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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Much at Stake for the U.S. in Copa América, On and Off the Pitch

  • The U.S. is on the brink of elimination as it faces Uruguay on Monday night.
  • Fox Sports has been seeing record viewership for matches involving the tournament host country.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The ongoing Copa América tournament has largely been seen as a test-run for the U.S. ahead of the 2026 FIFA World Cup, both on and off the pitch. 

Eight stadiums are hosting matches for both tournaments and Fox Sports is the broadcaster for each one. Additionally, the chance for the U.S. men’s national team to showcase its development on the biggest global stages and in front of a home audience has had soccer stakeholders over the moon about potential growth for the sport Stateside.

But as the group stage of Copa América concludes, the U.S. men face a do-or-die match against Uruguay on Monday night in Kansas City. Last week’s upset loss to Panama has the tournament’s hosts on the brink of not reaching the eight-team knockout round—a result that would have severe implications away from the field.

Must-See TV

The first two U.S. matches produced Fox’s two most-watched non-World Cup soccer broadcasts ever: 3.189 million against Bolivia and 2.469 million for the Panama game. A trip to the quarterfinals would likely mean more record viewership for a matchup with either South American powerhouse Brazil or Colombia on Saturday afternoon in Phoenix. Fox has Copa América media rights through 2026, the same year that its World Cup contract runs through.

Beyond TV audiences, this Copa América has already struggled with high ticket prices and stadiums well under capacity for group stage matches. Most notably, fewer than 30,000 fans showed up in Santa Clara to watch Venezuela beat Ecuador, filling up less than half of the stadium that’s normally home to the 49ers.

Weight of the World

While an earlier-than-expected U.S. exit from Copa América would be frustrating for fans, it could be even more upsetting for key soccer officials hoping to lean on the hope of a strong national team heading into the World Cup. 

Leaders at MLS and U.S. Soccer have been particularly bullish on what the FIFA showcase in 2026 can do to accelerate the sport’s growth domestically. Part of the excitement comes from having top international stars playing across the country, but another underperforming U.S. squad would certainly be as much of a damper off the pitch as it would be on it.

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