The US opens Copa America tonight against Colombia. It should be the toughest game of the group stage, but it’s unlikely the US will have any easy matches in this tournament.
Here are the most recent ELO ratings for each group at Copa America.
Group A features the most evenly-matched teams. The US, Costa Rica, and Paraguay are ranked 29th, 20th, and 33rd in the world by ELO, while Colombia is 5th. For a neutral-site tournament, Colombia would be group favorites while the other three countries scrap for second.
As host country, though, the US are expected to emerge from the group stage. The recent friendlies against fellow tournament teams Ecuador and Bolivia showcased tactical adjustments like Michael Bradley dropping deeper in midfield, Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya in more advanced roles, the John Brooks – Geoff Cameron central back pairing, and the emergence of Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe, and Christian Pulisic. This provides the US with increasing optimism, particularly now that Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas is out for the tournament.
However, the US is essentially co-hosting Copa America with Mexico. Mexico’s “home” field advantage in this tournament cannot be overstated – Phoenix, Houston, and LA all have a metro population that’s at least 25% Mexican (Table 4 on the link). Should Mexico advance from a group featuring Uruguay (7th in the world), Venezuela (56th) and Jamaica (60th), they’d likely face Chile in Chicago, a city with nearly 1 million Mexican-American residents in Cook County alone.
Given the US’ odds are largely influenced by its status as host, it’s surprising that the same isn’t factored in Mexico’s calculation (I’m assuming there isn’t a massive US Soccer gambling community skewing the line.) What’s more, Mexico has the on-field talent to take advantage of this tournament. Javier Hernandez played more than 2,000 minutes and scored 17 goals for a Bayer Leverkusen team ranked among the top 20 in Europe. Mexico hasn’t lost an international game in nearly a year, a stretch that included games against Chile and tournament antagonist Argentina. What’s more, Liga MX is clearly the strongest league North America.
While Argentina is still the expert pick for Copa America champion, Mexico at least has a plausible run at the title. Why Mexico has longer odds than the US is beyond me.