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The case for and against a summer off

By Paul Kennedy (@pkedit)

We should know soon enough whether the Copa Centenario goes ahead as planned — the final two berths are supposed to be settled over the October international window — and whether the USA will participate in the tournament.

If the USA pulls out, it will ratchet up the pressure on the U.S. U-23s to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. If there’s no Copa Centenario or no USA in it and no U.S. representative in Brazil, it will mark the first time since 1997 that the U.S. men’s program has gone the summer without a competitive match.

Something has always been going on, whether it was the World Cup or World Cup qualifying, or the Gold Cup or Confederations Cup or Copa America (or two of three) or the Olympics (every four years except 2004 and 2012) or Pan-American Games with the full national team in Indianapolis in 1987 (how’s that for going back in time?).

And in 1996 — MLS’s debut season — there was the next best thing — the U.S. Cup in which the USA faced Ireland, Bolivia and Mexico. If you also include U.S. Cup ’92 as part of the national team’s competitive schedule — the USA won with victories over Ireland and Portugal and a tie with Italy, introducing Thomas Dooley and Roy Wegerle to the national team and featuring Earnie Stewart’s first extended run — you have to then go back to 1986 — predating the modern era of the national team — as the last time the national team program had nothing to do in the summer.

The irony is that after all the trouble Concacaf and Conmebol went to to get FIFA to put the Copa Centenario on the 2016 international calendar — essential for national teams to get clubs to agree to release players — it might be cancelled. Unlike previous even years when the semifinal round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying began with double dates in June or July, the semifinal round of Russia 2018 qualifying begins with two games this November, follows with two games in March 2016 and then breaks to finish up in September 2016.

The first reaction is “Hurray!” A summer off.

Foreign-based players can, for once, get a summer vacation of rest and relaxation without it being interrupted for national team duty. (That goes for players on other national teams as well. God knows Lionel Messi doesn’t need another summer spent playing for Argentina.) And MLS owners won’t complain. They won’t have to worry about losing their players in the summer and having to decide whether to play or not play through the FIFA calendar.

The other point is, whether the USA beats Mexico on Oct. 10 or whether Jurgen Klinsmann remains as national team coach or is replaced, the national team is in serious need of a makeover that won’t likely be risked in the middle of World Cup qualifying, even against the likes of a St. Vincent & Grenadines or Guatemala or Trinidad & Tobago.

The Copa Centenario would ensure the USA of at least three very tough games at home in front of packed crowds. Similarly, the Olympics and all that surrounds it, on top of the challenges that travel in Brazil poses, would be great experience for the U-23s and the three overage wild-cards.

One or both competitions would be provide essential competition for the next generation of national team stars, players like John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Sebastian Lletget, Wil Trapp, Jordan Morris and whoever comes along.

We’ll know more in the next three weeks if they get that chance.

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