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Mexico’s playoffs start Wednesday: Looking at the quarterfinal matchups

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The two clubs that contested CONCACAF’s championship finished at the top of Mexico’s standings. Santos Laguna, who lost Champions League to Monterrey last week, finished four points clear of the Rayados, earning the Liguilla’s top seed.

In Mexico, that seeding’s particularly important, for four reasons:

  • Like most playoff formats, the top seed gets matched against the highest seed in the playoffs; however,
  • Since Mexico re-draws their bracket in the semifinals (pairing the lowest surviving seed with the highest), the qualification stage’s winner always has the easiest road to the final.
  • The lowest seed always gets the second leg (in each round’s two-legged matchup) at home, and
  • If a matchup ends tied after both legs, the lower seed advances (until the final).

But even with all those advantages, it would surprise no one if Santos bowed out early.

#1 Santos Laguna (36 points, 17 games) vs. #8 Jaguares (27 points)

Though this is a rematch of the Apertura’s playoffs (won by Santos), a different kind of history is leaning on this matchup.

The fall of 2009 was the last time a top seed (superlider) advanced beyond the quarterfinals. Even then, it was only via a tiebreaker.

Year Tournament Superlider Quarterfinal Result Champion (Seed)
2011 Apertura Chivas lost to Querétaro, 1-2 Tigres (3)
Clausura Tigres lost to Chivas, 2-4 Pumas (2)
2010 Apertura Cruz Azul lost to Pumas, 3-2 Monterrey (2)
Clausura Monterrey lost to Pachuca, 1-3, quarterfinals Toluca (3)
2009 Apertura Toluca defeated San Luis, 1-1 Monterrey (5)

The last time a superlider won a Liguilla was the 2007 Clausura (Pachuca).

Beyond the premature exits for one seeds, there’s another pattern in there: Superliders have won the subsequent competition in their off the last four tournament (presumably motived by defeat). That won’t happen this time. Chivas was so motivated by their loss to Querétaro that they didn’t qualify for the Liguilla. Copa Lib may have had something to do with that.

Back to Santos. There’s no reason to believe there’s an actual superlider curse. Since people have come to think the qualification stage as something completely separate from the playoffs (and only slightly predictive), there’s no real pressure on the number one seed.

A more likely explanation for the curse: Teams that finish top in the regular season aren’t necessarily the best teams. They’re just the ones that tried harder during the regular season.

With Santos balancing CONCACAF Champions League’s knockout stages throughout the Clausura, that reason doesn’t hold up as well this tournament. Regardless, they finished number one, they have to debunk the curse, and in truth, they probably aren’t the tournament’s best team.

Quarterfinal matches: Thursday, at Jaguares, 8:00 p.m. ET; Sunday, at Santos, 7:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Santos 1-0 Jaguares (Jan. 2012), Santos 1-2 Jaguares (Nov. 2011), Jaguares 2-2 Santos (Nov. 2011), Jaguares 3-2 Santos (Sep. 2011), Jaguares 1-2 Santos (Jan. 2011)

#2 Monterrey (32 points) vs. #7 Tijuana (28 points)

Most would contend Monterrey is the best team in this tournament. Long regarded as the most talented team in Mexico, the Rayados just completed their second-straight CONCACAF Champions League triumph. If there was any fear that result would cause them to flick it in neutral for league, it was alleviated by their second place finish.

They’ve got an easy first round matchup. Tijuana started the Clausura strong but evened out through the last half of qualification. They finished with the league’s best defense (allowing only 11 goals in 17 matches), but their 18 goals scored are four less than any other Liguilla qualifier.

This being their first postseason, it’s difficult to see them getting past a team of Monterrey’s pedigree, but talent won’t be enough. After all, Cruz Azul – also regarded as one of the league’s most talented squads – didn’t even make the playoffs.

Quarterfinal matches: Wednesday, at Tijuana, 10:30 p.m. ET; Saturday, at Monterrey, 9:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Tijuana 1-0 Monterrey (Jan. 2012), Monterrey 4-2 Tijuana (Aug. 2011)

#3 Club América (32 points) vs. #6 Pachuca (28 points)

Club América blew a two goal lead on their final match to lose the second seed. As a result, they face Pachuca instead of Tijuana, an opponent few would prefer.

