Mexico and Japan will be guest nations at the 2015 Copa.

While the prospect of holding the tournament in the U.S. may have great appeal, Sports Illustrated's senior soccer writer Grant Wahl expressed concerns over whether FIFA would allow it.

"The U.S. television money for big soccer tournaments is now quite large -- the U.S. rights for 2018 and 2022 World Cups went for a combined $1.1 billion, which will probably be the highest rights fee for any nation in the world," Wahl told CNN.

"There are big questions in terms of will FIFA sanction an event like this and put it on the official calendar? Will FIFA require clubs to release their players for it? None of that has been made public in terms of any agreements."

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The opportunity to compete against teams such as Brazil and Argentina, boasting the likes of Neymar and Messi, is one which Wahl feels could benefit a U.S. team currently playing minor nations such as Panama and Guadeloupe in the Gold Cup.

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"The U.S. national team is still trying to improve and the best way to do that is to play meaningful games against good competition," he said.

"It is hard in the Gold Cup because other than Mexico, there are not many difficult opponents for the U.S. in CONCACAF.

"To be able to have an important competitive tournament between World Cups is really big for U.S. soccer. It puts U.S. soccer in the public eye in the United States more if you have something like that."

Wahl is confident the tournament would be a big hit with U.S. sports fans.

"This would sell out NFL stadiums," he said. "Not just for the U.S. team, but for every team involved. Mexico plays more games in the United States than it does in Mexico right now because it can sell out NFL stadiums.

"It is an ongoing process. There isn't one big bang event which will suddenly make soccer as big in the U.S. as it is in Europe and South America. But this has been a pretty steady growth over the last two decades.

"I think it will happen in the end, but you want countries to send their best teams. That's not a guarantee at this point."

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