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2018 World Cup team preview: Costa Rica

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Getting to know Costa Rica: One of the most perennially underrated teams, Costa Rica is a threat to the world soccer order each time they take the field. With a solid mix of good attacking talent and a solid defensive base, Costa Rica has the experience and flair to prove a challenge for even the biggest world powers.

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Last World Cup, Costa Rica won a power group consisting of Italy, England, and Uruguay conceding just one goal among those three games – that alone should prove to teams not to take Los Ticos lightly. They beat Greece in the Round of 16 before their luck against European sides eventually ran out in a quarterfinal loss to the Netherlands in a penalty shootout.

All that being said, the run-up to the World Cup this time around has been anything but promising. Los Ticos have suffered friendly shutout losses to Hungary, Tunisia, and England all since last November, and before that got plastered by Spain. They have one more stiff test against Belgium to turn the bad juju around, or else they head into the tournament on a very sour note. There are questions about the age of the squad core, leaving this team with one of the highest ceilings and lowest floors of any team at the competition.

For more on Costa Rica’s World Cup adventure, click here.


What group are they in? Group E alongside Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia. It’s a group with few genuinely weak teams, and second place will be up for grabs behind perennial powerhouse Brazil. Switzerland is the favored side to take the second spot, but it’s not exactly stiff competition. If Costa Rica can summon the magic of four years ago, it would be anything but a surprise to see them advance to the knockout stages.


Game schedule – Group E

Sunday, June 17: Costa Rica v Serbia, Samara 8am, ET
Friday, June 22: Brazil v Costa Rica, Saint Petersburg 8am, ET
Wednesday, June 27: Switzerland v Costa Rica, Novgorod 2pm, ET


Projected lineup (5-4-1) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Navas —–

— Gamboa — Acosta — Gonzalez — Duarte — Oviedo —

— Campbell — Borges — Tejeda — Ruiz

— Urena/Venegas —


Star player: Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas is easily the most well-known player on this squad. The vice-captain of the side gives Costa Rica an experience edge, having played at the highest of high levels. Navas is coming off his third straight Champions League title at Madrid, and will likely reach the 80-cap mark with Costa Rica at this tournament. Navas used his brilliant performance at the 2014 World Cup to earn his move to Real Madrid, and four years later will have the weight of a country on his shoulders.


Manager: Óscar Ramírez leads his home nation to the World Cup for the first time, having taken over in 2015. Ramirez was in the right place at the right time, hired as an assistant to Paulo Wanchope in August of 2015 only to find himself as the lead man a week later following Wanchope’s dismissal after a fight. Ramirez lost his first match in charge of Los Ticos – to Brazil 1-0 on a 10th minute goal by Hulk. He will look to get revenge on the biggest of stages.


Secret weapon: Bryan Ruiz is the captain and creative force for Costa Rica, and has been for years. He was often described as “too good” for Fulham during his four years at Craven Cottage as nobody could figure out how to correctly deploy the midfielder, but he has run the show for his home country time and time again. Ruiz is known for his pitch vision and field marshal mentality, but isn’t afraid to get down and dirty when necessary.


Prediction: As mentioned before, the ceiling is just as high for this Costa Rica side as the floor is low, and Group E is one of the toughest to predict in the tournament. If they can steal a point from Brazil, the knockout stages will beckon for Ramirez and company, but the match against Switzerland to close out group stage play will likely be the judgement of their fate. Look for them to make it through for the second straight World Cup.

Atlanta heads into MLS playoffs looking to defend its Cup

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) It’s been a strange season for Atlanta United.

They’ve added more two more cups to their collection.

They’ve endured some rather baffling losses.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

After all that, the defending MLS Cup champions are heading into the postseason from essentially the same position as last season.

Atlanta, which was runner-up in the Eastern Conference, will host the New England Revolution on Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs, a rematch of their Oct. 6 game to close out the regular season.

“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty decent spot, as strange as the season has maybe been,” midfielder Julian Gressel said Wednesday after a training session. “We’ve already won two trophies, and now we have a chance for a third.”

In mid-August, United broke out the champagne after a 3-2 victory over Mexican powerhouse Club America to capture the Campeones Cup.

A couple of weeks later, they were celebrating again with a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup final, guaranteeing a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

“I felt like we were always there and pretty much at our best in those games,” Gressel said. “That’s why I’m pretty confident we’ll be at our best when it really matters.”

But there are reasons to be concerned. Atlanta struggled badly in some league games – especially on the road – and rarely looked like the dynamic team that won the MLS Cup in just its second year under former coach Tata Martino.

