By Jeff Kassouf | @JeffKassouf
Copa America Centenario arrives in the United States this year with all the bells and whistles of what is expected to be a massive on-field and commercial success of a tournament – well, most of the bells and whistles.
There are a few notable stars missing, as with any major tournament. But unlike a World Cup, where absences are always due to either tragic injuries or controversial snubs, Copa America Centenario is in a unique situation as a commercially-contrived tournament in a busy summer. Thus, there is a third reason for missing this tournament, one which never applies to the World Cup: priorities and rest.
Club commitments are, somehow, increasingly demanding as European teams find more commercial opportunities (read: the big bucks) in summer tours of the United States and Asia. Add to that Copa and the European Championships falling in June, just two months ahead of the Olympics which, yes, many of countries do take seriously, and finding a break between now and the August restart of domestic leagues is almost impossible.
So the man who should be one of the two biggest stars of the Copa America Centenario, will watch from the sidelines as his team competes in June. We’ve detailed each team’s key player in our team-by-team guides, but these are the stars we wish were here, too, but whom are absent for one reason or another:
Brazil, as noted in detail in our team preview, has prioritized winning the Olympics on home soil in August over this Copa competition. It’s an understandable decision for the storied soccer nation. For all its rich history, the Seleção has never won an Olympic gold medal in soccer. Brazil agonizingly lost to Mexico in the 2012 gold-medal match, and anything short of the top of the podium in Rio this August will be disaster for fans.
After a public tug of war between Brazil and Barcelona, and given the federation’s prioritization of the Olympics, Neymar was left off of Dunga’s 23-man squad for Copa America. Barcelona requested (demanded is perhaps a better word) that Neymar be used by Brazil in one tournament or the other. When that became crystal clear, so too was Brazil’s decision: Neymar would play in the Olympics.
Giovani Dos Santos, Mexico
Exactly why Giovani Dos Santos will not suit up for Mexico in the Copa America Centenario remains slightly unclear. Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said Dos Santos declined an invite to be on the 23-man roster. Dos Santos seemed to disagree with the way that story was told, but he declined to go into great detail about exactly what happened.
So the Copa America Centenario will be played right here in the U.S. – and Mexico even has a game at the Rose Bowl, a few miles from where Dos Santos now plays for the LA Galaxy – without the 27-year-old star. He has been on a tear for the Galaxy, tallying five goals and five assists in seven games. But what exactly happened behind closed doors between Dos Santos and Osorio remains murky.
Jozy Altidore, United States
Another major tournament, another hamstring injury for Jozy Altidore. Unfortunately for Altidore and the United States, the striker will miss the entirety of Copa America after re-aggravating the nagging issue in, of all things, his approach to a penalty kick in a mid-May MLS match.
Altidore is the United States’ third all-time leading scorer behind Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, and while he is often the subject of criticism from fans and pundits, the U.S. lacks a similar physical presence capable of hold-up play up top. Jurgen Klinsmann has struggled to figure out how to deal with Altidore’s absence in previous tournaments. This time, Klinsmann at least has a short window to prepare for it.
Sure, Kaka is 34 years old, but the Seleção legend appeared to have a shot at making Dunga’s Copa America roster. That is, until continued problems with a thigh injury limited his minutes for Orlando City SC early in the MLS season.
Combine Copa America Centenario’s commercial standing with Brazil’s prioritization of the Olympics – and the fact that Brazil will play a group-stage match in Orlando, in the stadium in which Kaka plays home games – and there seemed from the outside a recipe for a fairytale. This one, however, wasn’t meant to be written.
Carlos Tevez, Argentina
Sure, Carlos Tevez has been on the outs under manager Gerardo Martino, but the volatile striker’s presence will be missed by neutrals. Tevez has proven capable of anything through the years, from incredible goals to horrifying tackles.
Tevez helped Boca Juniors win the Argentine title in November after joining the club in the summer, but his form has been up and down this spring. He was dropped from Argentina’s World Cup qualifying roster in March, but six goals in 10 games since across all competitions gave him hope as part of the 40-man Argentina squad. If Los Albicelestes are to finally get over the hump of finishing runners-up at the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Copa America, it will be without Tevez.