Copa America Group B preview: Holders Uruguay to face Argentina, Paraguay, Jamaica

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With just a few days to go until the 2015 Copa America kicks off in Chile, we will be looking at all three groups as 12 teams do battle on the west coast of South America to be crowned Champions of CONMEBOL.

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Will defending champs Uruguay defend their trophy, or can Argentina, Brazil or Colombia wrestle the crown away from Luis Suarez and Co.?

Next up, here’s a look at Group B as the defending champions are set to face Argentina, Paraguay and Jamaica for a place in the knockout stages.

Argentina

Anytime you’ve got the best player in the world, you’ve got a chance. Anytime you supplement said best player in the world with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano and Pablo Zabaleta, you might just be favorites to win the whole thing. 11 months removed from their appearance in the 2014 World Cup final, Argentina are still in search of their first major trophy in 22 years (1993 Copa America). It’s been a mixed bag of results for La Albiceleste since last summer’s disappointment in Brazil, as the 14-time South American champions have gone 6-0-2 since their loss to Germany last summer.

Best Copa America finish: Champions – 1921, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1937, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1991, 1993
Manager: Gerardo Martino
Star man: Lionel Messi — Perhaps you’ve heard of the man who will one day go down as the best of all time, and member of the recently-crowned champions of Europe (again) and treble-winning (again) Barcelona side.

Uruguay

The big story surrounding Uruguay isn’t so much about who’s on the roster, as it is who’s not on the roster — Barcelona’s Luis Suarez. As for who will represent La Celeste in Chile, the experience can almost exclusively be found at the back for the reigning Copa America champions. Captain Diego Godin (88 caps), Maxi Pereira (101) and Alvaro Pereira (67) lead what is perhaps the most experienced, major competition-tested defenses in the tournament. Should the only side to lift the Copa more times than Argentina add to their total of 15 continental triumphs, it’s likely to come on the back of lots of 1-0 victories, with the majority of the goals coming from a certain Paris Saint-Germain striker (more on him in a moment)

Best Copa America finish: Champions – 1916, 1917, 1920, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1935, 1942, 1956, 1959, 1967, 1983, 1987, 1995, 2011
Manager: Oscar Tabarez
Star man: Edinson Cavani — Without Suarez, who was voted Most Valuable Player at the 2011 Copa America, the pressure to deliver the goals falls squarely onto the shoulders of PSG’s second-highest goalscorer this season (18, one behind Ibrahimovic). Without Suarez, Cavani is “the man,” a title he’s long desired and never been granted.

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Darren Mattocks, Jamaica — One of MLS’s brightest, most enigmatic young stars

Jamaica

Five Major League Soccer players —  Jermaine Taylor, Je-Vaugh Watson, Darren Mattocks, Kemar Lawrence and Giles Barnes — enter the 2015 Copa America as regular contributors for Jamaica. Elsewhere on the 23-man roster, dual nationals — most of the English-Jamaican variety — litter the roster with plenty of veteran talent from England’s top two divisions. Along with Taylor,  Wes Morgan (Leicester City) and Adrian Mariappa (Crystal Palace) gives the Reggae Boyz ample strength and depth at the back for what should be a slobber-knocker of a group stage.

Best Copa America finish: First appearance
Manager: Winfried Schafer
Star man: Darren Mattocks — The Vancouver Whitecaps forward has a pretty good goalscoring record for a youngster (8 goals in 22 caps for the 24-year-old) and should be the one leading the line in game No. 1. If Mattocks wants a move to Europe — and he might just, given his somewhat stalled MLS career — a strong performance this month would be a great way to start some phones ringing.

Paraguay

33-year-old striker Roque Santa Cruz (32 goals in 105 caps) and 35-year-old center back Paulo da Silva (121 caps) are set for one last major tournament and quest for their nation’s first semifinals appearance since 1983. With two of the three third-place finishers in the group stage advancing to the knockout stage, Paraguay stand a good chance of getting out of the group for the fourth Copa America tournament in a row (runners-up in 2011).

Best Copa America finish: Champions – 1953, 1979
Manager: Ramon Diaz
Star man: Paulo da Silva — With little to no international experience around him (Miguel Samudio’s 23 caps are next highest among defenders), Da Silva will have his hands full defending against the likes of Aguero and Cavani. The task is tall.

