2015 Gold Cup – Group B preview: Costa Rica’s to clash with Canada, Jamaica, El Salvador

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The 2015 Gold Cup kicks off in just a few days as continental glory is on the line.

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 A preview | Gold Cup news ]

Group B is intriguing with Costa Rica the clear favorites but with perennial “they could be really good this year” teams Canada and Jamaica showing flashes of promise in 2015, and El Salvador an unknown quantity, this promises to be a lot of fun.

Costa Rica

After their sensational run to the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup, Los Ticos are many people’s picks for the 2015 Gold Cup title. Without star goalkeeper Keylor Navas through injury, Costa Rica still have plenty of top class talent with Bryan Ruiz pulling the strings in midfield behind Joel Campbell up top and Celso Borges breaking things up. Yeah, Costa Rica will be there or there abouts when the final in Philadelphia rolls around on July 26. That said, they have failed to get past the quarterfinal stage in four of the last five tournaments. Just saying.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners – 1963, 1969, 1989
Manager: Paulo Wanchope – The legendary Costa Rica striker was assistant coach for the last four years before their World Cup heroics and this is his first tournament as Los Ticos boss. Wanchope has yet to win as boss with three defeats in his first five games in charge.
Star man: Bryan Ruiz – He has 17 goals in 77 games for Los Ticos but paired with Campbell’s pace, his roaming in-between the lines of midfield and attack will cause opponents all kinds of issues

Jamaica

The Reggae Boyz showed plenty of promise in their 2015 Copa America campaign but they lost 1-0 to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay in group play. Full of players from England and Major League Soccer, there are plenty of familiar names in Jamaica’s roster and head coach Winfried Schafer will be expecting a lot from them this summer. Remember, Jamaica didn’t even qualify for the last Gold Cup in 2013 so their players will be hungry to put that right and put on a good show for their fans back in the Caribbean.

Best Gold Cup finish: Third place – 1993
Manager: Winfried Schafer – The veteran manager has enjoyed steady results since taking over in 2013 but he no doubt needs a strong Gold Cup to keep that momentum going.
Star man: Darren Mattocks – Vancouver’s speedy forward has some great chances for Jamaica in the Copa America but failed to convert them. Expect him to get plenty of opportunities this summer.

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Cyle Larin could be the key to Canada’s success.

Canada

In the past two Gold Cups Canada has failed to make it out of the group stage but they will have much bigger expectations this time. Benito Floro is gradually starting to reap the benefits of plenty of talented youngsters and they will likely battle with Jamaica to finish second behind Costa Rica in the group. Four-straight friendly wins going into the competition will give them plenty of confidence and their final group game against Costa Rica is being played in Toronto, so that will help if they need a result.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners – 1985, 2000
Manager: Benito Floro – Former Real Madrid coach who will be judged on his two-year tenure by how Canada gets on this summer. Plenty of pressure.
Star man: Cyle Larin – This kid is the real deal. Drafted No. 1 by Orlando City in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, now we are starting to see why. In his first seven games for Canada he has three goals and Larin’s speed and power will cause problems. Great talent who is just 20 years old.

El Salvador

La Selecta will be right up there with Canada and Jamaica to try and finish second behind Costa Rica. With a bunch of young talent from FAS and Metapan in their domestic league, head coach Alberta Roca will hope his side get off to a flier against Canada in their opening group game. If that’s the case, expect a youthful El Salvador to grow in confidence.

Best Gold Cup finish: Runners up – 1963, 1981
Manager: Alberta Roca – A former assistant coach at Barcelona, Roca has been in charge of El Salvador since 2014. He will be hoping to match their quarterfinal appearance in 2013.
Star man: Andres Flores – Their skipper and a midfielder for the New York Cosmos, Flores will make everything tick for the central American side.

Schedule

July 7: Costa Rica vs. Jamaica – StubHub Center, CA
July 7: El Salvador vs. Canada – StubHub Center, CA
July 10: Jamaica vs. Canada – BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX
July 10: Costa Rica vs. El Salvador – BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX
July 13: Jamaica vs. El Slvador – BMO Field, Toronto, Canada
July 13: Canada vs. Costa Rica – BMO Field, Toronto, Canada

Prediction

1st – Costa Rica
2nd – Jamaica
3rd – Canada
4th – El Salvador

Fan banned from all NWSL games after investigation

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A person who directed racist taunts at Portland Thorns’ goalkeeper Adrianna Franch has been banned from attending National Women’s Soccer League games.

