2015 Gold Cup — Group C preview: Hobbled Mexico still favorites over Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba

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In 2013, the last time CONCACF held it’s biannual continental competition, the US national team was placed in the easiest of three groups, and capitalized on said fortune by lifting the Gold Cup trophy at the end of July. Fast forward four years, and it’s the USMNT’s biggest rival for CONCACAF dominance, Mexico, that look to be the beneficiaries of the 2015 Gold Cup’s weakest four-team group.

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Mexico look to be runaway favorites at the top of Group C, but it’s anyone’s guess who’ll come second and who’ll challenge for a place in the quarterfinals as one of two third-place finishers in the group stage. Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago are the favorites to finish two-three (in either order), while Cuba are once again the great unknown looking to upset the apple cart.

Mexico

“Injuries” is the (unfortunate) word of the week for Mexico, who in the last five days have lost their best defender, Hector Moreno, and assumed starting forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez for the rest of the summer. The pressure is now on Diego Reyes, Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar to step up at the back, and Andres Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos and Oribe Peralta to shoulder the scoring load. Even without Moreno and Hernandez, this is a team capable of advancing to the final in Philadelphia, but losses that significant levels the playing field for any potential showdown with the US national team.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners (9 times) — 1965, 1971, 1977, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2001
Manager: Miguel Herrera — Up until his side’s current seven-game winless streak, El Tri‘s demonstrative leader has enjoyed a successful and drama-less two years as head coach of Mexico, which culminated with a near-quarterfinal berth at last summer’s World Cup. This is his first crack at the Gold Cup and a real chance to win some silverware.
Star man: Carlos Vela — The Real Sociedad winger is coming off of a somewhat disappointing club season (10 goals in 32 games, down from 21 in 52 the season before), but no matter his club form, Vela always seems to bring it for Mexico. With no more than a handful of national team caps since 2010 (various issues with the national federation and/or head coaches), this is his time to shine and stake claim to his place in the team for the rest of his career.

Guatemala

While a great deal of Guatemala’s talented roster plays its club ball in the relatively unknown Guatemalan league, we all know the names of Carlos Ruiz and Marco Pappa, and we’re quickly getting to know Real Salt Lake’s Elias Vasquez, as well. Nearly the entire midfield plays for the same team, Guatemalan giant Comunicaciones, so Ivan Sopegno’s side will lean heavily on that familiarity and continuity in a group where they’re 50-50 alongside Trinidad and Tobago to come second behind Mexico.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners — 1967
Manager: Ivan Sopegno
Star man: Marco Pappa — Ruiz is 35 years old now, and while he’ll still have something to say of Guatemala’s chances this summer, it’s Pappa time to shine and lead La Furia Azul out of the group and into their third quarterfinal in eight years.

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Kenwyne Jones, Trinidad and Tobago’s talisman

Trinidad and Tobago

Interestingly enough, Stephen Hart’s roster contains not a single player over the age of 30 (four players are 30, two of which are goalkeepers), though there’s ample international experience within — CONCACAF experience, in particular. 23-year-old winger Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire) is 23 years old, but boasts of 40 senior caps already, while 24-year-old center back Daneil Cyrus has 41 appearances to his name. The Soca Warriors look set to be strong defensively, but could struggle for goals of their own, as only Kenwyne Jones (18) has more than six international goals to his name.

Best Gold Cup finish: Runners-up — 1973
Manager: Stephen Hart
Star man: Kenwyne Jones — The 30-year-old is still kicking around the upper tiers of England following moves from Cardiff City to Bournemouth upon leaving Stoke City. Jones bagged a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, where T&T bowed out to Mexico in the quarterfinals.

Cuba

Speaking of sides with a dearth of goalscoring prowess, last up we have Cuba. Raul Gonzalez Triana’s side is by far the most inexperienced and accomplished side in this year’s tournament. In 2013, we saw the Leones del Caribe advance out of the group stage by virtue of finishing third, before getting hammered by Panama in the quarters.

Best Gold Cup finish: 4th — 1971
Manager: Raul Gonzalez Triana
Star man: Ariel Martinez — 11 goals in 50 appearances for Cuba gives Martinez the best strike rate on the current roster, and the 29-year-old will need to replicate his hat-trick form of 2013 if Cuba have any hopes of advancing this time around.

Schedule

July 9: Trinidad and Tobago vs. Guatemala — Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
July 9: Mexico vs. Cuba — Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
July 12: Trinidad and Tobago vs. Cuba — University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
July 12: Guatemala vs. Mexico — University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
July 15: Cuba vs. Guatemala — Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
July 15: Mexico vs. Trinidad and Tobago — Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

Prediction

1st — Mexico
2nd — Guatemala
3rd — Trinidad and Tobago
4th — Cuba

Barcelona sign Neto in goalkeeper swap with Valencia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Brazilian goalkeeper Neto will sign a four-year contract with the Spanish champions.

The transfer completes a swap a day after Barcelona sold Jasper Cillessen to Valencia.

Barcelona says it is paying 26 million euros ($29.5 million) plus possibly another 9 million euros ($10.2 million) in variables for Neto. Valencia paid Barcelona 35 million euros ($40 million) for Cillessen.

Neto will replace Cillessen, who played as a backup for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Champions League and the Spanish league and only regularly started in the Copa del Rey.

The 29-year-old Neto helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-place finish for the past two seasons in Spain. He also played in Italy at Juventus as a backup to Gianluigi Buffon and at Fiorentina after starting at Brazilian club Paranaense.

