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Seattle preps for prestigious Copa America Centenario party

Colombia fans yell before a Copa America Centenario Group A soccer match between the United States and Colombia at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday.
Colombia fans yell before a Copa America Centenario Group A soccer match between the United States and Colombia at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday. The Associated Press

Copa America Centenario is being called the biggest soccer tournament held in the United States since the 1994 World Cup.

But while the closest that World Cup came to the Northwest was Palo Alto, California, Copa America selected Seattle as one of its 10 host cities.

The tournament kicked off Friday, and the Puget Sound region joins the party at 4:30 p.m. Saturday when Haiti and Peru meet at CenturyLink Field.

A few whispers likely to be overheard at that party, and a few reactions to those whispers:

‘HAITI AND PERU?’

Um, yes. Given 32 nations spread over two continents, these aren’t the teams of many Northwest dreams. Not individually. Not paired.

But there are a couple of glass-half-full ways of looking at this.

One is simply viewing the match as an opening act. It’s the start of Copa America’s centennial celebration, and this game can just get you in the mood.

It’s part of a meaningful and traditionally rich international competition at the start of what could be a dazzling summer of soccer in the United States.

There will be chants and crests and song, all wrapped in the colorful shell of national pride. There might even be a surprisingly watchable game.

Peru is 48th in the world. Haiti is 74th. That places both teams ahead of Benin, Belarus and Botswana. So there’s that.

And as with any opening act, you can anticipate better things to follow.

On June 14, it will be Argentina and Bolivia at CenturyLink Field.

Granted, most of what I know about Bolivia comes from watching Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” But Argentina is about as good as it gets: FIFA’s top-ranked team in the world, led by five-time world player of the year Lionel Messi (when healthy).

Then June 16 brings a quarterfinal round. At the very least, we can expect only quality teams surviving through to a match amplified by the inherent excitement of a knockout round.

At the very most, the USA could be there. Or Brazil. Or both.

‘CONCACAF CAN’T WIN AGAINST CONMEBOL’

Aha! Another reason to enjoy Haiti-Peru. It’s not just a couple of relatively obscure soccer nations.

It’s CONMEBOL vs. CONCACAF. South America vs. North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

If you can’t think of any other rooting interest, remember that Haiti represents us: our federation, our neck of the soccer-playing woods.

Peru represents South America and big brother CONMEBOL, which features the prestigious likes of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Columbia — quite an array of tradition and power from just the first three letters of the alphabet.

Five of the top 10 teams in the world are in CONMEBOL.

Yet CONCACAF gets to crash their party, and would love to swipe the silverware.

‘SEATTLE WILL BE A SHOWCASE FOR THE GREATEST SOCCER CITY IN THE COUNTRY’

Well … um.

Seattle has a rock-solid case as the best Major League Soccer city in the country.

But it hasn’t shown itself to be so uniquely passionate about other levels of the game: women’s soccer, amateur soccer or even international soccer.

Official numbers haven’t been announced, but thousands of seats appear available through Ticketmaster (running from $50 to $375).

And StubHub reported this week that Seattle ranks ninth among the 10 Copa America cities in secondary ticket sales.

Even without official numbers, you can comfortably assume that if you head over to the stadium Saturday, tickets will be available.

Probably very good seats.

Perhaps with room to stretch your legs over the row in front of you.

‘AMERICA DOESN’T CARE ABOUT SOCCER’

The first reaction is simple amazement that dinosaurs can talk. That is the ancient take of cobwebbed minds.

Or at best, the minds of those who naively assume that MLS reflects the country’s interest in soccer — the most popular sport on the planet.

That is much like judging America’s interest in baseball based on Pacific Coast League attendance.

Unfortunately, the best soccer in the world is played in other parts of the globe.

And many red-white-and-blue-beating hearts pass on MLS while thumping wildly for the World Cup, the top leagues and competitions of Europe, and anywhere the beautiful game is played at its most beautiful level.

This month, many of the world’s top players and teams are coming together in a historic tournament that the United States and Seattle get the unique chance to play host.

Enjoy the party.

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