Seattle Sounders FC forward Clint Dempsey has always loved the flair of South American soccer.
At 6:30 p.m. Friday, he gets to be a part of it as the United States national team kicks off Copa America Centenario with a match against Colombia at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
“I grew up watching Copa America,” Dempsey said. “It was a big tournament. I like watching those teams play — that style of play. To be part of that would be awesome.”
Copa America traditionally crowns the champion of South American soccer. For its centennial edition, the tournament has been expanded into the championship of the Americas, with six CONCACAF teams in the 16-team field.
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The competition also has been shifted for the first time to the United States. It will play out over 32 matches at 10 venues. Among them is CenturyLink Field, which will host three games: Haiti vs. Peru at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Argentina vs. Bolivia at 7 p.m. June 14 and a quarterfinal match at 6:30 p.m. June 16.
The tournament concludes June 26 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. But it all begins Friday with host USA facing Colombia.
“It’s an opportunity to do well in a major competition on home soil,” Dempsey said. “An opportunity to get back on track after not winning Gold Cup or the Confederation Cup playoff game. That’s what we’ll be looking to try to do … get things back on track for the States and moving in the right direction.”
The United States and Colombia are in Group A, along with Costa Rica and Paraguay. Those teams will play a round robin, with three points awarded for a win, one for a draw and nothing for a loss. The top two teams in each of the four groups move on to the knockout quarterfinals.
USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann has set a goal of reaching the semifinals. But of course that would only follow advancing out of the group, which is generally considered the toughest in the tournament. FIFA rankings place Colombia No. 3 in the world, Costa Rica No. 23 and Paraguay No. 44. The United States is ranked 31st but enjoys the advantage of hosting.
“I think it’s a difficult group,” Dempsey said. “But at the same time, when you’re in a good competition you’re going to play against good teams, so we’re ready for the tournament and look forward to the challenge. What better opportunity are you going to get to win a major competition than on your home soil?”
The USA also enters the tournament on an apparent upswing with three consecutive wins in friendlies: 3-1 at Puerto Rico, 1-0 over Ecuador and 4-0 over Bolivia.
Major League Soccer players compose about half of the USA roster. To accommodate that, the league is taking a break until June 18.
The Sounders return to league play June 19 at the New York Red Bulls. However, their next match will be June 15 when they meet the PDL Kitsap Pumas in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.
Also on the U.S. roster is DeAndre Yedlin of Seattle, a former Sounder and now a member of Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League.
After the Colombia match, the United States will meet Costa Rica on June 7 in Chicago and Paraguay on June 11 in Philadelphia. Sounders forward Nelson Valdez plays for Paraguay.