Schedule

June 13: Uruguay vs. Jamaica – Estadio Regional de Antofagasta, Antofagasta
June 13: Argentina vs. Paraguay – Estadio La Portada, La Serena
June 16: Paraguay vs. Jamaica – Estadio Regional de Antofagasta, Antofagasta
June 16: Argentina vs. Uruguay – Estadio La Portada, La Serena
June 20: Uruguay vs. Paraguay – Estadio La Portada, La Serena
June 20: Argentina vs. Jamaica – Estadio Sausalito, Viña del Mar

Prediction

1st – Argentina
2nd – Uruguay
3rd – Paraguay
4th – Jamaica

Red Bulls fall again, on the road at New England

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The defending champions are struggling under new management, and so are the defending Supporters Shield winners.

New York remains with just five points on the season after falling at Eastern Conference rivals New England 1-0 on Saturday. On a rainy night in Gillette Stadium, there was just enough offense for the hosts to squeak by, while the visitors had no end product on a forgettable evening.

After a listless first half that featured little for fans to savor, New England bagged the winning moment with 17 minutes to go. On the break, substitute Cristian Penilla blasted a right-footed shot past Luis Robles in somewhat innocuous fashion. It’s one the goalkeeper will want back, and given the 21 total shots on the night, not exactly the best chance of the evening.

With the loss, New York remains in 10th on just five points through the first seven games of the season, the same amount defending champions Atlanta United has sitting one position lower. Neither side has been able to repeat the form they had in last year’s award-winning season. Chris Armas has seen the team perform in spurts at best, and while the -1 goal differential maybe suggests the points total will improve, it’s still a far cry from what last year provided.

While the defense has lost its way at times, the Red Bulls attack has been the biggest culprit to this point, and that reared its head again tonight. The Red Bulls created 10 chances, but only one of those was a big chance, and they struggled in one-on-one situations, successful in just five of their 18 attempted take-ons. Bradley Wright-Phillips was isolated up front and while Armas clearly set the build-up so he would be a factor in the air, BWP struggled mightily in that department, winning just five of 18 aerial duels.

Timbers off the mark at Columbus with first win of the season

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The Portland Timbers are finally off the scheid in the 2019 season, earning a road win at a quality opponent, downing Columbus 2-0 at MAPFRE Stadium.

It took a half-hour for the breakthrough but in the 31st minute Larrys Mabiala got his head to a set-piece delivery and powered it in past the near post. Zack Steffan got his hands to the ball but it was from close enough range that he couldn’t muster the power to stop the effort.

That wasn’t it for the Timbers before halftime as they doubled the lead four minutes later. Sebastian Blanco sent in a low, slicing cross from the left flank into the center of the box, and with Artur slow on the close out, Jeremy Ebobisse latched on and buried it into the back of the net.

After the break, Pedro Santos brought Columbus back within one in the 69th minute with an ambitious chip that caught Jeff Attinella way off his line, but it wasn’t enough. Jorge Moreira finished things off in injury time, blasting a howitzer into the top of the net for a 3-1 lead and all three points. The win lifted Portland off the bottom of the Western Conference, on four points to push them to 10th. Columbus, meanwhile, fails to take the opportunity to move top of the Eastern Conference, still sitting fourth, level with three other teams on 13 points.

Premier League Sunday preview: Arsenal, Man United, Liverpool all in play

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The battles at the summit of the Premier League table continue as three of the top six teams take the field on Sunday.

The title race is still white hot, with both Manchester City and Liverpool swinging back and forth with every positive result. City jumped back into the lead with the win on Saturday over Tottenham, a point in front with four matches remaining on both the dockets.

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The fight for the Champions League places also looks a good one, with four teams battling for just two places. Tottenham sits precariously in third on 67 points, while Arsenal and Chelsea are level on 66 with the Gunners holding the goal differential tiebreaker by five. Manchester United is in sixth on 64 points, still in the mix.


Everton v. Manchester United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The Red Devils are the first of the Champions League contenders to take the field as they visit Goodison Park. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s honeymoon period in charge of Manchester United is over and it’s time for him to prove he belongs. The Norwegian boss was given the permanent position after a record start to his interim tenure, but the timing was still odd and as the season winds down, the Red Devils could be left out of the mix for Europe’s biggest competition. Luke Shaw is suspended for the match for yellow card accumulation, but otherwise the injury news is good with Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, and Alexis Sanchez all reportedly available.

Everton, meanwhile, sits in a similar position as Manchester United, battling for a European place but bringing up the rear. The Toffees sit in 10th, back of the pack among a crowded fight for the last Europa League place. Everton is still just three points back of Watford who currently holds that spot, and while they can break everyone’s hearts by upsetting Manchester City in the FA Cup final, a loss would give the Europa League position to whoever finishes seventh.

INJURIES: Everton —  OUT: Yerry Mina (hamstring), Andre Gomes (suspension). | Manchester United — OUT: Luke Shaw (suspension).


