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This summer’s Copa América, currently underway in the United States through June 26, is the biggest men’s soccer tournament to hit the nation’s shores since the immensely successful 1994 FIFA World Cup.
Many of the world’s most elite players, representing 16 national teams from the New World’s two confederations — CONCACAF and CONMEBOL — are competing at 10 privileged sites from coast to coast. The grand final is being held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, a stone's throw from Manhattan's shimmering skyscrapers.
And what soccer festival would be complete — that’s football for the rest of the world’s adherents — without the participation of a number of players from FC Barcelona? Virtually the entire FCB squad consists of international caliber stars, many of whom are among the best in the world at their respective positions.
Much like quadrennial competitions the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Euro, that latter of which is getting underway this week in France, this year's special centennial edition of the Copa América is no exception.
Messi, Mascherano, and Bravo take San Fran
The first match featuring Barça players at this year’s tournament was played on June 6, when South American giants Argentina and Chile squared off at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara — about 45 miles southeast of San Francisco.
Argentina won the match 2–1.
FC Barcelona’s five-time Ballon d’Or winner, the all-world Lionel Messi, did not play. Messi is working his way back from an injury he suffered during a pre-tournament friendly versus Honduras.
Nevertheless, Messi's compatriot and Blaugrana teammate, the defensive midfield wizard Javier Mascherano, did represent the Argentinians, playing all 90 minutes while completing 41 of 47 pass attempts (87%) to go with 3 steals.
Chile were represented by goalkeeper and captain Claudio Bravo, who made 3 saves in the loss to their trans-Andes neighbors.
It was not only both teams’ first match in Group D play, it was also a rematch of the 2015 final, when Chile beat Argentina on penalty kicks. Curiously, Messi was the only player to beat Bravo in last year's dramatic shootout.
“This year's Copa América is a very special tournament for me, even more so after having lost in last year's final. That's why I want to win it for Argentina,” Messi said ahead of the match.
This Argentina–Chile encounter was, arguably, the biggest event held at Levi’s Stadium since February 7, when the Denver Broncos upset the Carolina Panthers there in Super Bowl 50.
Amd while it was certainly an exciting evening in northern California, it wasn’t the first time FC Barcelona players have been in the spotlight there.
The summer of 2015
The Catalan club played at Levi's Stadium just last summer as part of their preseason tour in the U.S. In late July, they took part in three games as part of the International Champions Cup.
After opening up with a win over the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the team flew north for their second friendly at Levi’s Stadium against Manchester United. The Red Devils triumphed on a late goal.
Niners and Giants
In the days leading up to the match, however, the Barça team did a lot more in the California sun than just train. The players snapped photos and kicked around soccer balls and pigskins with members of the San Francisco 49ers. They got a taste of the national pastime too, taking in a ball game featuring the hometown San Francisco Giants, complete with a dugout photo at AT&T Park.
The social media-savvy defender Gerard Piqué made a personal visit to Twitter headquarters in downtown San Francisco.
“I'd love to work there," Piqué said at the time. "It's the only social network that I personally manage myself."
Interestingly, neither Messi, Mashcherano, nor Bravo made Barça's stateside trip last summer, having been granted some much-needed vacation time following their run to the 2015 Copa America final.
Nevertheless, the Catalans were mobbed by passionate supporters everywhere they went, especially in the San Francisco area. The friendly with Manchester United was widely praised by the throngs of fans who flocked there to catch a glimpse of the 2015/16 treble-winners.
Monday's game, thus, gives the locals their first chance to catch the Barça trio up close and in their own back yard.
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