A fan at the Sept. 6 game between the Thorns and Utah Royals in Salt Lake City first called attention to the unidentified person on Twitter. The tweet was later deleted, but both the Thorns and Royals, as well as the league, investigated the incident.

The NWSL issued a statement Saturday saying the person was identified. In addition to being banned from NWSL matches, the person – who was not identified publicly by the league – was also banned from attending events at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“NWSL will not tolerate inappropriate fan behavior,” the league’s statement said. “Racism has no place in our sport.”

The Royals also offered “thanks in no small part to assistance from fans seated in the vicinity,” for identifying the offending party.

A few days after the incident, Franch posted a statement to Twitter: “The situation surrounding our game Friday night is not a NEW issue, nor is it a first for me. RACISM is NOT okay in any form!! We as a HUMAN RACE can be better and should be better. We as a SPORT can help show the way.”

Franch was on the roster of the U.S. national team that won the Women’s World Cup this summer in France.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Here’s what we learned from MLS’ jam-packed action on Saturday.

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NYCFC rally to edge San Jose, remain first in Eastern Conference 

Dominating possession and taking a healthy amount of shots, it seemed like the San Jose Earthquakes were going to pull off a Matias Almeyda-era victory in New York City on Saturday.

But in just the span of three minutes, NYCFC changed the landscape of the game completely, scoring twice right before halftime. Keaton Parks recorded his first league goal in the 40th minute. In the 43rd, the Eastern Conference leaders put together this (yes, the covered half the field just like that):

Like in the sequences that led to the home side’s goals, the Quakes’ confidence to overtake the scoreline took a hit, failing to finish a number of chances following attack-heavy substitutions in the second half. As a result, San Jose, who are fighting for a playoff spot, dropped their fourth straight game on the road.

Speaking with media after their 2-1 loss, Almeyda – despite praising NYCFC as being one of the league’s best – took shots at Yankee Stadium’s field size. Should the league care? Absolutely. NYCFC? Not at all, just look at their record.


FC Cincinnati win first game under Ron Jans

FC Cincy supporters can finally rejoice, even their 1-0 win in Montreal wasn’t ideal.

The league’s youngest team ended up with 10-men late in the game. Kendall Watson was shown a straight red card, but Ron Jans earned his first three points at the helm. Early in the game, Allan Cruz’s goal foreshadowed what was to come for the Ohioan side following the final whistle: a celebration.

 

The Impact (37 points) remain three points behind New England, while Cincinnati (21 points) look to finish strong in order to avoid the ugly side of the history books. 

Carlos Vela rejoins LAFC, scores

There’s no way around it: LAFC is a completely different team with (or without) Carlos Vela, who can’t stop scoring.

The Mexican recorded his 28th goal of the season (six behind Jose Martinez’s single-season record) in the Supporter Shield favorite’s 1-1 draw in Philadelphia. It wasn’t a Vela-esque sequence at all, but it was enough to change the score.

The Union, who played without Marco Fabian because of his absence in the team’s meeting on Friday, opened the scoring. Three minutes in, Kacper Przybyłko’s floating header surprised Tyler Miller, giving the home side a perfect start in front of a noisy Talen Energy Stadium.

Just a couple of months ago, these were the two best teams in the league. LAFC remain atop of the Western Conference. The Union, however, are now five points behind NYCFC.


Crew trounce Atlanta United 3-1 despite Josef Martinez’ goal

Caleb Porter’s Columbus Crew, arguably, play the most effective soccer out of all the teams that are on the outside looking in when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs this season.

On Saturday, despite being statistically outdone by Atlanta United, the Crew managed to execute their chances, scoring three goals on only four shots on target. Gyasi Zardes, a pivotal piece of their attack, scored his 12th goal of the season. Costa Rican Luis Diaz added one of his own in the second half, before Miles Robinson’s own-goal 25 minutes later sealed three points for Columbus.

No goal, however, had as much significance as Josef Martinez’s.

