Forget Lionel Messi, Vinicius Jr and Christian Pulisic – these are each team’s difference-makers for Copa America 2024

GOAL breaks down each team’s under-the-radar star that could define the tournament


Those that follow the sport know the stars to watch this summer at the Copa America. Lionel Messi is arguably the best to ever play. Vinicius Jr may be the Ballon d’Or front-runner. Christian Pulisic, Darwin Nunez and Alphonso Davies are on your TV every weekend playing at the highest levels.

All of those players will be key to their respective countries’ Copa America hopes. They aren’t the only difference-makers, though. Some operate in the shadows, others are rising stars. Either way, there will be plenty of under-the-radar names that will be absolutely key to each country’s Copa America’s successes or failures.

From overshadowed beasts on the competition’s elite to potential heroes playing for tournament underdogs, GOAL takes a look at the biggest difference-maker.for each team in Copa America..

Alexis Mac Allister Argentina

Argentina – Alexis Mac Allister

Much will be made of Argentina’s attack, and rightfully so. They have Messi, after all. The focus will always be there.

Mac Allister, though, is the quiet star, the midfield lynchpin that effortless holds everything together. Playing next to a younger star in Enzo Fernandez and a lively bruiser in Rodrigo de Paul, Mac Allister’s game sometimes goes unnoticed. But, as he lurks in the shadows, he’s almost always pulling the strings.

If Mac Allister is on, and he often is, Argentina’s midfield can go toe-to-toe with almost anyone. They’re favorites in this tournament largely due to Messi, but you can’t overlook Mac Allister’s contributions to their cause.

Viscarra Bolivia

Bolivia – Guillermo Viscarra

Bolivia know their place in the hierarchy. For much of their history, they’ve been CONMEBOL’s punching bag, and that likely won’t change in this Copa America.

They aren’t talented enough to go toe-to-toe with even the middle-of-the-road teams in this competition, so they’ll need some kind of miracle goalkeeping performance.

Viscarra is the guy that could pull that off. He’s 31 and has 19 caps, having established himself as starter throughout World Cup qualifiers. It won’t be easy, it rarely is for Bolivia, but if Viscarra can steal the show with a save or two, maybe they can register an upset.

Rodrygo, Espanha x Brasil 2024

Brazil – Rodrygo

Vinicius is the superstar. Endrick is the rising star. Rodrygo, then, is the under-the-radar star.

Rodrygo is regularly overshadowed for club and country – even more now that teenage phenom Endrick continues to rise. Rodrygo, though, is one hell of a player, with the versatility to play all over the front line and the quality to score plenty of goals.

With Neymar out, Brazil’s attack is under pressure, and replacing the legendary winger won’t be a job for one man. Much of the pressure will fall on Vinicius, some on Endrick. If Rodrygo can step up, Brazil’s attack could be as unstoppable, which really is saying something when it comes to the Selecao.

Buchanan Canada 2021Getty

Canada – Tajon Buchanan

Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David get all the attention, but Buchanan is a baller, too.

The ex-New England Revolution star is now at Inter and, although minutes have been hard to come by with the Scudetto winners, there’s no denying his quality. Buchanan is absolutely dynamite on the ball, a player that can beat defenders with ease.

Jesse Marsch will certainly be eager to work with Buchanan, who will so often be left one-on-one due to the attention Davies will command on his side. If Buchanan can keep teams honest by running his side of the field, everything opens up for Canada – and when everything opens up for Canada, they can be a dangerous team.

Eduardo Vargas Chile

Chile – Eduardo Vargas

Eduardo Vargas and the Copa America… it’s football heritage.

He’s won this title twice with Chile, and he’s been the tournament’s top scorer both times. There are far more famous attackers in Copa America history but, to be fair, there are few more decorated than the Chilean journeyman, whose club career has taken him to Italy, Spain, England, Germany, Mexico and Brazil.

With the rise of a new generation, including Sheffield United star Ben Brereton Diaz, Vargas, Alexis Sanchez and Chile’s old guard are being phased out. Does he have one more run in him?

Rafael Santos Borre (C) of ColombiaGetty Images

Colombia – Rafael Santos Borre

He’s got starpower around him with Luis Diaz out wide and James Rodriguez in behind him, but can Santos Borre get the goals Colombia will need?

So far, the Internacional striker has just five in 32 games. Two of those cam this past fall in World Cup qualifiers, his only two goals against CONMEBOL competition. He’s been a star for River Plate and has a Europa League trophy in his trophy cabinet, so experience isn’t a factor. The goals, though, will be how we define his tournament and perhaps Colombia.Kevin Chamorro Costa Rica

Costa Rica – Kevin Chamorro

Good luck, Kevin, you’re going to need it.

You never want to be the guy to replace a legend, but that’s what’s being asked of Chamorro, who will succeed the retiring Keylor Navas. For years, Navas has been the face of Costa Rican soccer as the best player in the country’s history. He might even be one of the best players CONCACAF has ever produced.

Even with Navas, Costa Rica were always going to be up against it. The Golden Generation that shocked the world at the 2014 World Cup is long gone, and the new one being ushered in isn’t anywhere near that level.

