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2017 Gold Cup: Group B Preview

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With the 2017 Gold Cup just two days away, it’s time to take a closer look at this year’s participants.

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Group B includes one of the tournament favorites, the U.S. Men’s National Team, along with Panama, Martinique and Nicaragua.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the start of the tournament:


Group B

United States

How it qualified: Automatic qualification as tournament hosts.

FIFA ranking: 23

Star player: Omar Gonzalez – While Bruce Arena is resting the European-based players and some of the veteran starters for the USMNT, Omar Gonzalez comes off a terrific season with Pachuca as well as strong performances with the USMNT in World Cup qualifying to help lead the U.S. at the 2017 Gold Cup.

One to watch: Kellyn Acosta – This may be obvious, especially after his goal against Ghana and his performance alongside Michael Bradley at Mexico in the Estadio Azteca, but Acosta has a chance to have a breakout summer with the national team and solidify his place in the starting lineup for the 2018 World Cup. Another to keep an eye on is 21-year-old centerback Matt Miazga.

Manager: Bruce Arena – Back for his second time in charge, Arena is set to test the U.S. depth in the first tournament of his second spell with U.S. Soccer.

Chance of winning group: 75% – The U.S. should easily finish in the top two of the group and if it defeats Panama in the USMNT’s opening match on June 8, the schedule sets up well for the U.S. to cruise to win the group.

Panama

How it qualified: Runners-up at the 2017 Copa Centroamericana.

FIFA ranking: 59

Star player: Anibal Godoy – The holding midfielder has been a real boost to the San Jose Earthquakes since signing in MLS in 2015. He’s scored five goals in 48 games and is difficult to play through in the center of the park.

One to watch: Ismael Diaz – The 20-year-old forward impressed European scouts enough at the 2015 Under-20 World Cup (as an 18-year-old) to earn a move to FC Porto, where he’s spent the last two seasons playing for the reserve squad. While he could be changing clubs this summer, the Gold Cup is a great opportunity for him to prove himself against top regional competition.

Manager: Hernan Dario Gomez – El Bolillo has been in charge of Panama since 2014, shortly after the nation missed out on qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. Gomez has only lost two games in the past 8 months, including a pair of draws against Mexico and the U.S.

Chance of winning group: 15% – It all depends on the opener against the USMNT. If Panama can pull out an unexpected win as well as take care of business against Martinique and Nicaragua, it will win the group.

Martinique

How it qualified: Fourth place at the 2017 Caribbean Cup

FIFA ranking: Not a member of FIFA

Star player: Kévin Parsemain – The veteran striker has scored boatloads of goals for the French overseas territory, and even spent a season with the Seattle Sounders, though he missed nearly the entire campaign with a torn ACL.

One to watch: Jordy Delem – The current Seattle Sounder has looked strong and pacey down the right side of the field for the club. He spent the 2016 season with Sounders 2 before making the jump to MLS this season.

Manager: Louis Marianne. The veteran Frenchman is back in charge of Les Matinino. Fun fact. Former USMNT defender David Regis, a native of Martinique, is the general manager of the national team.

Chance of winning group: 5% – Martinique’s inexperienced squad at this level should keep them from advancing, but we’ve seen surprises before and perhaps they can stun the U.S. or Panama.

Nicaragua

How it qualified: won a two-game playoff, 4-3 on aggregate over Haiti in a battle between the fifth-place teams from the 2017 Caribbean Cup and the 2017 Copa Centroamericana.

FIFA ranking: 100

Star player:  Juan Barrera – The 28-year-old winger, who in 2015 became the first Nicaraguan-born player to sign for a European club, has had a long and illustrious career with the national team and is leading La Azul y Blanco to the Gold Cup for the first time since 2009.

One to watch: Daniel Cadena – Cadena is a Spanish-born midfielder who currently plays in Iceland and played for a time as a youngster for Real Betis.

Manager: Henry Duarte – The veteran Costa Rican has been Nicaragua manager since December 2014 and by qualifying for the 2017 Gold Cup, he’s led the nation to just its second regional tournament.

Chances of winning group: 5% – Like Martinique, Nicaragua’s overall inexperience at the international level should make for easy wins for the U.S. and Panama, but perhaps Juan Barrera and co. and produce a national moment folks will talk about for years to come.