But as evidenced on Sunday, América has a trump card. Christian Benítez might be the best attacker in the region. In this weekend’s Clasico Joven, he scored twice within the first 13 minutes (though missed what would have been a game-winning penalty kick). His double left him with a league-leading 14 goals.

Unfortunately, he was bit of a one-man gang. While he led the league in goals, the rest of his team only scored 16.

It’s difficult to see Pachuca winning if they can’t slow down Chucho.

Quarterfinal matches: Wednesday, at Pachuca, 9:30 p.m. ET; Saturday, at América, 7:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: América 1-0 Pachuca (Feb. 2012), Pachuca 2-0 América (Aug. 2011), América 0-2 Pachuca (Jan. 2011)

#4 Morelia (31 points) vs. #5 Tigres (31 points)

Tigres rode incredible defending to win the Apertura, allowing only 1 goal through the Liguilla. It would be a mistake to doubt the resourcefulness of Morelia’s Miguel Sabah and Rafael Marquez Lugo, though Monarcas’ defense will need to make every goal count.

Just like superliders, Tigres have history to defy. The last time a team won consecutive tournaments was 2004 when Pumas won the calendar year’s Clausura and Apertura. No team has won both tournaments within a single season since the two short tournament-format was adopted 16 years ago.

Quarterfinal matches: Thursday, at Tigres, 10:00 p.m. ET; Sunday, at Morelia, 9:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Tigres 4-1 Morelia (Mar. 2012), Morelia 2-0 Tigres (Oct. 2011), Morelia 0-3 Tigres (Apr. 2011)

Spain names final EURO roster: Lucas Vasquez in, Isco out

CLUJ-NAPOCA, ROMANIA - MARCH 27:  Isco of Spain looks on during the International Friendly match between Romania and Spain held at the Cluj Arena on March 27, 2016 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Spain has announced their final 23-man roster for EURO 2016, where Vicente del Bosque’s men will look to win an unprecedented third-straight European Championship.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO coverage ]

The most notable exclusions from the side are that of Real Madrid’s Isco and Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez. Isco had previously seen regular playing time in the side leading up to the tournament, and the uncapped Saul misses out after a great campaign for Atleti.

Barcelona has five players in the side along with six Premier Leaguers, highlighted by the Chelsea trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, Pedro, and Cesc Fabregas.

With an overflow of talent in the defense and midfield, the biggest question for this Spain side will come up top. There are quality strikers in this team, but the inexperienced group has combined for just 19 caps and four goals at the senior level.

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Porto), David De Gea (Manchester United), Sergio Rico (Sevilla)

Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Marc Bartra (Barcelona), Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao), Juanfran (Atletico Madrid), Hector Bellerin (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Bruno (Villarreal), Pedro (Chelsea), Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City)

Forwards: Nolito (Celta Vigo), Lucas Vasquez (Real Madrid), Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao), Alvaro Morata (Juventus)

PSG defender Serge Aurier to stand trial in September

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 25:  Serge Aurier #19 of Paris Saint-Germain beats Diego Costa #19 of Chelsea to a loose ball during their Internationl Champions Cup match at Bank of America Stadium on July 25, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier will stand trial in September after being charged with assaulting a police officer.

Paris prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday that Aurier has been released from custody and will appear before a court on Sept. 26.

[ MORE: Klinsmann says USMNT to “go for it” vs. Colombia ]

Aurier was arrested in the early hours of Monday near the Champs-Elysees following an argument with police after a night out in Paris. Prosecutors said the police officer needed to take a day off work because of the incident.

Aurier was suspended for six weeks in February after a video emerged on social media showing him making derogatory comments about PSG coach Laurent Blanc, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and other players.

The Ivory Coast defender is widely regarded as one of the best right backs in Europe.

Payet, Milner in Top Five of UEFA’s “player barometer” for Euro 2016

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 27:  James Milner of England in action during the International Friendly match between England and Australia at Stadium of Light on May 27, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It’s called the “ultimate form tracker” for players heading into Euro 2016, it’s hardly boring, and you’ll likely be surprised at the Top Ten.

