Copa America Centenario

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Ballon d’Or changes rules; Guessing the new 30-man shortlist

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FIFA’s six-year run as cooperating partner of the Ballon d’Or Award is over, and France Football is changing some things in how they handle the honor of naming the world’s top footballer.

This year, there will only be a 30-man shortlist before the awards, no narrowing of the field to three.

In the past, the shortlist was 23 players, and a three-man list was presented before the ceremony.

[ MORE: Big U.S. defenders thrive at FCD ]

For five of the six years, this list was Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and another guy. Since 2007, either Ronaldo or Messi has been in the Top Three. Messi has five awards, Ronaldo three.

The time period used for voters is Nov. 22, 2015 until Nov. 20, 2016, and encapsulates the club season as well as EURO 2016, the Olympics, and Copa America Centenario. Voting runs from late October through Nov. 20, and Cristiano Ronaldo the winner will be given his award on Jan. 9.

Here a quick guess at the 30-man shortlist. These players are not listed in any PST-assigned order.

First, let’s expect that of the 23 men from last year’s shortlist, most will return. We’ll guess that Yaya Toure and Karim Benzema don’t make the cut.

[ MLS: Eyeing Supporters’ Shield, playoff races ]

Arjen Robben and Ivan Rakitic could see their names drop, as they finished 22 and 23.

Returnees

  1. Lionel Messi
  2. Cristiano Ronaldo
  3. ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 11: FIFA Ballon d'Or nominees Neymar Jr of Brazil and FC Barcelona (L), Lionel Messi of Argentina and FC Barcelona (C) and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Real Madrid (R) attend a press conference prior to the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015 at the Kongresshaus on January 11, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
    (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)

    Neymar

  4. Luis Suarez
  5. Robert Lewandowski
  6. Thomas Mueller
  7. Manuel Neuer
  8. Alexis Sanchez
  9. Andres Iniesta
  10. Sergio Aguero
  11. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
  12. Javier Mascherano
  13. Paul Pogba
  14. Gareth Bale
  15. Arturo Vidal
  16. Kevin De Bruyne
  17. James Rodriguez
  18. Toni Kroos
  19. Arjen Robben
  20. Ivan Rakitic

New names

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

That leaves 10 new spots (Sorry, Arjen and Ivan). There are some no doubters here, and I’ll plug in some explanation when necessary.

21. Pepe — EURO and Champions League double
22. Antoine Griezmann
23. Gonzalo Higuain
24. Dimitri Payet
25. Riyad Mahrez
26. Mesut Ozil
27. Olivier Giroud — 5 UCL goals, EURO bronze boot, 16 PL goals

Wild cards

We’re pegging Jamie Vardy and Leicester’s dream season to join Harry Kane for two of the final slots, and Sergio Ramos to edge Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci on the strength of another UCL title, and Real teammate Marcelo on the virtues of EURO success versus Copa America failure.

28. Jamie Vardy
29. Harry Kane
30. Sergio Ramos
Luka Modric
Philippe Coutinho
Marcelo
Leonardo Bonucci

Will just miss

We’re sure we are missing a ton, but here are the next names.

Rui Patricio — EURO team of tournament
Jerome Boateng
Angel Di Maria
Ivan Perisic
N'Golo Kante
Marek Hamsik
Eduardo Vargas — Leading scorer at Copa America
Alvaro Morata
Willian — 5 UCL goals
Javier Hernandez — 5 UCL goals, 17 Bundesliga, two for Mexico
Clint Dempsey — Yes, an MLS player; Three goals at Copa America
Raphiel Guerriero — EURO team of tournament
Nicolas Otamendi — Copa team of tournament
Ragnar Sigurdsson

USMNT player ratings from a successful Copa America Centenario

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American soccer fans have had a week to calm down now.

The USMNT’s 4-0 loss to rampant Argentina in the Copa America Centenario semifinals was hard to watch, and the valiant digestif served in a 1-0 loss to Colombia only helped a bit with the hangover.

[ MORE: Hodgson takes the heat ]

The reality check was a stiff one for those who believe the United States of America should compete on the same level with the world’s best, and overshadowed what was a goal-meeting, encouraging run into the Final Four of a legendary and difficult tournament.

For those who see the USMNT as a project, it was still tough to swallow. A semifinal is a terrific result, but could tactics have helped against Argentina? Were these our best players? Should we have expected more from Jurgen Klinsmann?

