If you’ve been soccer-curious, you should have plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in the beautiful game over the next six weeks. This summer offers two major tournaments: the Copa America Centenario and the European Championship. These tournaments will provide 84 combined games. Some days in June will feature 6 to 10 hours of international soccer. Imagine all the hand-wringing about how there’s too much soccer! I’m preemptively shaking my fist already!
Copa America (June 3-June 26)
The Copa America is the South American confederation tournament. It celebrates its 100th birthday as anyone else would, with $100 million in bribes. The South American tournament organizers also wanted to celebrate a century by moving it to the soccer capital of South America, the United States. But at least that means we’ll have decent TV coverage, with most games airing on Fox Sports 1 and in the evening.
Why should you care? Well, you shouldn’t, because it’s soccer. But the United States will participate this year! The Yanks have mostly failed to impress in the two years since their strong World Cup showing in Brazil. In the summer of 2015, the men limped to an unacceptable fourth-place finish in the regional tournament. They also lost the chance to participate in the Confederations Cup, a World Cup dress rehearsal. 2018 World Cup qualifying hasn’t gone exactly according to plan so far. The only recent highlights for the team are friendly victories against Mexico, Germany, and the Netherlands, all in 2015.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has had such a torrid time for the last year that most stories about him discuss the pressure he’s under. He’s had to defend his oft-maddening lineup decisions recently. The Copa America will provide the only real international test for the United States before the 2018 World Cup. The United States needs a good tournament. Klinsmann needs it more.
There are some glimmers of hope, however. The United States performed well in its warm-up friendlies. The solid performances of some younger players could offset the squad’s current reliance on the over-30 crowd. The Yanks also tend to perform better in tournaments as an underdog.
Oh, the Copa America will also feature (among others) Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, and Mexico. Expect plenty of technical skill during the tournament. If complaining about diving and fake injuries is your thing, these sides should provide daily video evidence.
European Championship (June 10-July 10)
The European Championship (a.k.a. Euro 2016 or The Championships, Wimbledon) takes place in France. Unlike the Copa America, the Euros have been free from any controversy — other than the European confederation president receiving a ban from all soccer-related activity due to corruption (but what’s a $2 million bribe among friends?). ESPN will cover this tournament and games kick off in the morning and early afternoon.
Why should you care? Well, you shouldn’t, because it’s soccer. But the main intrigue this year comes from the expansion of the tournament from 16 teams to 24. Several nations have a rare (or their first) opportunity to participate in a major tournament. Will the increased number water down what is generally considered one of (if not the) highest-quality soccer tournaments in the world? Or will the likes of Wales, Iceland, Albania, Ireland, and Hungary provide some shocks?
The favorites this year should not surprise you: France (hosts), Germany (World Cup champions and constant favorites forever), and Spain (winner of the last two Euros). Keep an eye out for England and Belgium, both residing in the “between dark horse and actual favorite” zone thanks to their promising, but young, teams. We’ll also see the likely final Euro appearances of Sweden’s king and legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Portugal’s perpetually wet and shirtless Cristiano Ronaldo.
So, if your favorite sport has “lost that spark” or doesn’t seem as attractive as it was when you first met, maybe consider having an affair with soccer this summer. Your secret’s safe with me.
Games to Catch If You Don’t Intend to Watch Almost All of Them Like I Do
(All times Eastern)
6/3—United States vs. Colombia—9:30 P.M., FS1
6/4—Brazil vs. Ecuador—10 P.M., FS1
6/5—Mexico vs. Uruguay—8 P.M., FS1
6/6—Argentina vs. Chile—10 P.M., FS1
6/7—United States vs. Costa Rica—8 P.M., FS1
6/9—Mexico vs. Jamaica—10 P.M., FS1
6/10—France vs. Romania—3 P.M., ESPN
6/11—England vs. Russia—3 P.M., ESPN
6/11—United States vs. Paraguay—7 P.M., FS1
6/13—Belgium vs. Italy—3 P.M., ESPN
6/13—Uruguay vs. Jamaica, 10 P.M., FS1
6/14—Portugal vs. Iceland—3 P.M., ESPN
6/16—England vs. Wales—9 A.M., ESPN
6/17—Italy vs. Sweden—9 A.M., ESPN
6/18—Belgium vs. Ireland—9 A.M., ESPN
6/21—Croatia vs. Spain—3 P.M., ESPN
6/22—Sweden vs. Belgium—3 P.M., ESPN2