Soccer birthdays: Dmitri Sychev, better known as “The Russian Michael Owen,” celebrates his 29th birthday. The lightning fast midfielder is losing some steam as he grows older (aren’t we all?) but still calls Lokomotiv Moscow home. He will not, however, play for Russia when the United States goes to Krasnodar next month.
Elsewhere, Vasilis Hatzipanagis turns 58. The former Greek international did little of note — beyond, of course, being a professional footballer — but he has an amazing name and even better hair.
Big important soccer stories of the day: The CONCACAF Champions League groups are set. Who ya got? Yeah, we don’t have a clue either, but Steve Davis will break it all down. And there’s more of the 2016 Copa America “will it or won’t it happen?” deal. Oh, and MLS is having a pumpkin-carving contest.
Yes, we are aware that’s three separate stories. Lo siento.
RASNoD (Random American Soccer Name of the Day: Bob Bradley.
Ahead on the blog today*: SD and RF have all your MLS playoff implications for the coming weekend. What to watch, when to watch, why to watch, what to drink while you’re watching.
I also heard a rumor that Steve was going to announce his appointment as NBA deputy commissioner, but I could be wrong. This seems like a remarkably strange venue to do so.
PST background noise while blogging today: The kids screaming outside our apartments.
What we should all watch on TV: Saint-Étienne and Rennes are playing at 2:45 in a battle of teams for which Carlos Bocanegra used to play. The winner gets the Chicago Fire.
We’ll leave you with this question: We mentioned this yesterday, but in a USMNT fantasy draft, who gets picked first? Who are the top five? And where, oh where, does Mr. Jonathan Bornstein rank?
Copa America 2016 preview, Group C: El Tri looks to build; Can Uruguay deal without Suarez?
El Tri hopes to rebound from a difficult 2015 Copa America that saw them fail to win a match. Top Three appearances in the tournament were once the expectation for Mexico, and being closer to home will raise expectations. And rightly so, as this Mexico team is still in the midst of a very good generation of players.
Star player: Andres Guardado — The PSV Eindhoven midfielder can control a game like a wizard, weaving the ball through back lines and seemingly always in the right place on the pitch.
What a run: Mexico hasn’t lost a single match its 2015 Copa America ouster at the hands of Ecuador, a 17-match stretch that includes a sound defeat of the USMNT in the CONCACAF Cup and a draw against Argentina. With Javier Hernandez and Oribe Peralta firing, Mexico has it in them to make a run to the final. Oh, and El Tri hasn’t allowed a goal in six matches.
But are they sheep in wolves’ clothing? Mexico may be on an incredible run of form, but that win over a moribund U.S. isn’t much to love, and those 17 matches include a pretty weak slate of opponents. Are Mexico’s last few Copa Americas (11th and 12th place finishes) more indicative of its 2016 fate?
Edinson Cavani will be the star man in the group stage as Uruguay attempts to win its second tournament in three tries. La Celeste have won four Copa Americas and been to six finals.
Star player: Diego Godin — With Luis Suarez’ entire tournament in question, defense is a back part of Uruguay’s hopes. Godin will likely earn his 100th cap during the tournament. With the Atletico Madrid back might be coming off a UEFA Champions League final, and confidence could be a key part of Uruguay’s back line.
And here we go… La Celeste leads CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying through six matches, and Uruguay looks primed to succeed despite the potential loss of Suarez through the group stage. They can navigate that problem thanks to Diego Rolan, Abel Hernandez and Edinson Cavani, and shouldn’t have any trouble with a this group.
But Suarez, though: Yes, Uruguay has depth, but replacing a man who scored 59 goals in 53 games for Barcelona this season? Woof. See what happened when Neymar was injured late in the World Cup for Brazil. Star injuries can sap a team’s courage, and that could hurt Uruguay.
Three straight 1-0 losses saw the Reggae Boyz bounced from the 2015 edition of the tournament, their maiden voyage at Copa America.
Star player: Wes Morgan — Talk about momentum: Jamaica’s strong Gold Cup run worked almost seamlessly into his fairytale season in the middle of Leicester City’s back line.
Coming into its own? After several years off the radar, Winfried Schafer has Jamaica looking capable of doing well in a tournament setting. With a good group of backs including Morgan, Adrian Mariappa and Kemar Lawrence, it’ll be tough for anyone to break down the Reggae Boyz.
All a mirage: Jamaica’s surprising Gold Cup run might’ve been a red herring. Jamaica has lost four of seven matches since Mexico bounced them in controversial fashion.
Los Llaneros have the misfortune of being in the deep, deep confederation on CONMEBOL, but that doesn’t excuse a brutal year. After beating Colombia to kickoff the 2015 Copa America, Venezuela has won exactly one game. That was a 1-0 win over Costa Rica, and the national team has been dealing with controversy and internal strife.
Star player: Salomon Rondon — West Bromwich Albion’s big striker can turn a defense on its heels with powerful turns and good use of his frame.
Underdog story of a lifetime: With wily veterans making what could be their last runs for the national team, Venezuela sneaks through a winnable group by out-muscling Jamaica and Mexico while battening down the hatches against Uruguay. The world takes notice.
But really, though… We’d be talking about the tournament equivalent of a Leicester City season. Three-and-out.
And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.
“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.
“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”
Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.