When the United States faces off against Colombia at 9:30 p.m. ET tonight, it will mark the beginning of the biggest and most unique soccer tournament to hit American shores since the 1994 World Cup.
It's the Copa América Centenario and it's going to be amazing.
Think of it as the South American continental championship on steroids. A stacked field of 16 national teams, half of which are in the top 25 of the FIFA World Rankings, will compete in a one-off tournament to celebrate the South American confederation's 100th anniversary. The catch is that the tournament will be hosted in the United States for the first time and will include six national teams from CONCACAF.
Before the festivities get underway, here's everything you need to know about the Copa América as an Orlando City fan.
But first, a major hat tip to our friends and sister blog Sounder at Heart, who inspired this guide with their lovely Seattle-centric preview of the tournament. It should be required reading for any MLS supporters looking for some perspective on the next couple weeks.
Orlando City Players Competing in Copa América:
Orlando City Snubs:
While technically missing the tournament with a muscle strain, Kaká was originally left off Dunga's 25-man roster before being called in to replace the injured Douglas Costa last week. How you feel about Kaká being forced to miss the Copa América probably says more about your take on international duty than anything else.
On one hand, it's great to see an Orlando City player suit up for one of the most recognizable national teams in the world, especially when one of those matches is in Orlando. On the other hand, Brazil essentially snagged Orlando's captain for a week (causing him to miss the NYCFC game) and returned him with an injury. So that's fun.
Brek Shea (United States)
For a minute there, it looked like Brek Shea had caught the eye of USMNT head coach Jürgen Klinsmann as a do-it-all winger on the national team. He scored twice in friendlies last year against Chile and Switzerland and was arriving at an Orlando City club where he was guaranteed to see plenty of the field.
But Shea has yet to receive a USMNT call-up in 2016 and doesn't appear to be in Klinsmann's plans for the immediate future. His next shot at international duty won't come until November, when the United States plays a pair of World Cup Qualifying matches.
Cristian Higuita (Colombia)
It's tough to call Higuita's omission from the tournament a snub, since he made the provisional roster of the third-ranked national team in the world as a 22-year-old, playing in MLS. His inclusion on Colombia's 40-man roster should be taken as a sign that Higuita won't be able to hide in the back of Orlando City's midfield for much longer.
Matches in Orlando:
We'll be on hand to bring you coverage of these matches. So check back to The Mane Land over the next several days.
Costa Rica vs. Paraguay (Saturday, June 4 @ 5 p.m. ET)
CONCACAF and CONMEBOL darlings collide in the tournament's second game. Paraguay advanced to the semifinals of last year's Copa América after knocking off Brazil on penalty kicks. Costa Rica made an improbable run to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2014 after topping a group that included Italy, England, and Uruguay.
Without the services of Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, Costa Rica will turn to Saprissa's Danny Carvajal, a player who does not currently have a Wikipedia page. Yikes. Paraguay gave legendary striker Roque Santa Cruz the Landon Donovan treatment, so they'll have to rely on the Roma duo of Juan Iturbe and Antonio Sanabria for offense, though both players have spent time on loan throughout Europe.
Panama vs. Bolivia (Monday, June 6 @ 7 p.m. ET)
OK, I'm really going to try with this one.
Bolivia is hitting the reset button after losing a number of key players that led the team to the quarterfinals of the 2015 Copa América and its first win in the tournament since 1997. The Bolivian squad is made up almost entirely of guys who ply their trade in the country's national league, but when you have clubs with names like The Strongest and Sports Boys, I kind of get it.
Panama is slightly better, with a couple players scattered throughout Europe and MLS, and Los Canaleros always seem to make some noise in the Gold Cup. But this is still a country that has never qualified for the World Cup. The good news is that they should be pumped for the Copa América Centenario, one of the biggest international tournaments they've ever been invited to.
Unfortunately, in a group that includes Argentina and Chile, both these nations are going to be huge underdogs to reach the knockout round. This is a must-win game if they want to have any kind of shot, so it should be an intense match-up.
Brazil vs. Haiti (Wednesday, June 8 @ 7 p.m. ET)
While it doesn't look like the most compelling match-up on paper, we're still talking about Brazil here. And don't sleep on a Haitian team that qualified for the Gold Cup quarterfinals a year ago.
The big knock on Brazil has been that guys like Neymar, David Luiz, and Thiago Silva were left off the Copa América roster, with the country seemingly focused on the men's soccer tournament at the Summer Olympics in just a few months. But when your last big-tournament match on home soil was a 7-0 loss to Germany, it makes sense to focus on Rio.
Even without some of its big names, Brazil should be fine against Haiti. Unlike most of the weaker teams at the tournament, Haiti isn't made up of unknown players from their national league, but unknown players from around the world. There's some potential here (defender Stéphane Lambèse plays for Paris Saint-Germain B) but this team would be wise to play for an improbable draw against Brazil.