[ USMNT PLAYER RATINGS DATABASE: vs. Colombia (GS) | vs. Costa Ricavs. Paraguayvs. Ecuadorvs. Argentina ]

And what about the players? That’s the question we’ll answer today, as we evaluate the USMNT’s 23 men from a memorable tournament.

Kyle Beckerman
Tournament dossier: 4 matches, 1 start, 90 mins total
He’s served the States well in the past, but his days being useful against dangerous attacking teams seem behind him. Woeful in a tough spot against Argentina (Rating: 4.5)

Alejandro Bedoya
Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 399 mins
3 shots, 2 yellow cards, 10 fouls committed, 2 fouls suffered
An integral part of the team and a big reason the Argentina match was lopsided, Bedoya nonetheless did not have the impact we’ve come to expect from the Nantes man (Rating: 6)

Matt Besler
Tournament dossier: 2 matches, 2 starts, 180 mins
Did a job under tough circumstances, and could be a left back option for the 2018 World Cup if no one steps forward (Rating: 6)

Steve Birnbaum
Tournament dossier: 2 matches, 31 mins
Limited appearances, and one big mistake. Happy to go with letters here for a promising player (Rating: N/A)

John Brooks
Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 450 mins
It’s too early to say he’s come into his own, but Brooks belonged on the all-tournament team after showing a lot more wisdom in positions and decisions. (Rating: 9)

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 21: Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina dribbles the ball against Michael Bradley #4 of United States in the first half during a 2016 Copa America Centenario Semifinal match at NRG Stadium on June 21, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Michael Bradley
Tournament dossier: 6 matches, 6 starts, 529 mins
2 shots
His 12 crosses were almost unrivaled on the team, with DeAndre Yedlin the only other player with more than four (eight). The motor was still going for one of the country’s all-time players, but at times he was surprisingly bewildered. The giveaways were alarming, and perhaps there’s an argument for using him further up the pitch. Offensive production was limited. (Rating: 5)

Geoff Cameron
Tournament dossier: Played every minute
Versatile and at times dominant, Cameron showed us he could’ve been the difference in last summer’s Gold Cup. (Rating: 8)

Clint Dempsey
Tournament dossier: 6 matches, 6 starts, 460 mins
3 goals, 2 assists, 19 shots, 7 on goal

Does this guy live for the summer or what? The ex-Fulham and Spurs man buried big shot after big shot one year after scoring a career best nine international goals. Consider these numbers:

Before Klinsmann: 22 goals in 75 caps
After Klinsmann: 30 goals in 55 caps (Rating: 9)

Brad Guzan
Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 450 mins, 18 saves
Led the tournament in saves and starred in several matches, including the stirring win over Paraguay, but had a couple rough matches along the way. Overall, he was strong enough to suit the side’s needs. (Rating: 6.5) 

Tim Howard
Tournament dossier: 1 match, 1 start, 90 mins
Only got to play one game as the younger Guzan gets every chance to show he can be a World Cup starter. Was dynamite (Rating: 8)

Fabian Johnson
Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 450 mins, four shots
Some fits and starts for the left back, which is understandable considering how often he plays left wing for his club. That said, as we’ve seen with David Alaba at Austria, as a star and versatile player you have to fill the biggest need for your national team. Johnson did fine with that (Rating: 7)

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 07: Jermaine Jones #13 of United States leaps in the air after scoring a goal against Costa Rica during a match in the 2016 Copa America Centenario at Soldier Field on June 7, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Jermaine Jones
Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 388 mins, 1 goal, 1 assist, 5 shots, two yellow cards, red card
Loses a point for his red card, which looks worse and worse upon review. Still, he’s shown an ageless quality in athleticism, his guile is emblematic of the team, and he’s going to make the World Cup roster unless the USMNT fails to make the tourney or he suffers a major injury (Rating: 7)

Darlington Nagbe
Tournament dossier: 3 matches, 47 mins
Has the misfortune of being behind a well-function three-man midfield, and has done well enough for us to ask whether he’ll get a look over or next to Bradley in the next friendly.

Michael Orozco
Tournament dossier: 2 matches, 1 start, 129 mins, two yellow cards
While we still would’ve liked to see Eric Lichaj or another full back who could hold his own over Orozco, he didn’t kill anything. Yes, even with his silly red card against Colombia (Rating: 5).