The Venezuelan scored for a 14th consecutive game, making it the third longest streak in the history of the sport. The 26-year-old is now seven games away from Lionel Messi’s world record set in 2014.

Third in the Eastern Conference, nine points away from NYCFC with six games to go, don’t count the single-season scoring king to hold back from wanting to break the record.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 4-0 FC Dallas 

Orlando City 3-3 New England Revolution

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Houston Dynamo

Serie A roundup: Inter edge 10-man Udinese

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Napoli and Inter Milan walked away winners in Saturday’s Serie A action.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

After three games, Antonio Conte‘s spell at Inter Milan remains in immaculate shape.

According to the table, there is no better team than I Nerazzurri, who have won their first three league matches – notching seven goals and conceding only one along the way. In other words, the Italian’s astute coaching style remains effective.

Despite, Inter’s convincing play throughout the 90 minutes, only a goal would separate them from visiting Udinese, who played a with 10 players from the 35th minute on, following Rodrigo De Pual’s slap to the back of Antonio Candreva’s head.

In the 44th minute, Stefano Sensi – one of the smallest players on the field – headed the ball into the back of the net. Late in the game, Alexis Sanchez nearly scored in his Inter debut.

In the end, Udinese were no match for Antonio Conte and Co., who find themselves in prime form heading into their Champions League return midweek.

Up next for Inter in league play: Derby della Madonnina. Udinese, on the hand, host Brescia.

Napoli 2-0 Sampdoria

Dries Mertens is the gift that keeps on giving for Napoli.

To be exact, the Belgian gifted his team two goals on Saturday. 13 minutes in, following a perfectly-placed cross from Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Mertens’ first-time strike was unstoppable for Emil Audero.
Emiliano Rigoni had Sampdoria’s best chance of the night in a one-on-one opportunity with Alex Meret. The Argentine, however, wasted one of the visiting side’s two chances all night.
Then in the 67th minute – with some luck on his corner -Mertens completed his brace off a deflected shot, giving his team their second win of the season.

Quick turnaround for Napoli as they host Liverpool midweek before traveling to take on Lecce in league play, while Sampdoria take on Torino next.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 0-0 Juventus

La Liga roundup: Real Sociedad spoil Atletico Madrid’s perfect start

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Atletico Madrid’s first hiccup of the season headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

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Real Sociedad 2-0 Atletico Madrid

La Liga had an upset of their own.

Atletico Madrid remain league leaders, but their undefeated record is no more after a 2-0 loss to Real Sociedad in San Sebastian.

Both sides played to a quiet first half, but in the 58th minute Martin Odegaard opened the score in front of a packed Anoeta, as his left-footed shot was deflected by Stefan Savic.

Just two minutes later, in his Real Sociedad debut, longtime Arsenal fullback Nacho Monreal tapped in a second chance inside the box, following an initial stretching save from Jan Oblak.

Diego Simeone’s side pushed desperately in the latter stages of the game; not enough to get passed Miguel Moya, though.

La Reala sets their sights on Espanyol, while Los Colchoneros, with Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid at their heels, look to bounce back against Celta Vigo.

Real Madrid 3-2 Levante

Real Madrid conceded two goals in the second half in Saturday’s game, but their formidable first 45 minutes was enough to help them walk away a wet Santiago Bernabeu with three, precious points.

Coming on in the 60th minutes, Eden Hazard and Militao made their La Liga debuts with Zinedine Zidane’s side.

With two goals in six minutes, Karim Benzema gave the home side an early comfortable lead. Shortly before the halftime whistle, Casameiro added his own, following an assist from Vinicius Junior.

Despite falling short, Levante quickly got after evaporating Real Madrid’s first-half dominance. In the 49th minute, Borja Mayoral, cutting through Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, put one past Thibaut Courtois.

Following Benzema’s post-rattling shot and disallowed Real Madrid goal by VAR, Gonzalo Melero’s header gave the visiting side their final goal of the bout.

One point behind rivals Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid look for another victory against Sevilla. Elsewhere, Levante, who are in decent shape, host Eibar next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Barcelona 5-2 Valencia

RCD Mallorca 0-0 Athletic Bilbao

Leganes 0-3 Villareal