Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Copa América Centenário Soccer Tournament

US defender Deandre Yedlin
UPDATE: The US team, perhaps embarrassed by its sluggish opening game, showed up tonight with a completely different game plan. Playing with passion for 90 minutes, minimizing mistakes, and taking advantage of multiple opportunities, the US squad won by the astonishing score of 4-0 over Costa Rica, putting it in second place in Group A. 

The team secured goals by Clint Dempsey, who scored on a penalty kick; Jermaine Jones, who scored on a pass from Dempsey; Bobby Wood, on a set up by Michael Bradley; and substitute Graham Zusi, scored the fourth and final US goal. In defense, Brooks was particularly superb. The US's main weak point this game was Gyasi Zardes, who missed several key shots and passed a bit sloppily. But he did no real harm, and the US showed it could play superlative soccer. Now if only they can play even 3/4ths as well in their next three games, they could go deep into the tournament!


As Brazil staggers towards hosting its first Olympic Games, the first ever in South America, the USA is currently playing international athletics host itself, to national teams from across the Americas, for the Copa América Centenario. Established in 1916, the Copa América brings together the 10 teams from the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), along with roughly 6 teams from other confederations, includingThe Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), to which the US and Mexico both belong.

The tournament has been played on an irregular basis since its founding, with a four-year gap between the 2011 and 2015 meetings. Although the US has hosted the Summer and Winter Olympics many times and the World Cup just once, in 1994, this is its first time hosting the Copa América. Games have been scheduled for stadiums in Chicago, East Rutherford (NJ), Foxborough (MA), Glendale (AZ), Houston, Orlando, Pasadena (CA), Philadelphia, Santa Clara (CA), and Seattle. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena has the largest capacity, at 92, 542, while the smallest stadium is Orlando's Camping World Stadium at 60,219.

The sixteen competing squads are: Group A: Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, and USA; Group B: Brazil, EcuadorHaiti, and Peru; Group C: Jamaica, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela; and Group D: Argentina, Panama, Chile, and Bolivia.  Going into the tournament, the US automatically qualified as the host and Mexico did so as CONCACAF champion. Additionally, Costa Rica quaified by winning 2014 Copa Centroamericana; Jamaica by winning the 2014 Caribbean Cup; and Haiti and Panama by winning playoffs in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Argentina entered as the highest ranked team, while Venezuela was the lowest.

Brazil's Hulk
The games began last Friday, June 3, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara with the US facing off against Colombia. The Americans mostly played scattered, strategy-less soccer, with zero set-piece success, losing 0-2, though the American midfield Clint Dempsey did manage several shots that were near-misses, and goalie Brad Guzan played sharply enough to prevent a rout. In general, though, the US team, coached by the legendary Jürgen Klinsmann, was lucky not to have lost much worse. The Americans will need to stay vertical and stop hoping for penalty calls, pass much more precisely, make the most of every set play, and attack more, or barring a miracle they will go winless.

The following day saw Costa Rica and Paraguay play to a scoreless tie in Orlando. Both teams looked strong, with an emphasis on defense. Perhaps Costa Rica will find more pop going forward, but Paraguay did itself a huge favor by keeping the game 0-0. In the second game of the day, Haiti faced Peru in Seattle, and lost 0-1, on a superb header by Peru's Paolo Guerrero, who caught an open hole in the defense and struck. The Haitians, playing in their first Copa América, looked decent, and nearly equalized the game several times, but couldn't pull out a tie, let alone a victory.

In the third game Saturday, Brazil faced off against Ecuador. The Brazilians were more highly ranked and thus favored, and put on a one-touch passing clinic early on, but unlike in prior major tournaments, were unable to punch through a goal, finishing 0-0. Unlike in prior international tournaments whether they won or lost, they appear to lack a superstar scorer or playmaker of the kind (Pelé, Romário, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, etc.) that has often defined Brazil's national teams. Ecuador played solid soccer, and helped themselves tremendously as they'll face Peru in their next match.

Ecuadorian defender Gabriel Achillier
Sunday's matches began with Jamaica facing off against Venezuela. Though starting without their star Wes Morgan, who was exhausted from European play, the Jamaicans could have won the game given how well they were moving the ball, but Venezuela managed to score early on, in the 15th minute, when Josef Martínez snuck a goal past Jamaica's defenders and goalie, and that sealed things. The Venezuelans have given themselves a huge boost, and enter their next game Uruguay with a huge advantage.

Haiti's goalie Johny Placide
As for Uruguay's game against Mexico, Sunday proved a disaster. Things got off to a bad start when someone at Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium played Chile's national anthem instead of the Uruguayan one. Then, 4 minutes into the game, Uruguay's Álvaro Pereira accidentally knocked the ball into his own goal, giving Mexico a 1-0 lead. Things only got worse. Uruguay's Diego Godín scored in the 74th minute to tie things up, but less than 10 minutes later, Mexico put together two devastating strikes, with Rafael Márquez scoring in the 85th minute to effectively win the game, and Héctor Herrera shutting things down with a goal in the 90th minute plus 2 of stoppage time.

The last set of first-round games occurred yesterday. Panama defeated Bolivia 2-1 on goals by Blas Pérez, who scored in the 11th minute to give Panama the lead, and then again in the 87th minute to put Bolivia away. In the matchup between Argentina, which features the spectacular Lionel Messi, one of the greatest living players and a star for Barcelona FC, versus a very strong Chile squad, neither team could break through in the first half, but Argentina gained the lead in the 51st minute on a goal by Ángel di Maria, and then Éver Banega put things away 8 minutes later. Chile did manage a goal in the 90th minute + 3 of stoppage when José Pedro Fuenzalida scored, but that was it.

Thus far, the top teams based on play appear to be Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, and Costa Rica. We'll know after the next set of match-ups which of these teams are likely to advance, and whether Brazil can emerge as more than a talented but middling participant. Tonight the US faces Costa Rica and Colombia will go up against Paraguay. Tomorrow, Brazil will challenge Haiti, and Ecuador will go after Peru; Thursday, Uruguay meets Venezuela and Mexico battles Jamaica; and Friday, Chile will aim to shut down Bolivia to stay in the tourney, while Argentina will try show it's the team to beat as it faces Panama. If the US can avoid a debacle tonight at Soldier Field in Chicago, it'll be a highlight of the tournament.

Brazil's Willian

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