Christian Pulisic
Tournament dossier: 3 matches, 85 mins
Looked dangerous, promising, lovely… and 17. Will be a force one day, and the experience will help him (Rating: 6)

Chris Wondolowski
Tournament dossier: 2 matches, 1 start, 57 mins
His form in MLS hinted that he might be able to do a job for the Yanks, but he was statuesque at times and unfit as a hold-up player at the Copa America Centenario level. We don’t want to beat down one of the all-time good stories in USMNT, so let’s move onto this —

Please get well soon: Aron Johannsson, Terrence Boyd or Jozy Altidore.
See you soon: Jordan Morris, Jerome Kiesewetter
Improve: Julian Green, Fafa Picault
Please write letters to Jurgen: C.J. Sapong, Mike Grella, maybe even Will Bruin (Rating: 3.5)

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 16: Bobby Wood #7 of the United States battles Frickson Erazo #3 of Ecuador during the 2016 Quarterfinal - Copa America Centenario match at CenturyLink Field on June 16, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Bobby Wood
Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 399 mins, 1 goal, 5 shots, 13 fouls suffered, 11 committed
If Wood’s finish was on point, he would’ve potted 4-5 goals and been the breakout start of the tournament. That aside, he was borderline dominant and the embodiment of what U.S. fans want to see in their strikers (You know, aside from the goals) (Rating: 8).

DeAndre Yedlin
Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 5 starts, 408 mins
red card, nine fouls committed
He’s much, much improved and still has a long way to go. The motor is fine, and the speed is wonderful. You can tell he gained savvy in defense under Sam Allardyce at Sunderland, but still has to learn tricks of the trade like when a player like Carlos Bacca is going to give that little tug that pushes him to a razor-thin goal (Rating: 6.5)

Graham Zusi
Tournament dossier: 5 matches, 1 start, 138 mins
1 goal, 1 shot on goal
Not going to be the first name on the team sheet any time soon, but could prove to be one of the unsung heroes of a dicey time in USMNT history. His work in the big win over Guatemala kickstarted a rebirth of sorts that prove Klinsmann knows he has an asset in Zusi (Rating: 6).

Gyasi Zardes
Tournament dossier: 6 matches, 6 starts, 539 mins
1 goal, 1 assist, 6 shots, 11 fouls suffered
The most difficult player to judge in American soccer history? Klinsmann keeps trotting the big man out there despite matches where his body never catches up to his brain. It’s clear he has a great understanding of the game and is improving in wonderful ways. If only his first touch — which is not being criticized too harshly, could improve a bit — he’d be a 1-2 punch with Zardes that would overwhelm most back lines in CONCACAF. (Rating: 6)

DNP: Edgar Castillo, Ethan Horvath, Perry Kitchen

Often critical, Maradona says “Messi must go on” for Argentina

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Lionel Messi had strong words after Argentina’s loss in PKs to Chile at the Copa America Centenario, claiming retirement.

And while there’s reason to think he’ll go back on his emotional but rather definitive statements, Argentina anxiously awaits what’s next.

The nation’s federation is in shambles, under FIFA administration ahead of a presidential election and with reports that major stars like Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano could join Messi on the sidelines.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Iceland’s shocking win over England ]

Diego Maradona has been critical of Lionel Messi in the past, as has much of Argentina soccer since the world’s best player left home to join Barcelona at 13, but he has no interest in seeing him retire.

From the BBC:

“Those saying he should quit don’t want us to see what a disaster Argentinean football has become,” Maradona told La Nacion newspaper.

“Messi has to stay because he will reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia in conditions to become world champion.

“The lads have to be supported more to help him take the team forward.”

Maradona was very critical of the direction of the national team program, saying he’s worried the next president will be chosen like “a used car dealership”. He’s very right that Argentina will still be a prime contender in Russia.

We still await further word from Messi, who will turn 31 during the next World Cup. The oldest members of the current team — Mascherano and Ezequiel Lavezzi — will be 34 and 33, with players like Angel Correa or Paulo Dybala waiting in the wings.

We should pump the brakes on Lionel Messi’s retirement from Argentina

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Lionel Messi had given no hints that he could be on the verge of international football retirement before late Sunday night, in the wake of a crushing Copa America Centenario final in which the world’s best player sent a penalty kick over the goal.