With Frank De Boer now at the helm, United got off to a sluggish start and spent much of the season juggling lineups and switching up tactics in a desperate bid to find some consistency. Atlanta never put together an unbeaten streak longer than five games – it had three such stretches a year ago – and finished with 58 points, 58 goals and a plus-15 goal differential. All were short of the 69 points, 70 goals and plus-26 differential from the 2018 season.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Still, United’s second-place showing in the East behind New York City FC matches last year’s finish, guaranteeing the team at least one home game in the playoffs and another in the conference semifinals should it beat the Revolution.

That’s a crucial edge for a franchise that has essentially broken every MLS attendance record and again averaged more than 52,000 per game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, doubling up every team in the league except Seattle and Cincinnati. In 17 home games, Atlanta lost only twice.

While United closed out the season with a 3-1 victory over New England, the Revolution has been one of the league’s hottest teams over the second half of the season.

Atlanta will be further tested by the possible absence of its best defender, Miles Robinson, who is dealing with a strained left hamstring sustained during a workout with the U.S. national team last week.

If Robinson can’t go, United will have to change up their lineup once again and possibly adopt a more defensive approach to Saturday’s game.

“If I do push up, it’s more so getting back a little faster than I normally would, things like that,” said midfielder Darlington Nagbe, one of those who may be affected if Robinson can’t go. “Just feel the game out and see how it plays out.”

In the regular-season finale, Ezequiel Barco got the start over Pity Martinez, a lineup that de Boer might go with again in the playoffs.

Barco played only 15 league games this season because of injuries and a lengthy stint with Argentina at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but he provided the sort of spark de Boer was looking for against New England. Martinez, who was the 2018 South American player of the year and Atlanta’s major acquisition during the last offseason, has struggled to find his nice in MLS with just five goals in 32 appearances.

“We have to see,” de Boer said. “The only thing that concerns me is to win the playoffs.”

MLS switched up the playoff format this season. Instead of the top two teams from both the East and the West receiving byes and two-legged rounds to determine the winner of conference semifinals and finals, only the first-place finisher gets the opening round off and every step of the playoffs is a single-game elimination.

There is no room for error.

“If you have an off day, you might be out,” Gressel said. “I feel like it’s a format that favors the underdog a bit more, or gives the underdog a bit more hope.”

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com

Zlatan paces MLS jersey sellers, offers fresh quip on Minnesota challenge

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: He’s like a more charming, less anarchist version of Tom Hardy’s Bane.

The LA Galaxy man was revealed to again have the top-selling jersey in Major League Soccer on Wednesday, days before the club begins its 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs run with a match in Minnesota.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Snow is in the forecast, but Zlatan is not bothered by such weather.

“I’m from Sweden I was born in the snow. When it snows, I’m a viking. When it’s warm, I’m a lion. We adjust for every condition there is.”

Back to the jerseys, the MLS MVP finalists are 1-2-3 in sales. Ibrahimovic is first, followed by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.

The top sellers amongst Americans are Seattle’s Jordan Morris (7) and Cristian Roldan (12). Chris Wondolowski of San Jose is 13th, while other domestic names on the Top 25 include Sebastian Lletget, Brad Guzan (!?!), Dom Dwyer, Jozy Altidore, and Graham Zusi.

Midweek El Clasico possible in December following political unrest

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Political unrest in Catalonia has both La Liga and the Spanish government looking to move the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are scheduled to meet at the Camp Nou on Oct. 26, but the jailing of nine Catalan separatists has caused uproar in-and-around Barca.

In fact, Barca as a club has denounced the imprisonment, so it plays more than a peripheral role in the controversy.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Players heading to and returning from international break have faced in challenges in getting to the club.

Instead, Marca says that we may see a midweek match played in Madrid on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with the reverse fixture in March moved from Madrid to Barcelona.

Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.

Reports claim Allegri linked with Manchester United, Spurs

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The international break can be a slow time for news, but what to make of multiple reports claiming that Max Allegri is in discussion with a pair of struggling traditional Premier League powers?

Tuttosport claims that Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have interest in hiring the Italian manager, adding that United has had “intensified” contact with him.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Noise out of Old Trafford continues to back Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, while there is no real buzz that Mauricio Pochettino is on the verge of leaving Spurs.

The 52-year-old Allegri has won Serie A once with AC Milan and five times with Juventus, claiming a Serie C title with Sassuolo in 2007-08.

Is there anything to it? He’d be a great hire for either side. In United’s case, he’d be a marked upgrade on their current boss.