Copa América: How far is the USMNT from Argentina, really?

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If the Copa América goes as expected, Argentina will reach the tournament final on July 14 in Miami Gardens, Florida, with the chance to lift another trophy. Argentina, after all, are the defending Copa América champs and the defending World Cup champs. Before the tournament kicked off, the betting markets gave them a greater than 50% chance of reaching the final.

If everything goes according to plan for the U.S. men's national team, they'll be the ones facing Argentina on July 14. But for the USMNT, a run to the final is not the expectation -- it would be a dream best-case scenario and the USMNT's best performance in a major tournament ever. Even with a 2-0 win in the opening match against Bolívia, the U.S. only has about a 15% shot at making it to the final, per ESPN BET -- up from 12% before the tournament started.

Plenty of teams are capable of making an underdog run in a knockout tournament -- the already-random nature of soccer gets ratcheted up when it becomes a win-and-you're-in. Peru reached the Copa América final in 2019 and Paraguay did it in 2011. Greece won the Euros in 2004, and Croatia made the final of the 2018 World Cup. None of these were the expected conclusions. The likes of Morocco, Denmark and Wales have all made the semifinals of major competitions in recent years, too.

But the ultimate goal for the USMNT -- in a country this wealthy, with this many potential professional soccer players -- isn't to just be good enough to make one memorable run. No, it's to get to the level of Argentina, where you expect to make a deep run in every single tournament.

How long, then, might it take for the Americans to get as good as Lionel Messi & Co. are right now? How big is the quality gap between the U.S. and Argentina, really? As Copa América continues, now is as good a time as any to dig in.