Copa America set to screw MLS but mostly poor Inter Miami

Copa America set to screw MLS but mostly poor Inter Miami

Inter Miami hit by Copa America call-ups

The 2024 Copa America kicks off in the United States on July 20, and while the host nation will be competing in the South American championships as invitees, it will be business as usual for the country’s top domestic division.

“We can’t afford [to shut the league down for Copa America],” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “If we have to shut the league down [and] lose games, it impacts our players, it impacts our partners, it impacts our fans, it impacts everything that MLS has to deliver for all of our stakeholders.

“That being said, we’ve got to manage through that process and be clever and creative and figure out, how do we reconfigure the schedule with all these different events so that we could make it work?”

The only reconfiguring that will happen during the tournament, though, will be done by MLS head coaches as they shuffle their squads in an attempt to mitigate the loss of key players to international duty.

If reigning champions Argentina make it all the way the Copa America final, Lionel Messi will be away from Chase Stadium until after July 14. He’d miss at least five MLS fixtures – against Philadelphia Union, Columbus Crew, Nashville, Charlotte and a top-of-the-East showdown with Cincinnati. Plus a home game versus Toronto on July 18 will likely come too soon after the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner who will turn 37 during the tournament.

“If these players find themselves in form, with confidence, secure, and understand the challenges of the five games after St. Louis, it’s clear that we’ll be able to survive Copa America,” Inter boss Tata Martino said of the players who will remain at his disposal while Messi is away.

The former Barcelona and Atlanta United boss’ confidence in his squad is commendable, but it is misplaced. Miami have won just three of the 14 games they’ve played without Messi since his arrival last summer.

And it’s not just Messi Inter will be missing. Midfielder Matias Rojas, who has impressed since joining from Corinthians in April, is likely to be named in Paraguay’s Copa squad. Leo Campana, the reliable deputy striker who has scored four goals in just 549 minutes of MLS action this term, is expected to be called up by Ecuador, too.

What’s more, homegrown midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi has been named in the US Olympic soccer team’s roster for a June meet-up, while Finnish winger Robert Taylor and Ukrainian centre-back Serhij Kristov are both set to take part in the European Championship in Germany.

Inter might not be sans all their South American stars, though. There is doubt over whether Luis Suarez will make Uruguay’s selection for the Copa. Marcelo Bielsa picked a truncated squad for a warm-up friendly against Mexico this week and neither Suarez nor Miami team-mate Matias Rojas were called up.

And Inter Miami are of course not the only MLS side set to be impacted by international absences during the Copa America, while Premier League teams have plenty of players going too.

Gregg Berhalter has named a provisional 27-man USMNT roster for the tournament. And although it only includes four MLS-based players, each will be a significant loss for their respective clubs. Toronto goalkeeper Sean Johnson, Nashville’s Shaq Moore, star Cincinnati defender Miles Robinson and LAFC midfielder Timmy Tilman have all been named – although the latter is less likely to make the cut for the final 23-man squad than the others.

Jesse Marsch’s preliminary Canada squad includes 10 MLS players. Canadian clubs Toronto and Montreal as well as Phil Neville’s Portland Timbers have the most call-ups, with two apiece, but Minnesota United, the Colorado Rapids, St. Louis City and Nashville will all be without Canadian first-teamers, too.

Cesar Araujo and Facundo Torres of Orlando City were both called up for Uruguay’s warm-up friendly against Mexico. And the Euros will force Philadelphia to be without star striker Daniel Gazdag, who will play for Hungary, and Chicago to be without Swiss midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri.

There has been a surprise Scotland call-up for the New York Red Bulls’ Lewis Morgan, too. The 27-year-old forward hasn’t played for the Tartan Army since 2018, but his stellar form in MLS this season – where he is his club’s top scorer, with nine goals from 16 appearances – has caught manager Steve Clarke’s eye.

Real Salt Lake, on the other hand, stand to be among the biggest beneficiaries of the league-wide Copa absences. Their star striker and the current leader in the race for the Golden Boot, Chicho Arango, has just two Colombian caps to his name, with his most recent international appearance coming 18 months ago. Despite the 29-year-old MVP candidate’s stellar form in MLS this season, where his 16 goals have fired RSL to the top of the Western Conference, he has not been picked by manager Nestor Lorenzo.

There are a couple of Argentinian omissions that will work in the favour of their respective MLS clubs, too. Thiago Almada was a 2022 World Cup winner with the Albiceleste, but Lionel Scaloni has not called him up for the Copa. His continued club-level presence will be to Atlanta’s great gain.

And Cincinnati superstar Luciano Acosta remains overlooked at international level. Last year’s MLS MVP is uncapped for Argentina and will remain so at least for the duration of the summer. As Pat Noonen’s side battle with Miami in defence of the Supporters’ Shield title they won last season, the fact Messi will be missing for a month while Acosta will be available could see Cincy shoot ahead in the standings.

The Copa America on home soil begins the most fertile period of growth opportunity for US Soccer in three decades, with the staging of the World Club Cup to follow next year and then the co-hosting of the 2026 World Cup.


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