2015 Gold Cup – Group A preview: USMNT favorites over Honduras, Panama, Haiti

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The 2015 Gold Cup is just a few days from kicking off, and although the entire country is wrapped up in the women’s World Cup and the USA’s quest to win a third title, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side is about to take center stage.

There is plenty at stake this summer, with the team crowned champions of the CONCACAF region also sealing a spot at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. With the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica all making the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup, expect this to be a three-way tussle for the title throughout the month of July. But there are plenty of other dark horses lurking in the shadows.

[ RELATED: Group B preview | Latest Gold Cup news ]

First up, let’s take a look at Group A which includes the host nation (USA! USA! USA!… sorry) the United States, plus Honduras, Panama and Haiti in what looks like the strongest group on paper with two teams who qualified for the 2014 World Cup, the U.S. and Honduras, squaring off first in Frisco.

USA

On home soil, the defending champions will fancy their chances of clinching a fourth title in their last seven tournaments. In face, the U.S. has reached the final in five-straight Gold Cups but with Mexico and Costa Rica pushing them all the way, this will be a severe test of their credentials. Huge friendly wins at Holland and Germany in the buildup to this tournament will have boosted the USMNT’s confidence but they are missing some key players like Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler and Jermaine Jones. That said, it will be a major disappointment if the U.S. don’t, at least, reach the final.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners – 1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013
Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann – The German legend has managed to stamp his authority on the U.S. since he took over in 2011 and with a crop of youngsters balanced out with experience, Klinsmann is serious about defending the USA’s Gold Cup crown and clinching a spot at the Confederations Cup. He is fired up.
Star man: Michael Bradley – After being named skipper, the U.S. is looking to Bradley to be the main man in midfield and make those trademark driving runs at the heart of opposition defenses. When Bradley plays well, the U.S. plays well.

Honduras

Los Catrachos endured a disappointing World Cup campaign where they lost all three group games and went home with their tails between their legs. However, they have enjoyed plenty more success in the Gold Cup in recent seasons. In four of the last five tournaments Honduras has lost out in the semifinals so they will be hoping for a deep run and if they come flying out of the traps in their first game of the tournament against the U.S., they could shock the USMNT. Andy Najar and Boniek Garcia can run all day long and provide Honduras with quality on the ball. If you’re looking for a sleeper, Los Catrachos are your squad.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners – 1981
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto – After coaching Costa Rica for three seasons, Pinto took over as Honduras’ boss in December 2014. However, it has been a rocky road so far with only two wins in eight matches in 2015. He badly needs a good Gold Cup.
Star man: Andy  Najar – The D.C. United Academy product has been ripping it up in Belgium for Anderlecht. Najar, still just 22, has 27 caps for Honduras and is said be attracting interest from top teams in Europe after his eye-catching displays in the UEFA Champions League.

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Andy Najar of Anderlecht and Honduras.

Panama

Fans of the U.S. national team know from past games against Los Canaleros just how tough they can be to break down. Brek Shea’s late goal in the 2013 final handed the Gold Cup to the U.S. after Panama withstood heavy pressure. With plenty of MLS talent on their squad — we’re looking at you Blas Perez, Gabriel Torres and Jamie Penedo — Panama will likely battle with Honduras for second spot in Group A but expect them to go into their final group game against the U.S. with a chance clinching top spot.

Best Gold Cup finish: Runners up – 2005, 2013
Manager: Hernan Dario Gomez – The former coach of the Colombian national team took charge of Panama in 2014, and he is still trying to figure out his best starting lineup ahead of the Gold Cup.
Star man: Blas Perez – The FC Dallas forward has the power and pace to cause plenty of problems, plus he is supremely cool finisher. When Perez gets hot, he is smoking.

Haiti

The true underdogs of this group, Haiti have reached the quarterfinals in recent tournaments and if their 2013 displays are anything to go by, they will be hard to break down. Les Grenadiers pushed Honduras and El Salvador hard in defeats, then beat Trinidad and Tobago in the group stages. Totally unknown quantity.

Best Gold Cup finish: Quarterfinals – 2002, 2009
Manager: Marc Collat – The experienced coach took charge in 2014 after a long career in France, Qatar and Mauritius among other stops.
Star man: Johnny Placide – The captain is likely to be pretty busy in goal, but the Reims goalkeeper impressed for the Ligue 1 outfit during the 2014-15 season as they survived in France’s top-flight.

