The energy surrounding any draw for a major international soccer tournament is high but there was an added buzz for the Copa America Centenario 2016 draw at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on Sunday.
It was the most important draw on U.S. soil since the draw for the 1994 FIFA World Cup. It also marks the first time CONMEBOL’s showpiece tournament, which happens to be the oldest in the world, will be hosted outside of South America. And it can’t be overlooked that only a few months ago some were questioning whether the tournament would even take place in the U.S. adding to the glamor.
Outside the Ballroom there was a definite pro-USA feel with the Stars and Stripes and ‘USA’ gear apparent among the fans but this was not so surprising considering the home town pride in the Big Apple.
Inside it was all business with representatives from the CONMEBOL and CONCACAF confederations as well as those from each federation that will be represented across the U.S. this summer.
Fans turned to the Official Draw outlining the procedure but other than the fine print it was like other draws with those selected to assist with the draws being assigned the tough job of pulling ‘ping pong balls’ from fishbowls to randomly place teams in the group slots.
Former U.S. international, TV analyst, and all-around soccer dude Alexi Lalas was on hand along with former Colombia international Carlos Valderrama, CONCACAF deputy general Jurgen Mainka, 1978 FIFA World Cup winner Mario Kempes, and Mexico’s former colorful goalkeeper Jorge Campos to assist is the draw.
When all the ball were pulled and teams placed, the Red, White, and Blue’s Group A was immediately named the ‘Group of Death.’ Lalas even joked about his part in the draw telling ESPN, “I take full responsibility. I apologize to the nation.”
After jumping through plenty of hoops to make the Copa America Centenario 2016 a reality, the 16 teams can know focus on the matter at hand and prepare for the first kick on June 3 when the U.S. hosts Colombia in Santa Clara.