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Copa America preview: Brazil on home soil, Messi’s last shot at (int’l) glory?

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For the first time in 30, the country of Brazil will host the Copa America when the 2019 edition kicks off on Friday. The pressure to win on home soil, as it was when Selecao hosted the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, will be immense.

[ MORE: Predicting the 2019 Gold Cup ]

For the first time in a long time, there is no clear-cut favorite. The best team in South America is anybody’s guess.

Tite’s Brazil was seen as a heavy favorite a couple weeks ago, but will now have to cope without its brightest superstar and captain, Neymar, after he suffered an ankle injury during a pre-Copa friendly against Qatar. Brazil can still be called slight favorites, with many thanks to the attacking duo of Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus, but more than a few defensive questions must be answered: most notably, does this veteran group of defenders, with just three of eight players under 30 years of age (an average of 58 international caps), have one more major tournament left in it?

All of the attention that will inevitably be paid to Brazil could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for some of the tournament’s other heavy hitters, particularly the two-defending champions from Chile. Lionel Messi and Argentina, who have reached four of the last five Copa finals (2004, 2007, 2015 and 2016) but lost each and every one of them, also fit that billing.

[ MORE: Premier League 2019-20 schedule announced ]

Chile hope to squeeze one last run out of the Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas and Gary Medel era, which is a slightly risky proposition given each of their injury histories and their slightly advanced ages (31 years on average). There’s also a small matter of who’ll start in goal: 31-year-old Gabriel Arias is the most experienced of the bunch, but he’s won just six caps in his career and has never played club soccer outside of South America.

Argentina, on the other hand, are about as inexperienced as a national team of their prestige could be. Messi, Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero have 130, 97 and 90 caps to their names, respectively, followed by Nicolas Otamendi with 60. After them, Ramiro Funes Mori is the next-highest, with 25. 12 of the 23 players making up Lionel Scaloni’s squad have made single-digit appearances for the Albiceleste. Argentina’s last major trophy came at the 1993 Copa America, when Messi was six years old. Now 31 years old, the undisputed greatest player of all time might be down to his last (realistic) chance at winning a major tournament.

Colombia will again be the favorite pick as “dark horse,” but their route to a first major trophy since winning the 2001 Copa will be difficult: facing Messi and Co., in the two sides’ Group B opener on Saturday (6 p.m. ET). Japan and Qatar, the two non-South American teams invited to participate in 2019, will be fascinating wild cards as well.

What we’re saying is: Brazil and Argentina taking a small (or large) step back to the pack should make for one of the best editions of the Copa we’ve ever seen, and just about every game should be appointment television beginning with Friday’s curtain raiser between Brazil and Bolivia (8:30 p.m. ET).

Quick facts

Final date: July 7

Semifinal dates: July 2 and 3

Current holders: Chile (2015 and 2016)

Most titles: Uruguay (15), Argentina (14), Brazil (8), Chile (2), Paraguay (2), Peru (2)

Most goals: Zizinho and Norberto Mendez (17)

Most goals (active): Paolo Guerrero and Eduardo Vargas (11)

This weekend’s Copa America schedule

Friday

Brazil v. Bolivia — 8:30 p.m. ET

Saturday

Venezuela v. Peru — 3 p.m. ET
Argentina v. Colombia — 6 p.m. ET

Sunday

Paraguay v. Qatar — 3 p.m. ET
Uruguay v. Ecuador — 6 p.m. ET

Filipe Luis signs for Flamengo after leaving Atletico

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazilian veteran left-back Filipe Luis has signed for boyhood club Flamengo after leaving Atletico Madrid on a free transfer.

The Rio de Janeiro club and the player confirmed the move Tuesday on social media.

Flamengo said the 33-year-old Luis has signed a deal until 2021.

Luis has played in Europe for 14 years but left Atletico on Sunday after his contract expired.

The left-back was a starter for Brazil during its recent run to the Copa America title.

With Atletico, Luis won the Copa del Rey in 2013, the Spanish league in 2014, and the Europa League in 2012 and 2018. He also had a brief spell with Chelsea in between, winning the Premier League in 2015.

Flamengo is third in the Brazilian championship after 11 matches, five points behind leader and defending champion Palmeiras.

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

MLS expansion side Austin FC name Wolff as first-ever head coach

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Former USMNT forward  Josh Wolff has become the first-ever head coach of Austin FC, as the MLS expansion franchise crack on with their expected entry into North America’s top-flight in 2021.

Wolff, 42, was the assistant coach for D.C. United before moving to the Columbus Crew were he worked as Gregg Berhalter’s assistant for the past five years. Wolff was then hired as Berhalter’s assistant when he took charge of the USMNT.