UEFA has a sophisticated “player barometer” that tracks statistics for all players’ form before June’s tournament in France.

It’s no surprise that Cristiano Ronaldo is first and Zlatan Ibrahimovic second, unless you had them flip-flopped. And Antoine Griezmann as third, Dimitri Payet fourth? Sure.

[ EURO 2016: England squad releasedGermany, too ]

But fifth is James Milner of Liverpool and England, one of only three players in the Top Ten who aren’t from UEFA Champions League finalists Atletico and Real Madrid (Ibrahimovic and Payet are the others).

How does the weight work?

As the Barometer acts as a form tracker, the more recent the match, the higher the weighting assigned to the data from it i.e. player stats from yesterday are given more significance than those from last week. If a player is not active (e.g. due to injury or non-selection), his ranking will decrease over that period of inactivity.

Additional weighting is attributed for quality of opposition using UEFA coefficients as the foundation of the values.

Once UEFA EURO 2016 starts, statistical events (e.g. goals, assists, tackles, saves) for the 552 players will be given a significantly higher weighting to maintain an accurate ranking of those performing well in France.

Better chance to advance: Mexico or USMNT at Copa America Centenario?

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 10: Alejandro Bedoya #11 of the United States Men's National Team in action against Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium on September 10, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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We placed Mexico fifth and the USMNT seventh in our rankings of contenders for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Friday in California.

But how wide is the distance between the two sides, and is any gap in talent mitigated by bigger challenges in schedule?

That’s what we’ll try to suss out here.

Mexico embarrassed the United States in the CONCACAF Cup playoff match this Fall, and both sides have since seen more good results than bad.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The Yanks, of course, suffered the ignominy of a 2-0 defeat in Guatemala in World Cup qualifying, but are 7-1-1 in their last nine matches. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men have looked especially strong in the past match-and-a-half, dominating both Ecuador and Bolivia.

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Hector Herrera #16 of Mexico protects the ball against Michael Bradley #4 of the United States during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Qualifier at Rose Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

El Tri hasn’t lost since the 2015 Copa America, and that was not a full-strength squad. Following the tournament, Mexico began a 12W-6D run which includes a Gold Cup win — suspect as the run was —  and a draw against Argentina. No, El Tri hasn’t beaten many opponents of power during the run, but the record is far from shaky.

Honestly, Mexico should expect to make a run at history. While they stumbled in qualification for the 2014 World Cup, their U-23s won gold at the 2012 Olympics. This generation of El Tri has been building upward, more or less, since that tournament.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

Mexico has rarely had trouble with group mates Jamaica or Mexico, and Uruguay will be without Luis Suarez. It would be shocking if El Tri failed to advance from the group, and Mexico should have a chance to win the group. Argentina or Chile likely await in the quarters, so the semifinals are neither a given nor particularly likely.

The U.S. is in a different spot altogether. Yes, they should be able to advance from Group A, but their host status is the only thing that will make them heavy favorites in any match. Costa Rica went further than the Yanks at World Cup, and Paraguay has drawn Argentina twice, Brazil twice (once losing in penalties) and Uruguay once in the past calendar year.

Britain Soccer USA Colombia
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The Yanks should be favored to finish above both those teams, but could be in a hole if they don’t start fast against Colombia on Friday in California. Colombia won its only warm-up match, a 3-1 decision over Haiti in Florida last week, but did not have star man James Rodriguez yet.

Winning the group is key for Klinsmann’s knockout round hopes, as Brazil should easily win Group B and face Group A’s runner-up. There’s a world of difference between facing Ecuador, Peru or Haiti, or tangling with Brazil.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released |Germany, too ]

So you could honestly make the case that while Mexico is far more dangerous side in this tournament, especially given their proximity to home, the United States edging Colombia for Group B gives them a far better chances of making the semis. The best team doesn’t always win. However, if the U.S. finishes second in Group A, it’s very difficult to imagine them taking down Brazil given September’s 4-1 thrashing at Foxborough.

The question is, would you fancy Mexico to have a better chance of upending Chile or Argentina? Most would say, “Yes.”