After 23 quick and action-packed days, Copa America Centenario is over. Chile, the champion, proved to be way more than just a talented team that can win a tournament on home soil, as it deservedly defeated Argentina in the final for a second straight summer (on penalties, again) and retains the trophy.
Lionel Messi dazzled fans for the majority of his time on the field, but it appears that he's done at the international level at age 29 (at least for now), while Argentina's trophy drought goes on. Mexico dazzled at times in front of capacity crowds, but then crashed out in spectacular, 7-0 fashion. The USA met Jurgen Klinsmann's original stated goal of reaching the semifinals but still left fans wanting more. Venezuela was the closest the tournament got to a Cinderella, but ran into the Argentina buzz saw after one of the worst Panenka attempts ever killed off comeback momentum. Sans Neymar, Brazil failed to get out of the group stage and wound up firing its manager.
Copa America was a tournament that crescendoed and ultimately entertained while questions of how it would be perceived and how seriously some teams would take it subsided.
Before we turn the page completely on the one-off 2016 competition, let's look back on the 16 best and most memorable aspects of it.
SI's panel of Alexander Abnos, Avi Creditor, Brian Straus and Grant Wahl put a bow on Copa America Centenario:
Best U.S. moment: The opening goal against Ecuador
BS: Bobby Wood’s brilliant hold-up play, Jermaine Jones’s inch-perfect cross and Clint Dempsey’s emphatic finish represented the very best of the national team’s present and future, and it paved the way for only the third elimination-game win over a non-CONCACAF opponent at a major tournament.
Honorable mention: The two days of anticipation and excitement ahead of the semifinal against Argentina.
Best U.S. player: John Brooks
GW: The U.S.’s most positive takeaway from the Copa América is that it finally has a central defense pairing built to last in Brooks and Geoff Cameron. The 23-year-old Brooks was a force throughout the tournament (except against Argentina, like every other U.S. player), and he showed his club form consistently for the first time with the national team.
Honorable mention: Clint Dempsey
Best goal: Messi's free kick vs. USA
AA: I would have liked to pick a goal from open play here. Among the contenders, there were:
Venezuela’s Jose Manuel Velazquez’s acrobatic volley:
Victor Ayala’s screamer for Paraguay:
Alexis Sanchez’s stunning volley:
Christian Cueva’s spinning nutmeg:
Tecatito Corona's slaloming run:
They're all are worthy candidates. But for me, Messi’s free kick against the United States is the choice, albeit a somewhat obvious one. Free-kick goals get over-hyped, but the degree of difficulty on this one combined with the stage on which it was performed–plus the fact that it effectively killed the game in the first half–made it the most memorable goal of the tournament.
What I’ll most remember from Messi's tournament
GW: That free kick against the United States. Quite simply the best free kick I’ve ever witnessed live. Messi beat Brad Guzan on the side of the goal that Guzan was covering.
Honorable mention: Nutmegging the Bolivian goalkeeper
Worst anthem moment: Chilean anthem played for Uruguay
AC: It was disrespectful at best, unforgivable at worst. How does that happen?
Honorable mention: Pitbull blares as Chilean fans, players sing end of their anthem a capella
Best non-U.S. broadcast call: TyC Sports on Messi's hat trick
AC: It had it all: The immaculate cadence. The adulation. The hysteria. The random bits of English. Messi scoring three goals in his first 19 minutes at Copa America was matched only by the TyC Sports call of it.
Honorable mention: Univision Deportes's call of Tecatito Corona's goal vs. Venezuela
Best moment by an underdog: Haiti's goal vs. Brazil
AA: James Marcelin’s goal meant comparatively little in pure soccer terms. Brazil was beating Haiti 5-0 at the time and would eventually win 7-1. But between Marcelin’s reaction, that of the Haitian supporters in the crowd, and Haitian radio’s call of the goal, it was clear that this strike resonated in a space outside of the white lines. For a country so beset by problems, a goal against the legendary Seleçao was an important reason for joy.
