Copa America Centenario Arrives in Philadelphia

Uruguay faces Venezuela at Lincoln Financial Field tonight, U.S. will play Saturday. What it all means for Philly — and America's bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

Venezuela defender Roberto Rosales (16) reacts in the second half during the group play stage of the 2016 Copa America Centenario at Soldier Field. Venezuela plays Uruguay Thursday night.

Venezuela defender Roberto Rosales (16) reacts in the second half during the group play stage of the 2016 Copa America Centenario at Soldier Field. Venezuela plays Uruguay Thursday night.

The Copa America Centenario begins tonight in Philadelphia with Uruguay and Venezuela facing off at Lincoln Financial Field. This is the first of three matches to be hosted by Philadelphia – the U.S. will play Paraguay on June 11th, and Chile faces Panama on June 14th.

With 15 of the 45 titles in tournament history, Uruguay is the most successful nation in Copa America history. But tonight’s matchup finds them hanging on after a loss to Mexico, while Venezuela arrived in Philadelphia celebrating a huge win against Jamaica.

Philadelphia’s three matches will bring an estimated $41 million economic boost, according to The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. This number is the result of a DMAI (Destination Marketing Association International) Event Impact calculation that draws on data from 10 different sources. The CVB expects 75,000-80,000 fans in attendance over the three games, with 20-25% coming from outside the Philadelphia area.

“Certainly the fact that the US team is playing Saturday night is a bonus for us and will definitely be the biggest attraction of the week,” Larry Needle, executive director of Philadelphia Sports (a division of the Philadelphia CVB), told Philadelphia magazine. “Especially with Saturday night being such an important game for the U.S. to advance in the tournament.”

Needle’s group began collaborating with the Philadelphia Eagles and several others to put together a bid in early 2015.

“One of the great things that we have to offer is our track record of success that Philadelphia has had in hosting these kinds of international soccer events previously,” Needle said. “Realistically we’re on a short list of cities that has had that kind of success, that U.S. Soccer knows will be a great market for them.”

The Copa America (America Cup), also known as the South American Football Championship, is the oldest international continental soccer tournament. Uruguay took home the victory in 1916 at the first official tournament, but the chronology gets a bit scattered after that. A series of political faux pas and historical hiccups, including a flu outbreak in Rio de Janeiro, prevented the tournament from being a regular occurrence until 1975, when the event officially became the Copa America. The United States was not invited to participate until 1993.

Fast forward to 2016: Philadelphia is one of 10 American cities to host the 16 teams competing this summer. The 2014 announcement that the 100th anniversary of the tournament’s inception would be held in the States was not met without criticism. According to Breitbart News Network, Uruguay Football Association president Wilmar Valdez was not pleased.

“CONMEBOL made a mistake by holding a tournament of this scope, a cup with some of the oldest national teams in the world and in South American football here in the United States,” Valdez said, claiming that popularity of the sport in America does not hold up in comparison with other nations.

And yet, successful execution of the event could also strengthen the U.S. bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

“I think it can only help make the U.S.’s case about the kind of market we are for soccer and the kind of tremendous facilities we have to offer not only in Philadelphia, but across the country,” Needle said.