So, as concrete as his comments may read —  “It’s very hard, but the decision is taken. Now I will not try more and there will be no going back” — perhaps we should wait for Messi to have some time to reflect on his future, and for Argentina football to sort through its murky time.

[ MORE: Arsenal makes Brazilian bid ]

The country’s federation is under FIFA administration as it prepares for presidential elections, and some have claimed the nation could be banned from competition. Sergio Aguero claimed after the game that several players were considering their international futures in a charged comment, and the BBC claims Messi, Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Gonzalo Higuain are amongst a bevy of players ready to quit. That makes it all seem even more political.

Messi turned 29 on Friday and won’t turn 31 until the 2018 World Cup is well underway. Argentina is hardly guaranteed to qualify for the tournament without him, currently good for fourth in CONMEBOL qualifying. That’s two points out of first, but two ahead of 7th.

[ MORE: Blanc leaves PSG ]

Messi would be leaving his club in the lurch with Matchdays 7 and 8 against Uruguay and Venezuela, respectively, on tap for early September.

BEIJING - AUGUST 23: Argentinian forwards Lionel Messi (L) and Sergio Aguero gold medal pose during the men's Olympic football tournament medal ceremony at the national stadium in Beijing during the Men's Final between Nigeria and Argentina at the National Stadium on Day 15 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 23, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
Clinical finishers with regrettable hair styles. (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

As an extreme competitor, perhaps Messi is tired of the messy Argentine federation. Perhaps. But is he ready to give up on winning a major senior tournament? That would be a stunning, though hardly unique, admission from an all-time legend’s resume (which does have Olympic Gold). Moreover, his retirement talk could be a threat to get his way in the changing landscape of Argentina soccer.

Barcelona has trumpeted Messi’s retirement claim, and the club would be thrilled if its megastar would quit the injury and fatigue risks that come with international play. There’s also the fact that Messi has been judged harshly by his home nation’s fans since he left the country for Barcelona at 13, whereas fans wished to see him develop at home (Hmmm… sounds familiar).

I’m going to wait until the diminutive legend makes it formal. Twenty-nine years old and major trophy free. Remember that.

Copa America’s Best XI dominated by Chile, Argentina; Fair or foul?

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According to the Copa America Centenario Technical Study Group, all of the best players at Copa America Centenario were in Group D’s pair of finalists.

Given the star wattage of players on Chile and Argentina, perhaps that was always coming (Sorry, James Rodriguez, Clint Dempsey, John Brooks, and David Ospina: You’re mere semifinalists).

[ MORE: Chile repeats | Messi quits Argentina? ]

Anyway, the CACTSG handed out the Golden Boot (Eduardo Vargas), Golden Glove (Claudio Bravo) and Golden Ball (Alexis Sanchez), as well as a team Fair Play Award (Argentina).

As for the Best XI, plenty up for debate here:

Goalkeeper: Claudio Bravo (Chile)
Defenders: Mauricio Isla (Chile), Nicolás Otamendi (Argentina), Gary Medel (Chile), Jean Beausejour (Chile)
Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Argentina), Arturo Vidal (Chile), Charles Aránguiz (Chile)
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Eduardo Vargas (Chile), Alexis Sánchez (Chile)

After allowing five goals in the group stage, Chile threw zeroes across its three knockout rounds games. That’s enough for Claudio Bravo, who had two howlers against Panama, to pass David Ospina? To the victors go the spoils.

You couldn’t reasonably slot James or Dempsey ahead of the trio of forwards, though if Alexis Sanchez is a “midfielder”, then surely you could fudge James’ position, too (especially if the third place game means anything). Presumably that would be over Charles Aranguiz in the midfield.

Perhaps Argentina’s 4-0 destruction of an otherwise stingy USMNT makes Brooks or Geoff Cameron unappealing at center back (despite allowing three goals in the tourney leading up to the semi)? And there wasn’t a single back better than Isla? Alright.

As for quarterfinalists, Venezuela’s Wilker Angel marshaled a back line that allowed just one goal before the 4-1 ouster from Argentina. And Mexico’s midfield had a strong tournament before siete a cero.

Well done, CACTSG; Not only does your initialism sound like a rapper from the desert, but you sleepwalked through your only job.