COPA AMERICAN AND SHOULD
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Tuesday, October 3, 2006
The news has come down the pike that US Soccer has received an invitation to the 2007 Copa America, a celebrated tournament that serves as CONMEBOL's championship and always includes two esteemed guests.

I know it will wreak a bit of havoc with MLS rosters and cause a CONCACAF Gold Cup glut, but the impetus should be neon-in-the-dark clear after World Cup 2006.

Quoth a certain USSF sponsor: Just do it.

Apparently, federation president Sunil Gulati has discussed the matter with the half dozen coaching candidates. As far as I'm concerned, he should shave anyone who didn't insist we take part in Venezuela from the list.

I also don't care what George W. Bush might think, US Soccer would do very well to find itself hosted by the Land of Grace next summer. It seems clear to me that four-year buildups for "the big one" leaves "the big ones" too few and too far between.

I will go so far as to say we should hope for one South American invite during each World Cup cycle. Perhaps part of the reason we flounder in European World Cups is that the home team and its continental neighbors all strive for a glamorous prize on a bi-annual basis.

Doesn't it stand to reason that the guys who face big pressure every two years are more comfortable when it arrives than the guys who only face it every four years? Could they have more occasions to be "on" than the US?

Longtime fans will remember the progress made by the National Team during the early '90's. It should be no surprise that our other two Copa America appearances came in 1993 and 1995.

Not to toot my horn, but former Red, White & Blue ace Earnie Stewart agrees. The veteran of a superb fourth place finish in 1995 feels we should definitely accept the 2007 berth, as these are the kind of tourneys that prepare your boys for the World Cup stage.

"All those tournaments we played, whether it be Copa America or Confederations Cup, were great," the NAC Breda general manager told YA.

"The more you play these games, the better you get as a team. Playing in these games has had an impact on the progress we've made over the last quarter century."

Can anyone argue that knocking heads with Argentina and Brazil (not to mention Colombia, Ecuador and Paraguay) in their continental championship wouldn't improve the US National Team? These teams don't want to lose to the gringos in their own cup, and thus will provide stern tests in intimidating environments.

Of course, it is doubtful that hardcore MLS fans are enthused by the prospect of losing several stars for a lengthy portion of the 2007 season. They are eager for the league to gain prominence and this action would slow the climb a small bit.

I understand the objection, but unless they place no personal importance on the 'Nats, the hit should seem like a worthwhile price to pay twice a decade.

It's a fast paced world and we want it all... now. We want to microwave our cake and eat it too. That's all well and good, but as Oprah once said: "You can have it all… you just can't have it all at once."

Stateside soccer folk aren't the only ones who will gruff, with European club management sure to mutter a few sharp words under their breath when Bobby Convey and Oguchi Onyewu mark a second successive summer with big travel, big games and a big rest during their respective preseasons.

But that's the word, isn't it: big. We want to be a big national side that puts on big performances in the big matches. Teams like that accept big challenges, make big sacrifices and - when riding on a fuel made of three parts hard work and one part fortune - reap big satisfactions.

Maybe some people will grumble in the meantime, but certain steps must be taken well before we see the benefits - a long term, low risk, high dividend stock purchase, if you will.

"It's always good," assured Stewart. "You get a different look at different styles in a different atmosphere. Every game you play in those situations helps."
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