How USMNT can beat Brazil and Argentina and win Copa America

Ryan Baldi
Christian Pulisic, Vinicius Jnr and Lionel Messi with Copa America trophy.
Christian Pulisic, Vinicius Jnr and Lionel Messi with Copa America trophy.

The 2024 Copa America kicks off on June 20 and, once again, perennial contenders Brazil and Argentina will enter the tournament as strong favourites.

But with this year’s edition taking place in the United States and with coach Gregg Berhalter able to call upon a roster that blends youth, talent and experience like few before in the nation’s history, the USMNT can’t be dismissed as contenders.

Here is how the United States’ potential path to glory maps out:


USMNT at Copa America: The group stage

The last time the US hosted the Copa America was for the competition’s centenary in 2016. On that occasion, the home nation managed an impressive run to the semi-finals, eventually finishing fourth after losing to Colombia in the third-place play-off.

This time around, with arguably a stronger squad and with players eager to cement their place ahead of the World Cup they will co-host in two years’ time, Berhalter’s side will be aiming even higher.

Their campaign begins in what ought to be relatively straightforward fashion, too, with Bolivia their first opponents at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Bolivia are notoriously formidable at home, given their advantage in playing more than 11,000ft above sea level in La Paz. But the air in Texas isn’t so thin; Arlington is just 604ft above sea level. And with Bolivia having lost 20 of their last 29 Copa America fixtures since finishing as runners-up in 1997, Christian Pulisic and co. should expect to open with a comfortable win.

Next up: Panama in Atlanta. Now, recent experience should have told the United States not to underestimate Panama, after a shoot-out loss in the Gold Cup last year, a World Cup qualifying defeat in 2021 and another in the doomed qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup. But on home soil, in a raucous arena within a soccer-loving city, the USMNT should score a second straight victory.

Their final opponents in Group C, however, present just about as stern a test as the tournament can offer. By this stage, with two wins from two games, the home nation should have booked their place in the knockout rounds. The showdown with Uruguay at Arrowhead Stadium – the home of the Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs – would essentially be a play-off for top spot and a favourable quarter-final match-up.

Up against a Marcelo Bielsa-led side of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Darwin Nunez, a draw would be a thoroughly respectable result, enough for both sides to finish with seven points from three games. Given their attacking talent, though, it is probably safe to assume that Uruguay would have out-scored the US against Bolivia and Honduras, meaning Berhalter’s men progress as group runners-up…

USMNT at Copa America: The knock-outs

…which means their quarter-final opponents are – *sigh* – Brazil.

It needn’t all be doom and gloom as far as the USMNT’s prospects of progression are concerned, though. Yes, Brazil are the five-time World Cup winners, nine-time Copa America champions and are currently ranked fifth in the world, six spots above the United States.

But head coach Dorival Junior is without star man Neymar due to an ACL injury, and Real Madrid duo Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo are coming off a long season at club level that will only have ended on June 1 with the Champions League final. If ever there were a chance of the USMNT springing an upset, this is it.

That would most likely set-up a rematch with Uruguay in the semis in Charlotte, North Carolina. And while the Celeste pipped the States to top spot in Group C, a gruelling battle against likely last-eight opponents Colombia could conceivably have sapped their ageing stars of energy. It’s upset o’clock again.


USMNT at Copa America: The final

So that brings us to the final and a likely opponent the US soccer public has come to know rather well over the last year or so – Lionel Messi.

Argentina are not only the reigning World Cup winners but the reigning South American champions, too, having beaten Brazil in Rio de Janeiro in the 2021 Copa America final. And in that edition of the Copa, Messi was the top scorer and Player of the Tournament.

The Inter Miami superstar and eight-time Ballon d’Or winner has, of course, aged three years since then; he will celebrate his 37th birthday in between Argentina’s first two group games. But as regular MLS viewers will attest, he’s still rather good.

And while Messi is getting up there in years, he is surrounded by youth and energy. The midfield trio of Rodrigo De Paul, Alexis Mac Allister and Enzo Fernandez strike a perfect blend of ballast and creativity. And the likes of Julian Alvarez, Lautaro Martinez and Manchester United teenager Alejandro Garnacho provide skill, speed and scoring ability in attack.

Toppling Argentina, even with homefield advantage in Miami, would be a mammoth task. Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie would need to maintain peak performance and concentration to lock down the middle of the park. Chris Richards and Tim Ream would have to monitor Messi without allowing him to pull them out of position. Pulisic would be relied upon to create at least a couple of clear chances, and the USMNT would need to take them.

And even if all those factors click into place for the States, they’d need a generous helping of fortune – a few wayward Argentinian shots, a defensive slip or two, a rare Messi miscue. It’s a treacherous path to navigate, but it’s a roadmap to success for the USMNT.

Simple enough, then. Name on the trophy.