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Copa Soccer Tournament Begins In U.S.


Summer soccer is upon us, and it's a big summer for soccer fans here in the U.S. because of the Copa America Centenario.


JOHN STRONG: (Unintelligible) takes the bounce and it's in.


STRONG: Cristian Zapata - eighth minute - Colombia up front.

KELLY: That is the Fox Sports broadcast of last night's kickoff game in Santa Clara, Calif. It marked a thumping for the U.S. team. That was the first of two goals Colombia scored that we just heard. Final score was Colombia 2, U.S. 0. Last night also marked the first time the tournament has been played in the United States since it began a hundred years ago. Well, among the many sports writers who were watching was Alicia DelGallo from the Orlando Sentinel. She is in Orlando where several of the games will be played. Alicia, hey there.

ALICIA DELGALLO: Hi. How are you?

KELLY: I am well. Thank you. Let me start by asking for a lot of Americans who maybe follow soccer a bit little bit, maybe know what the World Cup is but not much else, how important is this tournament?

DELGALLO: It is the oldest international continental soccer tournament in the world. It began as a South American tournament. So this is why it's been held in South America all of these years. For Americans, this is the highest level of soccer that they have seen in the States since the 1994 World Cup was here.

KELLY: Now, sadly, the U.S. did not distinguish themselves in the opening game last night. We said Colombia won 2-0. What happened?

DELGALLO: Yeah, so United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann always said that this game was going to be a benchmark for the United States to see where they stand among some of the top teams in the world. Now, you have - Colombia is ranked third in the world by FIFA right now. The United States is 31st.

KELLY: So they were the underdog.

DELGALLO: They were the underdog, but there was still a (ph) expectation that they would perform a little better than they did. Klinsmann keeps saying that he's happy with their performance, that they played them evenly except for those two down moments where they scored goals. But the rest of the people watching aren't so sure. They were frustrated.

The United States just couldn't keep up. Colombia was faster. Colombia looked more skilled tactically. The first goal in the eighth minute was the fastest goal in 17 years in Copa America history.

KELLY: Fastest goal meaning scored earliest in a game?


KELLY: Alicia, will Americans ever learn to love this sport the way the rest of the world does?

DELGALLO: There's a lot of people in the United States who only had teams overseas to cheer for. So now that the game in the United States is progressing, you're seeing the fandom progress as well. And this tournament being here is just going to amplify that and continue that growth exponentially.

KELLY: Although safe to say that for some of the countries here participating, life will come to a standstill during this tournament in a way that it just doesn't in America. Is that right?

DELGALLO: Right. So I spoke with the co-captain of Haiti a few weeks ago, Jean-Marc Alexandre. He used to play in Orlando, and he explained to me how much these tournaments and the national teams mean to their countries, especially in a country with a lot of poverty, like Haiti. He said for the 90 minutes that the national teams will be playing in a Copa America games (ph), the entire country will stop to watch.

People will not think about how hungry they are. People will not think about their safety. For 90 minutes they'll be at home watching their TVs. And if the national team does well, the entire country will be happy.

KELLY: Wow. That's Alicia DelGallo, sports writer for the Orlando Sentinel. Thanks so much for taking the time.

DELGALLO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.