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.

source:
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

World record-holding manager Gutendorf dies at 93

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The world record holder for most teams managed has died at the age of 93.

Rudi Gutendorf, who managed in the United States with the NASL’s St. Louis Stars (1968), last managed in 2003 when he led the Samoa national team.

[ MORE: Maguire shining for Man Utd ]

Those are two of 55 teams he led onto the pitch, 22 of which were national teams. He led teams from CONCACAF (Trinidad and Tobago), CAF (Ghana), CONMEBOL (Chile), OFC (Fiji), and AFC (Australia).

The German-born Gutendorf did a lot of his club work in Europe, leading clubs as big as Hamburg, Schalke, Real Valladolid, and Hertha Berlin.

Gutendorf managed Rwanda in the wake of the country’s dark civil war. From DW.com:

“Such hate, you cannot believe. I was able to unite these two tribes to play football, and good football,” he said in a 2013 interview of the mixed Rwandan team of Hutu and Tutsi players.

What a fascinating career Gutendorf had, and the stories he’s told.

Man Utd’s Maguire “showed what a man he is” versus Leicester

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Manchester United is still working to find its form as a team, but center back Harry Maguire continued his run of fine performances when the Red Devils beat his former team on Saturday.

United beat Leicester City 1-0 on the day, a Marcus Rashford penalty the difference, but Maguire and fellow new back Aaron Wan-Bissaka were again exceptional.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Leicester City ]

Ashley Young has been through a few iterations of Manchester United, and the long-time club offered up lofty words to credit Maguire’s contributions to the team.

“Again he showed today what a man he is,” Young said. “You know, I think the manager’s said about him, he talks non-stop, he’s a real leader and he can play as well.”

Maguire won five aerial battles and two tackles while completing 83 percent of his passes and managing two shots against his former side (WhoScored). On the season, only Anthony Martial has consistently been more important to the team.

He also did not record a loss of possession, and seemingly was unbothered by plenty of criticism from the traveling fans. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I don’t think it bothers (Maguire) whatsoever,” said Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “You’ve got to be that way and when you play, when you coach, when you manage, we don’t get carried away when we win a game that we maybe didn’t deserve to win, but we don’t get in the dumps when we don’t win.”

Solskjaer also loved Maguire and Victor Lindelof for their performance against pesky Leicester star Jamie Vardy.

“I’ve got loads of admiration for Vardy,” Solskjaer said. “I think he’s my type of centre forward, runs in in behind, harasses and you’ve got to be spot on with the decision-making, when to stay up, when to drop off, and both of them proved their worth today. There were a couple of races and Harry did well.”

Maguire didn’t love being on the other side of Vardy, either.

“It was tough playing against Jamie,” he said. “I’ve played with him for two years and he is a top player who can terrorize defenses when he is on his game. … We knew it was important to get the win, especially after the international break. We have to build on a solid base and we want to keep clean sheets, especially at Old Trafford. We are always going to score goals with the attacking talent we have.”

United hosts Kazakhstan’s Astana on Thursday in the Europa League before visiting West Ham United on Sept. 22.

Watch Live: Bournemouth v. Everton

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Dominic Calvert-Lewin gets the start up top as Everton looks to take down hosts Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Alex Iwobi, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Richarlison join Calvert-Lewin in attack for the Toffees, who can go fourth with a win.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Bournemouth enters the day in 16th, a point ahead of the bottom three, but can rise into the top half with a win. Early season vibes.

LINEUPS

Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Rico, Ake, Cook, Stacey, Solanke, Billing, L. S. Cook, Wilson, King, Wilson. Subs: Boruc, Surman, Lerma, Ibe, Fraser, Simpson, Mepham.

Everton: Pickford, Digne, Mina, Keane, Coleman, Delph, Schneiderlin, Iwobi, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin. Subs: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Walcott, Sidibe, Bernard, Davies, Kean.

USWNT legend O’Reilly scores stunner on night to honor her career

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USWNT hero and North Carolina Courage playmaker Heather O’Reilly gave her special day its just desserts.

The 34-year-old New Jersey native scored a sweet goal late in North Carolina’s 6-1 demolition of Orlando Pride on Saturday night, which just so happened to be the evening chosen to celebrate her 17-year career.

[ MORE: Fan banned from all NWSL games ]

O’Reilly dribbled down the left before cutting to the middle and slashing a shot across the goal and inside the far post.

She has 231 USWNT caps with 47 goals, a Women’s World Cup crown, three Olympic gold medals, three top-flight domestic titles, two Women’s College Cups, and an FA Cup with Arsenal Ladies.

The Courage have four matches left in the regular season and look set to again be the No. 1 seed, so O’Reilly may yet have more memorable moments left in her playing career.