Cardiff City v. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Liverpool yet again has to put pressure on Manchester City to have any hope in the Premier League title race. Ahead of the midweek Manchester derby, the Reds have the opportunity not just to take the lead but to stay there should City slip up at all against the Red Devils with their game in hand.

They’ll need a result against a team fighting for its life. Cardiff City is in 17th in the Premier League table, three points shy of safety. A shocking win would put Cardiff in much better position, while a loss would see them potentially fall two games out. They’ve lost three straight and haven’t scored in their last two, so Liverpool will be licking its chops.

INJURIES: Cardiff City —  OUT: Souleymane Bamba (knee), Callum Paterson (ankle), Matthew Connolly (ankle), Harry Arter (calf), . QUESTIONABLE: Aron Gunnarsson (back). | Liverpool — OUT: none. QUESTIONABLE: Dejan Lovren (illness), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee).


Arsenal v. Crystal Palace — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSports.com

The Gunners will know Manchester United’s result before taking the field, to see whether they will be looking to strengthen their Champions League position or hoping to recapture it. Arsenal is currently in fourth, clinging barely to its spot in the top European competition, but they have been strong of late and have a soft schedule to finish the season, so there is no reason not to lock the spot down. Still, the injuries are rampant and there are fears that Aaron Ramsey‘s Arsenal career will end with the thigh injury he picked up midweek in Europa League play. Coupled with the three long-term injuries to Bellerin, Welbeck, and Holding plus Sokratis’ suspension, the Gunners are thin.

Crystal Palace has little to play for at this point, sitting in 14th on 39 points but unlikely to be sucked into the relegation battle. Roy Hodgson has led the squad to five wins since the start of February, good enough form to keep them out of the maelstrom at the bottom of the table. They put up a decent fight against title leaders Manchester City last time out, and kept two straight clean sheets in the matches before that. However, they lost two important players recently in James Tomkins and Jeffrey Schlupp who both will miss the rest of the season after long-term injuries.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Aaron Ramsey (thigh), Hector Bellerin (knee), Rob Holding (knee), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Sokratis (suspended). QUESTIONABLE: Granit Xhaka (groin). | Crystal Palace — OUT: James Tomkins (groin), Jeffrey Schlupp (ankle), Mamadou Sakho (knee).

Tenacious 2-1 Dallas victory at Atlanta deepens Frank de Boer’s woes

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Jesus Ferreira scored just six minutes into the match and that was enough to top a disjointed and sputtering Atlanta United side 2-1 at Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Atlanta held nearly 70% possession and outshot Dallas 16-6, but the final product was far from polished yet again, and they were unable to find a breakthrough at the venue they devoured opponents in just last season. The hosts connected on just one of 18 attempted crosses and created nine chances but only one labeled as a big chance by Opta statistics.

On the other end, Dallas picked its spots to perfection, connecting on five of its seven shots, the first of which provided the key moment of the match. Michael Barrios stole the ball near midfield and broke two-on-two, beating Brek Shea with his dribble before feeding a perfect ball to Jesus Ferreira at the far post for the finish.

FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez was big the rest of the way, making a big save in the 79th minute to deny Josef Martinez to keep him off the scoresheet yet this season, up to over 400 minutes of scoreless play. Again he denied Martinez in the 82nd minute off a set-piece as he dove down to stop a shot at the near post. Overall, Gonzalez made seven saves to preserve the clean sheet.

The visitors put the game away in the 84th minute on the break as Atlanta had committed the team forward to find an equalizer. Michael Barrios broke on a turnover and received the ball deep in the attacking half, pausing for a moment before finding substitute Bryan Acosta who was streaking down the middle. Acosta had beaten Leandro Gonzalez Pirez on the counter, and with one touch he poked the ball past Brad Guzan to seal the victory.

Martinez had a chance moments later to make things interesting late and give Atlanta a chance, but completely botched the opportunity after a wonderful touch got him behind the Dallas defense in the 89th minute. That miss was a perfect encapsulation of Atlanta’s start to the 2019 season, a chance that would have unquestionably found the back of the net had Martinez been in last year’s form.

Atlanta gained a consolation at the death as VAR caught a tackle by Carlos Gruezo on Brek Shea at the edge of the area in the 76th minute. That finally saw Martinez put the ball in the back of the net for his first goal of the MLS season, but it only served to compound his earlier miss that would have brought Atlanta back into the match with time to spare.

The loss leaves Atlanta in 10th in the Eastern Conference with just five points thus far. They are without a win at home in three tries this season in MLS play, a place they dropped just 14 points all season last year. It is just the fourth home loss at Mercedes Benz Stadium in club history, and increases pressure on Frank De Boer who has only won a single game through his opening six league fixtures in charge of the defending champions.