US to play Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay in Copa America

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NEW YORK >> The United States will play Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay in the first round of the Centennial Copa America, a special 16-nation tournament whose business deals led to the indictment of a slew of top soccer executives on corruption charges.

The Americans were drawn Sunday night to open the tournament June 3 against Colombia at Santa Clara, California, rematch of a famous 1994 World Cup game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The U.S. upset the Colombians 2-1, a result that led 10 days later to the murder of Andres Escobar, a 27-year-old Colombian defender who deflected a pass from John Harkes into his net for an own goal.

After the opener, the U.S. plays Costa Rica four days later at Chicago, then closes Group A play against Paraguay at Philadelphia on June 11.

The top two teams in each of four groups advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament, which will be played at 10 U.S. venues from June 3-26. The semifinals are in Houston and Chicago, and the championship is at East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Other groups are:

B—Brazil, Ecuador, Haiti, Peru

C—Jamaica, Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela

D—Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Panama

If the U.S. tops its group, it would play the second-place team from Group B at Seattle. If the Americans finish second, they would play the Group B winner at East Rutherford.

Argentina's Lionel Messi, a five-time world player of the year, already has committed to playing in the tournament. Organizers also hope it will include top stars such as Brazil's Neymar, Uruguay's Luis Suarez and Chile's Alexis Sanchez.

The U.S. is coming off a mediocre 2015, when it was eliminated by Jamaica in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the regional championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean. That forced the Americans into a playoff for a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup, a match they lost to Mexico.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann next gathers his team for a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala, on the road March 25 and at Columbus, Ohio, four days later.

The tournament was planned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Copa America, South America's championship, and federal prosecutors alleged a company formed to buy the Centennial Copa America's marketing rights agreed to pay $110 million in bribes to South American soccer officials.

The last three presidents of soccer's governing bodies for South America and the CONCACAF region have been indicted, including former CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb, who agreed to plead guilty. The corruption probe led FIFA President Sepp Blatter to announce his resignation last spring, just days after he was elected to a fifth term. His successor is due to be chosen Friday by a special FIFA Congress.

Following the initial indictments in May, the U.S. Soccer Federation refused to host the tournament until the previous business agreements were terminated.

Groups were drawn at the Manhattan Center, constructed in 1906 at the behest of Oscar Hammerstein I and originally known as the Manhattan Opera House.


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