At 24, Chamorro has five caps to his name, but his biggest moments will come this summer.

Moises Caicedo Ecuador.Getty

Ecuador – Moises Caicedo

Selecting Caicdeo feels like an easy answer, but the Chelsea star is at the center of Ecuador’s most important question: is he a good player, or is he a superstar?

If he’s just good, Ecuador won’t amount to much this summer (or in the next few to come). If he’s a superstar, though, then they’ll be confident in their chances to beat the best teams in their path.

He had his struggled at Chelsea this season, which often happens to young players. Caicedo is still very, very young, but Ecuador will need him to be immense this summer if they want a deep run.

Gray Jamaica 2023

Jamaica – Demarai Gray

Jamaica are already one superstar down due to the absence of Leon Bailey, whose war with the federation will seemingly leave him out of Copa America. The attacking talent is still there, though.

Michael Antonio will still be Jamaica’s focal point, but Gray is the wide player that will be under the most pressure to make up for Bailey’s absence. With five goals in his first 11 Jamaica appearances, Gray looks more than capable of leading the way for the Reggae Boyz this summer.

Gimenez Mexico Gold Cup final 2023Getty

Mexico – Santi Gimenez

Is it finally his time to shine on the international stage? Despite his heroics in the Eredivisie, Gimenez has never properly been given the keys by El Tri. That has to change this summer, right?

Mexico are rebuilding, and Gimenez looks like a player that will be key to that rebuild. He has talent around him, even if this isn’t a vintage El Tri group, but the goals will likely be down to him. Gimenez is the striker for a new generation, and that generation looks like it could announce its arrival at the Copa America.

Carasquilla Panama 2023

Panama – Coco Carasquilla

Panama are up against it from a pure talent perspective, but anyone who watches CONCACAF know how tough this team can be to put away. There are game-changers in this group, including Carasquilla.

The Houston Dynamo star won the Golden Ball at the 2023 Gold Cup and was absolutely key to the Dynamo’s U.S. Open Cup run in 2023. The 25-year-old has grown into a real star for his country, helping an old guard led by Anibal Godoy and Alberto Quintero in the heart of midfield.

Paraguay – Julio Enciso

Injuries robbed the winger of too many games this season but, make no mistake: Enciso is on the verge of a breakout.

After joining Brighton from Libertad in his home country ahead of the 2022-23 season, Enciso didn’t take long to adjust to the Premier League. He scored four times last season before an injury-ravaged 2023-24 campaign in which he failed to score.

The signs are there with the 20-year-old winger, despite the injuries. If he’s healthy and can play to his best level, this tournament could be massive for him.

Paolo Guerrero Peru

Peru – Paolo Guerrero

Yup, he’s still here.

At age 40, Guerrero is still going strong for Peru as one of the legends of the game. He’s no longer a starter, having conceded that spot to Serie A veteran Gianluca Lapadula, but Guerrero remains a key figure for Peru off the bench.

With 39 goals in 117 caps, he’s his country’s top goalscorer and is just 11 appearances away from the cap record. He’s been Copa America’s top scorer three times, in 2011, 2015 and 2019, making the Team of the Tournament each time as well.

His time as a star is over, but you can’t overlook the leadership and experience he brings. And if he can get a goal or two, he’ll add to his status as one of the all-time greats of this tournament.

Valverde uruguay(C)Getty Images

Uruguay – Federico Valverde

He often operates in the shadows as part of the behemoth that is Real Madrid. For Uruguay, though, Valverde might be more important.

He’s one of the best midfielders in the world by any measure. Valverde is also one of the world’s most complete – whether he starts centrally or out wide, Valverde always impacts games for both club and country.

All eyes will be on Darwin Nunez and, perhaps, Luis Suarez this summer, but Valverde will be used to that. He’ll continue to run the show from his place in midfield – whether anyone’s watching or not.

Gio Reyna USMNT 2024

USMNT – Gio Reyna

The USMNT is good, but Reyna is the player that can vault them from good to great.

Gregg Berhalter doesn’t have any other player like Reyna, who, at his best, is a creative force. The problem is that the attacking midfielder hasn’t been at his best, at least on the club level, for a very, very long time.

Without a fully-firing Reyna, the U.S. can still go on a run. For them to take down the world’s best at Copa America, though, they’ll need a game-changer, and Reyna is exactly that. There are but a few things that separate the good teams from the elite teams, and Reyna is the type of player that can bridge that gap this summer – and on the road to the World Cup 2026.

Venezuela – Jose Martinez

MLS viewers will be more than familiar with El Brujo. If you’re a fan of a team other than the Philadelphia Union, you’ve probably hated him at one point or another.

Martinez is known as an absolute menace with the Union, one that has gotten into the faces of legends such as Messi and Gonzalo Higuain with no remorse. Say what you want about the midfielder, but he’s a gamer and a tone-setter, one that isn’t afraid to walk the line when it comes to dark arts.

Beyond all of that, he is one heck of a player, one that will be key in a talented Venezuela midfield that also includes veteran Tomas Rincon and former NYCFC and current Girona regular Yangel Herrera.


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