Zouma signs new Chelsea contract, is immediately loaned to Stoke City

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Kurt Zouma‘s long-term future is secure at Chelsea, but his short-term future will be away from Stamford Bridge.

The France international centerback signed a new six-year contract with Chelsea and was promptly sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. Zouma made just three starts and nine total appearances last season as he came back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2016.

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“It is fantastic Kurt has chosen to commit his future to Chelsea,” Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said in a statement. “He has shown his talent since joining us three years ago, and has returned from a serious injury with a fantastic attitude.

“Now he has the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and we will be monitoring his progress closely while he is at Stoke.”

The move to Stoke will give Zouma a new experience, playing for a mid-table side in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in at centerback, battling with American Geoff Cameron and Englishman Ryan Shawcross.

Even with John Terry leaving the club, Zouma was likely to be second-choice in the back three for Chelsea and if he wants to make France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, he’ll have to play regularly.

 

 

 

Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea

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Chelsea FC will have another Spanish international leading the front line, with Diego Costa likely on his way out of town.

The club announced that Alvaro Morata has completed a transfer from Real Madrid, signing a five-year contract at Stamford Bridge. The BBC reports the transfer fee at nearly $78 million.

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“I am so happy to be here,” Morata said in a statement. “It’s an incredible emotion to be part of this big club. I am looking to work hard, score as many goals as I can and to win as many trophies as possible.”

Morata emerged as an option to replace Costa after Romelu Lukaku decided on joining Manchester United over his former club Chelsea. Morata, who was a Manchester United target at first, then turned his sights on London after becoming disillusioned in Madrid, playing second-fiddle to Karim Benzema.

Despite not being first-choice up top, Morata scored 15 goals in 26 La Liga games and another three in the UEFA Champions League, which Real Madrid went on to win over Morata’s former club Juventus. Morata started for Juventus the last time the club had been in the Champions League final.

Despite being just 24, Morata is emerging as one of the world’s top forwards. He has nine goals in 19 games for the Spanish National Team and now is the right time for him to experience the challenge of the Premier League, where the games come thick and fast and the pace of the game is a step up from what he’s experienced in Spain and Italy.

However, the tactical knowledge he’s learned in both places should help him in England, where he can position himself between the opposing centerbacks.

 

Report: Neymar tells Barcelona teammates he’s off to PSG

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Brazilian star Neymar isn’t keeping his future plans under wraps, at least when it comes to his current club teammates.

According to a report in French newspaper Le Parisien, Neymar has started telling his Barcelona teammates that he’s intends to join Paris Saint-Germain. Spanish publication Marca meanwhile is reporting that Neymar’s teammates are trying to persuade him to stay in Catalonia for the season.

The Le Parisien report adds that certain officials at Barcelona believe the transfer is imminent and are resigned to losing one of their stars this summer. The report also said that it was a “decisive step” that Neymar was on board with the deal, going along with his father and agent.

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Rumors intensified over the past few days as reports emerged in Spain that Neymar had agreed on a contract with PSG, and all that was awaiting was PSG exercising Neymar’s release clause, worth nearly $260 million (€222 million). On paper, PSG’s Qatari owners can probably afford that tremendous sum but it still remains to be seen whether PSG will see this move over the line.

Should Neymar move, it would break transfer records for the price of the deal as well as shock the world, as Neymar seemed settled and happy in Barcelona playing alongside the likes of fellow South Americans Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Neymar and Barcelona are currently in New York training ahead of the club’s friendly match in the International Champions Cup against Juventus Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Liverpool complete signing of Hull’s Robertson

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Liverpool has added to its defensive depth with the signing of one of Scotland’s bright young stars.

The club announced the signing of left back Andy Robertson for a reported $10.4 million, which can rise to $13 million with add-on clauses.

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Robertson made 33 appearances for Hull City last season in the Premier League, scoring a goal and assisting on two others. While Robertson is joining Liverpool, midfielder Kevin Stewart is heading the opposite direction, joining the Championship club for a reported $5.2 million.

Robertson will likely compete with Alberto Moreno for the starting left back position, and with Liverpool competing in the Premier League plus three cup competitions, depth at every position will be crucial when injuries and fatigue sets in.