Schedule

July 7: USA vs. Honduras – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
July 7: Panama vs. Haiti – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
July 10: Honduras vs. Panama – Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
July 10: USA vs. Haiti – Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
July 13: Haiti vs. Honduras – Sporting Park, Kansas City, KS
July 13: Panama vs. USA – Sporting Park, Kansas City, KS

Prediction

1st – USA
2nd – Honduras
3rd – Panama
4th – Haiti

La Liga roundup: Celta spoil Hazard’s return in Real Madrid draw

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Real Madrid’s draw against relegation-battling Celta Vigo highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Real Madrid 2-2 Celta Vigo 

Celta’s Santi Mina scored in 85th minute to give a depleted Celta Vigo a precious point at the Santiago Bernabeu, spoiling Eden Hazard‘s return to Real Madrid’s lineup after a notable absence.

Madrid’s eighth draw of the season moves champions Barcelona just one point behind Zinedine Zidane’s side.

Returning from ankle injury that kept his out of action for three months, Hazard returned to the pitch in fine style, leading all players on the field in chances created with three and earning a penalty that Sergio Ramos converted to put Real Madrid ahead.

Hazard – and all of his flair – left the field in the 70th minute, granting Vinicius Junior the final 20 minutes of the match.

Ramos’ sixth goal of the season builded on Toni Kroos’ left-footed strike early in the latter half of the match. Real Madrid, more or less, were cruising against Celta, who had a goal to their name following Fyodor Smolov’s early opener.

Celta, who had arrived in Madrid in 18th place and had lost their last seven at the host’s home, were destined to do the unthinkable. Denis Suarez and Mina – both utilized as substitutes – paired up for the equalizer with five minutes to go, spoiling Hazard’s return.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Sevilla 2-2 Espanyol

Leganes 0-0 Real Betis 

Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Osasuna

Teammates appear to stop Marega leaving after racist slurs

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LIBSON, Portugal — FC Porto striker Moussa Marega, who tried to walk off the field after being the target of racist slurs from fans, faced apparent attempts Sunday by his own teammates and opposition players to prevent him from leaving.

Marega, who is black and from Mali, was visibly angered by monkey noises targeting him after he scored Porto’s second goal in a 2-1 win at Guimarães in the Portuguese football league.

But when Marega started to walk off the field, several players from both Porto and Guimarães appeared to argue with him. Porto coach Sérgio Conceição also went on the field and spoke with Marega.

It took Marega several minutes to leave the field when he was substituted.

Marega held his thumbs down at the crowd as he went into the tunnel to the changing rooms. The crowd responded with loud jeers.

The attitude of the other players has drawn criticism on social media.

“We are indignant with what has happened. Moussa was insulted from warmups (before kickoff),” Conceição said after the match.

“We are a family. One’s nationality, color, or height does not matter. We are human beings. We deserve respect and what happened was despicable.”

Marega received a yellow card following his goal in the 61st minute when he appeared to respond to the slurs by pointing at his skin and by picking up a seat that had been thrown on the pitch.

Timothy Weah returns to action with Lille after lengthy| absence

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Timothy Weah was back in action in Lille’s 2-1 loss to Marseille on Sunday after a 183-day absence.

The American attacker played the final 10 minutes of the defeat after being inactive since Lille’s second match of the season back in August 17 in which he suffered a “very bad hamstring tear“.

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Weah arrived at Lille in June on a $12 million deal from Paris Saint-Germain, placing high expectations on the 19-year-old son of Ballon d’OR winner George Weah.

Since, however, the U.S. men’s national team player has had little activity with the French side, accumulating less than 100 minutes over a three-game stretch.

Lille manager Christophe Galtier will likely ease Weah’s way into the a starting role moving forward – which is largely contingent on his performances at practice and in official play.

Lille, who’ve accumulated 40 points in 25 matches, are currently fourth in Ligue 1.

WATCH: Ashley Young opens his Inter Milan account with volley

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The first English goalscorer in Serie A this decade is 34-year-old Ashley Young.

Inter Milan’s newly-integrated wingback opened his Serie A account in proper fashion – scoring with a first-time right-footed volley strike against a strong Lazio side.

Why did Manchester United let Young walk away from Old Trafford during the winter transfer window? Surely, Young will answer that in detail when the time is right. At this moment, he’s too busy scoring goals – stellar ones, too – as we can see for ourselves above.

Young arrived at Inter in January on a reported $2-million deal for the remainder of the season, with an option to extend for another season.