Former United States international Cobi Jones (center) answered questions from the media at a press conference announcing the Centenary Cup America on May 1, 2014, in Bal Harbour, Florida, near Miami. (Photo:Mexsport)
BAL HARBOUR, Florida – Friendlies are fine, but there's nothing like playing in a high-level tournament to stoke a player’s competitive fire, says Cobi Jones.
The former United States international certainly knows the feeling. He has competed in three FIFA World Cups, two FIFA Confederations Cups, one Olympic Games, five CONCACAF Gold Cups and two Copa Americas.
So, the Centennial Cup America (Copa America Centenario) in 2016 will give players and teams a new avenue on which to display their abilities.
"This is extremely important for the national team because when you want to play games, as (U.S. head) coach Klinsmann has said, you want to play against the best," Jones said on Thursday after an announcement that the United States would host the tournament commemorating the Copa America’s 100th anniversary. "Not only do you want to play against the best, you want to play against the best when it means something. We're talking about the likes of Argentina and Brazil against the United States and Mexico. Friendlies are nice. When it’s a tournament or when there's a champion crowned at the end, it has that much more significance. This is going to be big, this is going to be huge."
The gulf in magnitude between friendlies and meaningful tournaments is like night and day.
"There is a huge difference," noted the 44-year-old. "Just look at the national teams who they call in as players all around the world. When it’s a friendly match, coaches tend to take a look at other players, to bring them in just to see, maybe they can be brought in for the World Cup.
"This Copa Centenario is going to be that tournament that national team coaches are going to prepare for. When you look at the difference, it’s the full team. It's everyone trying to win. It's that extra bit of fight, extra bit of grit on the field. That's what it’s all about. That's what the fans want to see, a competitive match rather than a friendly, where its a game for 90 minutes and if there's a tie, let's go home. In the end, once you get to the final rounds, there are no ties."
Jones was a member of the U.S. team that finished fourth at the 1995 Copa America in Ecuador a year after hosting the World Cup.
At Copa, the former LA Galaxy star said the U.S. had “a significant, a very spectacular performance through the whole tournament, beating Argentina eventually losing to Brazil. It showed we were here to stay. It opened up the eyes of everyone in South America. Not only in South America, but in the United States and the world that we were a good team with quality players."
The Americans surprisingly won their group with a 2-0-1 record. They defeated Chile (2-1) and dropped a decision to Bolivia, before stunning Argentina (3-0).
“When we went ahead (against Argentina) that was a pretty significant moment for us,” expressed Jones. “It was about continuing what we were doing right. It was about working for each other and communicating as much as possible. We were a team that had a little bit of a stress with some coaching changes going on and that brought us all together to talk to bond as a unit. That really helped us get through those tough games, where we realized we were playing a game. It doesn't matter who we're up against. There's harder things going on in life."
The Americans survived a shootout with CONCACAF rival Mexico in the quarterfinals before losing to world champion Brazil (1-0) in the semifinals and to Colombia (4-1) in the third-place match.