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

USMNT v. Panama: Three things we learned

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It wasn’t always pretty, but the U.S. Men’s National Team eked out a 1-0 win over Panama in Kansas City, Kan. on Wednesday night to win its group. Jozy Altidore scored the game’s only goal in stunning fashion, finishing an overhead kick to put Panama away and set up a quarterfinal bout with Curacao on Sunday evening.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s win:

[READ: All the latest USMNT news here]


Jozy Altidore is still the best we’ve got

Many U.S. Men’s National Team fans have called for the forced retirements of Altidore and Michael Bradley, among many others, after the debacle that was the last World Cup cycle.

Until tonight, Altidore wasn’t in the USMNT picture, in part due to Dave Sarachan using younger players and Altidore continuing to suffer a series of muscle injuries since October 2017. And yet, if tonight’s game showed anything in Altidore’s 83 minutes on the pitch, it’s that he’s still the best option for the USMNT up top. While Gregg Berhalter clearly prefers Gyasi Zardes right now based on their previous work history together in Columbus, Zardes doesn’t have the strength or skill that Altidore does. It’s hard to imagine Zardes executing an overhead kick and it going in as sweetly as Altidore did.

What does this mean going forward? Regardless of if Zardes starts the rest of the way, Berhalter knows that he has Altidore always around who can give the U.S. a goal, especially on home soil and when fit. But it also lays the marker down for Zardes, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent and the other up and coming strikers that this is the level they need to meet, and beat, if they want to break into the starting lineup under Berhalter.

There’s speed to burn on the wings

It may not have had a huge impact on Wednesday, but in bringing Tyler Boyd and Christian Pulisic off the bench, Berhalter showed exactly why he’s brought so many speedy skill players along the wings.

While Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis couldn’t figure out the final pass or final touch in the box to score a goal, just their presence for 65-70 minutes tired out the backline, and the introductions of Pulisic and Boyd could have really unlocked the Panama defense. While it didn’t totally work on Wednesday, it could in the later stages of the tournament, especially in a potential rematch with either Panama or Jamaica in the semifinals and Mexico in the finals.

With Lewis and Morris likely available off the bench, that adds a new piece opponents have to worry about, both in terms of speed and dribbling ability.

Few impressed in a chance to earn a starting spot

It’s been nearly two years since the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet aside from maybe Matt Miazga or Nick Lima, there have been very few players who have done much to impress and prove they’re better than the previous cycle’s players. That continued on Wednesday with an MLS-heavy lineup. Wil Trapp, a midfielder with so much promise a few years ago, appears to have stalled. He had multiple turnovers and certainly didn’t look as sharp as Michael Bradley.

While Lewis and Morris have plenty of pace, their final pass was woeful and they didn’t do themselves any favors. Djordje Mihailovic was never going to push Pulisic out of the starting lineup, but Mihailovic didn’t exactly do enough to say that he should be the first man off the bench either, or to push Pulisic into a wing role with Mihailovic in the middle.

Aside from Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez in the middle, along with Altidore up top, no one in the lineup really did enough through the first 65 minutes to warrant another start in the tournament. It’s yet another disappointment as young players get chance after chance to prove they belong as starters, only to waste the opportunity, enabling the veterans to keep their role. More players need to keep pushing for those spots, whether through club form or national team performances. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the same situation as before.

 

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Coming off two wins to open the Gold Cup, Berhalter decided to use a completely changed starting lineup, featuring ten players from MLS teams along with Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga. Although there was some familiarity of the players on the field, it was at times a very poor match, with the USMNT struggling badly in the final third and even turning the ball over at midfield or leading the attack.

Despite winning the possession battle, 62-38, the USMNT didn’t do much with it. Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis, both of whom were subbed out, struggled on their crosses after beating a defender. The pair provided energy and hard running defensively but it didn’t lead to many chances. Altidore had the best of the first half when he was played into the box, but his strike from the right just went wide of the net.

In the 65th minute, Berhalter tried to inject some life in the game with the introduction of Christian Pulisic. It turned out a goal could come just after, but without the intervention of Pulisic.

Djordje Mihailovic drilled the corner kick to the far post where it was met by the head of Matt Miazga who sent it back towards goal. A missed clearance from Panama popped the ball up in the air above the back post, allowing Altidore the time he needed to lift off the ground and bicycle kick it in for the game’s only goal.

Berhalter later brought on both Tyler Boyd and Gyasi Zardes off the bench to try and score an insurance goal, but Panama’s defense held strong and the U.S. failed to threaten the rest of the way. However, the U.S. backline kept a third-consecutive clean sheet and key players such as Michael Bradley got the entire game off to rest before likely returning to the lineup this weekend.

 

 

Must-See Goal: Jozy Altidore puts USMNT in front with Bicycle Kick

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Jozy Altidore put his stamp on the game and gave U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter more to speak about with one fell swing.

Altidore finished off a corner kick in spectacular fashion, executing a perfect bicycle kick to put the USMNT up 1-0 in the 66th minute. The goal came one minute after the entrance of Christian Pulisic, which perhaps was on the mind of the Panama defense.

It was Altidore’s second-straight game vs. Panama with a goal. His last two were in October 2017, when the U.S. pummeled Panama, 4-0. Of course, a few days later, a tired USMNT failed to win at Trinidad and Tobago.