Honorable mention: Venezuela ousts Uruguay on Salomon Rondon's goal
Player who opened my eyes the most, unexpectedly
GW: Edwin Cardona, Colombia. The 23-year-old Monterrey attacking midfielder may be heading to Spain’s La Liga after a sterling performance during the Copa.
Honorable mention: Adalberto Peñaranda, Venezuela.
Best moment by a star who didn't play: Luis Suarez's bench tantrum
AC: Suarez evidently didn't know he was ineligible to play against Venezuela as Uruguay was headed out of Copa America. He warmed up feverishly. He kicked his shoes on the field (honestly, who throws a shoe?). He banged his fist against the side of the dugout. On one hand it was great to see his passion and desire. But on the other ... c'mon man.
Honorable mention: Neymar's celebrity hopping at the Rose Bowl
Most controversial moment: Peru's handball goal
BS: Peru’s Raúl Ruidíaz punched the all into the Brazilian net, acted as if he didn’t, the officials took forever to award the bogus goal and the Seleção were eliminated. Later, Ruidíaz claimed he used his thigh and said he couldn’t understand why there was any controversy. Soccer really is silly sometimes.
Honorable mention: Every time “Puto!” was beamed around the world. Seems asking nicely isn’t doing the trick.
Coolest off-field story: Altidore donates so Haiti can watch Copa games
AC: Jozy Altidore couldn't play for the USA due to another hamstring injury, but his gesture to set up watch parties in Haiti for people to be able to see their national team heroes play in a major tournament for the first time since 1974 won't soon be forgotten.
Honorable mention: The Bay Area PDL players who got to play with Argentina (OK, it's on-field technically, but not a Copa field)
Best game: Mexico vs. Uruguay
AA: The knockout rounds featured games that were either blowouts or sloppily played, so I had to go to the group stage to find the game that featured a nice balance of competitiveness, intensity, and quality. Mexico-Uruguay hit on all those fronts, due in no small part to the raucous crowd in Glendale, Arizona. That the two most important goals in the game came from defenders Diego Godin and Rafa Marquez is an interesting, counterintuitive footnote.
Honorable mention: Argentina vs. Chile (in the group stage)
Biggest shock: Uruguay's early exit
AA: Uruguay failing to reach the knockout rounds wasn’t a shock to me, since I picked them to go out in the group stage before the tournament (insert frog/coffee emojis here). What did surprise me was that it was Venezuela to replace Uruguay in the knockout rounds and not Jamaica. The nation has never been a South American power, but it showed well in this tournament, building a run thanks to organized defense and opportunistic attack until getting overpowered by Argentina.
Honorable mention: Peru's win over Brazil
Most disappointing team: Brazil
BS: Regardless of whether Ruidíaz’s goal was fair our foul. The beautiful game is dead. Brazil was plodding, pedestrian and passionless. We used to wonder how far a second Brazilian 11 would go in tournaments. Now, absent Neymar, they go nowhere.
(Dis)Honorable mention: Mexico. Siete a cero!
Best XI of the tournament
GW: (4-3-3) GK - David Ospina, Colombia; RB - Mauricio Isla, Chile; CB - Ramiro Funes Mori, Argentina; CB - John Brooks, USA; LB - Jean Beausejour, Chile; M - Arturo Vidal, Chile; M - Javier Mascherano, Argentina; M - James Rodríguez, Colombia; F - Lionel Messi, Argentina; F - Eduardo Vargas, Chile; F - Alexis Sánchez, Chile
Lasting impression of the tournament
BS: Stands and press boxes were full. Dunga was fired. Ramón Díaz resigned. Sunil Gulati exerted public pressure. Messi was so crushed by the weight of his silver medal that he’s contemplating international retirement. Before the Copa, we wondered if the tournament would be taken seriously. We have our answer. This competition mattered, despite its sketchy origins.