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What to watch for in tonight's Copa America 2024 men’s soccer game

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now an update on the Copa America 2024 men's soccer tournament. It's hosted this year here in the U.S., and many fans hoped the home turf advantage would give the U.S. team a real boost - doesn't seem to have turned out that way. As the tournament heads into the quarterfinals, their future hangs in the balance. The U.S. team will likely need a win tonight to advance, and they are playing one of the best teams in the tournament, Uruguay. ESPN soccer writer Luis Miguel Echegaray will be watching the game, and he's with us now. Hi there.

LUIS MIGUEL ECHEGARAY: How are you, Ari?

SHAPIRO: All right - seems like the U.S. needs a lot of things to break the team's way tonight. Do you think they're capable of doing it?

ECHEGARAY: I think it's more wishful thinking in this situation right now. Christian Pulisic, one of the stars of the USMNT, said it. They need to play the game of their lives. And he is not wrong. You mentioned in your intro Uruguay are one of the best teams. They're actually my tip to win the whole thing. But also, the chaotic loss to Panama means that, you know, Matt Turner, the goalkeeper, is questionable. Tim Weah, who received the red card - he's not playing. Tyler Adams has limited minutes. So it's going to be a mountain to climb. Ari, it's going to be Mount Everest to see if USMMT can do this.

SHAPIRO: Uruguay is a small country, just 3 million people. Why are they such a formidable team compared to the much larger U.S.?

ECHEGARAY: Well, I wish I had more minutes to tell you why, but I'll make it simpler. It's all down to the culture of this country. They are incredible. Every single Uruguayan, whether you're a 3-year-old or a 50-year-old, plays the game. The domestic game, the clubs there - they really want to passionately develop generational football players that go to Europe. And we have really great Uruguayan stars right now killing it - Darwin Nunez for Liverpool, Federico Valverde for Real Madrid.

But it's aside from that, Ari. They have this garra charrua, warrior-like spirit, where they never say die. And now with their manager, called Marcelo Bielsa, one of the greatest legendary managers, they have this amazing killer instinct mentality. They're basically a young Mike Tyson, just coming at you nonstop. And that's why I think they're going to win the whole thing. They're such an inspiration.

SHAPIRO: And two years after this tournament, we're going to look ahead to the World Cup, which is also scheduled to be hosted in the U.S. If the U.S. really underperforms expectations this year in the Copa America, what does that mean for the upcoming World Cup?

ECHEGARAY: Well, I'm going to be very honest with you. I think their manager, Gregg Berhalter, should have actually not been a manager at all after the World Cup in 2022, mainly because I believe the unconventional wisdom that after every World Cup, just get a new manager. Just bring in somebody with fresh ideas and new concepts to try and instill something on these young players. There's no doubt that Berhalter has done so much for these young Americans, but I really think that he should have left, especially after all that Reyna drama. Please Google that up if you don't know what I'm talking about.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

ECHEGARAY: So I really think that the USMNT should have gone with somebody else. I think, regardless of what happens at Copa America, the USMNT and the U.S. Federation need to look at who they want to be looking ahead for 2026. The advantage is that they don't have to qualify for that. So there's a lot of projects and development they can do without needing to compete and without needing to qualify. But regardless, there's a lot of thinking for this USMNT. And Gregg Berhalter I just don't think should be the man to go ahead. He's a very nice man, but there's a lot of other managers that can further push the USMNT to go better.

SHAPIRO: Well, just in our last 30 seconds or so, beyond the U.S.-Uruguay matchup, what are you looking for in the final phases of this Copa America tournament?

ECHEGARAY: I am looking for more chaos, more drama. The attendances are amazing, mainly because of the Messi effect. But I think Copa America in the U.S. has not only celebrated the game, but it's also celebrated the Latin American culture.

SHAPIRO: That's ESPN's Luis Miguel Echegaray. Thank you very much.

ECHEGARAY: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF POST MALONE SONG, "CHEMICAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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