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A U.S. Copa America in 2016 would put Benito Floro's Canada on the fast(er) track

The ‘America’ edition of the popular if not necessarily reliable Spanish football portal Marca.com reported on Monday that a special 2016 Copa America will be held in the U.S. to commemorate the tournament's 100th anniversary. This concept has long been rumoured, but has yet to be confirmed by any of the major stakeholders. About the only new details on offer involved which U.S. stadiums would, theoretically, host the tournament.

One thing, however, has changed since such reports began emerging over a year ago: Canada has a new national team manager. Benito Floro was hired last July with a mandate to at least guide the side into the final six-team round of 2018 World Cup qualifying; the ever-elusive (for Canada at least) “Hex.” No mention was made of the Copa America at Floro's unveiling that summer afternoon in Toronto, but if the tournament comes to fruition it means his most important test as manager comes much earlier than expected.
According to Marca's report (which does at least remain consistent with earlier ones), qualification for this special Copa America would be automatic for the U.S., Mexico and the ten South American nations in Conmebol. The remaining four spots would go to the best-placed teams at the 2015 Gold Cup. Ah, the Gold Cup. That much-maligned tournament that only tens of millions of people across the U.S., Mexico and Central America bother about every two years. It has been the scene of Canada’s greatest and some of its most awful footballing moments over the past two decades. And given the horrendous showing Canada offered at the 2013 edition, finishing within the top six 18 months from now is far from a guarantee.

(A quick note. The Concacaf entry into the 2017 Confederations Cup will be awarded after a playoff between the winners of the 2013 and 2015 editions of the Gold Cup; thus Mexico and the U.S. should remain committed to sending at least semi-competitive outfits.)

On one hand, confirmation of a U.S.-based Copa would likely change little in terms of the long-term goal Floro is working toward. After a scorched-earth 2013, and probably no meaningful competition in 2014 beyond acting as training pylons for a World Cup-bound European side or two, the year 2015 was always going to be when the men’s team would have to show some quantifiable progress. Flaming out in the Gold Cup group stages for a second straight time would be an upsetting development in any setting. In addition, 2015 is when the second round of Concacaf qualifying for the 2018 World Cup (against the likes of Saint Lucia and Puerto Rico) would likely commence. Success at that stage should be taken for granted, but well, we know where that road leads.

However, if a spot in the 100th anniversary, one-time only, super-hyped Copa America featuring Argentina, Messi, Brazil and Neymar suddenly appeared, the margin for error becomes smaller. Surely there must be some within the CSA brain trust who would question the continuity of the ‘Benito Floro project’ if Canada were to fail at the 2015 Gold Cup hurdle and miss out on what would be its most prestigious international competition in two decades, its first real tournament since the 1986 World Cup. Long-suffering supporters would certainly be upset, at least those not subscribing to the school of thought that dictates appearing in a high-profile tournament and delivering an embarrassing performance would do more damage to the program than not appearing at all.

It essentially comes down to being one of the top-four teams in the region, excepting U.S. and Mexico. Kind of like reaching the Hex in four games instead of 12, but with the benefit of skipping all those troublesome qualifying trips to Central America. How would those four Gold Cup spots end up shaking out? No idea. But a reasonable guess is that it would involve winning a quarterfinal. The last time Canada managed that was four tournaments ago in 2007 (see above, re: some of Canada's most awful footballing moments).

The bottom line is that this as-yet-non-existent tournament would fast-track the timeline Floro is working with the moment it becomes reality. As things stand now, the truly challenging matches begin in 2016 in the third round of World Cup qualifying. A U.S. Copa America extravaganza would leave him with one year less to prepare his team for the real money games.

Yes, Floro still has lots of time. But Canada in its current incarnation is one hell of an international football project. Probably one more challenging than anything even a guy with the varied experience of Floro has ever attempted. In agreeing to all this, I'm assuming one thing he requested and is counting on was time. It's his most valuable resource. That's why there wasn't much sense lamenting the horrible results through 2013.

Would Floro had done things differently if the U.S. Copa were a settled item when he took the Canada job? It's hard to say, but if he's not at the bare minimum keeping the tournament in the back of his mind as he sets out to prepare for the year ahead, he probably should be.

Correction (Jan. 9 1:25pm EDT) This article has been changed to show that the second round of World Cup qualifying would likely begin in the second half of 2015.