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Austin FC say that Wolff will start his new job after the international window in November as he will continue with his current job with U.S. Soccer until then.

“I know that Austin has a true love of soccer, and it is the opportunity of a lifetime to be part of the first ever major league team of any kind in the Capital of Texas,” Wolff said. “Our stated ambition is to establish ourselves quickly within MLS as a vibrant, attacking side and we want to reflect the diverse, competitive, and passionate makeup of our club’s home, both on and off the field.”

This move makes total sense as former Columbus Crew owner, Anthony Precourt, knows Wolff from their time together in Ohio. Precourt excercized his option to move his MLS franchise from Columbus to Austin which was confirmed in January 2019.

The Crew have since been kept in Columbus and Precourt is now the chairman and CEO of Two Oak Ventures, the entity which owns the rights to operate Austin FC and its stadium, while also holding the title of chairman and CEO of Austin FC. Austin FC’s new stadium at McKalla Place (the stadium and the complex around it looks pretty incredible) is privately funded and will hold 20,500 fans when it is completed.

Hiring a former MLS and USMNT star to lead the team makes a lot of sense and Wolff’s name has been mentioned plenty when MLS jobs have become available in recent years. He was on both the 2002 and 2006 USMNT World Cup squads and his experience across MLS and in Europe have given him a unique coaching style.

There is a lot of respect for Wolff among the American soccer community and his playing philosophy is very similar to Berhalter’s. Wolff becoming a head coach is good news for young domestic players.

Live, UCL: PSV v. Basel headlines second qualifying round

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The UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds continue to roll on, and there are some mouthwatering clashes across Europe on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

That’s right, the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons pretty much rolled into one.

The pick of the second qualifying round first leg ties on Tuesday sees Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven host FC Basel in the Netherlands, with Mexican national team stars Hirving Lozano and Erick Guttierez hopeful of playing in the UCL group stage this season.

Welsh champions The New Saints host Danish champs FC Copenhagen, with TNS the heavy underdogs but their illustrious opponents will not relish their trip to Wales amid sweltering conditions in the UK.

Dinamo Zagreb will fancy their chances of advancing past Georgian minnows Saburtalo, while Olympiacos head to Czech giants Viktoria Plzen in another tasty encounter.

The third qualifying round sees the likes of Ajax, FC Porto and Dynamo Kiev enter the competition, so things will continue to get tougher for any minnows who sneak through this round.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, with the second legs played next week. Click on the link to follow all of the action live.

UCL second qualifying round, first leg – Tuesday, July 23

Plzen v. Olympiacos – 1 p.m. ET
Saburtalo v. Dinamo Zagreb – 1:30 p.m. ET
The New Saints v. Copenhagen – 2 p.m. ET
PSV Eindhoven v. FC Basel – 2 p.m. ET
FK Sutjeska v. APOEL Nicosia – 2:15 p.m. ET

Five Premier League teams listed among most valuable sports franchises

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The rich are getting richer. Literally.

Forbes has released its latest list of the top 50 most valuable sports teams on the planet, with eight soccer teams in the top 50 as 52 teams are worth at least $2 billion.

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Five Premier League teams make it, with Manchester United in sixth with a value of $3.81 billion, Man City in 25th at $2.69 billion, Chelsea 32nd at $2.58 billion, Arsenal in 42nd at $2.27 billion and Liverpool in 45th at $2.18 billion.

Real Madrid and Barcelona lead the charge of most valuable soccer teams, sitting in third and fourth respectively with values of just over $4 billion, while Bayern Munich are in 17th with a valuation of $3.02 billion.

In previous years Man United topped Forbes’ list and they were the only team in the world to be worth over $2 billion back in 2012.

Real Madrid were the last soccer team atop Forbes’ list but the Dallas Cowboys have now been in top spot since 2016 with the NFL dominating this list.

26 of the top 50 most valuable teams are from the NFL, with eight soccer clubs, nine MLB franchises and seven NBA teams making up the rest.

Below is the list of the value of the top 10 sports franchises on the planet.


1. Dallas Cowboys – $5 billion
2. New York Yankees – $4.6 billion
3. Real Madrid – $4.2 billion
4. Barcelona – $4.02 billion
5. New York Knicks – $4 billion
6. Manchester United – $3.81 billion
7. New England Patriots – $3.8 billion
8. Los Angeles Lakers – $3.7 billion
9. Golden State Warriors – $3.5 billion
10=. New York Giants – $3.3 billion
10=. Los Angeles Dodgers – $3.3 billion