Commentary

Copa Centenario Preview: Kaka withdrawal latest bad news for Group B favorite Brazil

Superstar Neymar is unavailable because Brazil committed him to its Rio Olympics campaign. Douglas Costa dropped out because of a thigh injury. Now Kaka has withdrawn, less than a week after replacing Douglas Costa.

The Orlando City star was not counted upon to be the main player like Neymar or Douglas Costa, but his departure with a hamstring injury underscores Brazil's bad luck. Five players have been forced out of the Copa Centenario with injuries.

Copa Centenario: TV Schedule

BRAZIL. Two years after its humiliation at the 2014 World Cup -- 7-1 loss to Germany in the semifinals, 3-0 loss to the Netherlands in the third-place game -- Brazil is still trying to find its way.

Even without the injuries, Brazil enters the Copa Centenario with loads of questions. Gone are David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Marcelo, all starters on the 2014 World Cup team and still major stars in Europe. Coach Dunga also dropped Roberto Firmino and Danilo whom he had brought in for the 2015 Copa America but discarded after Brazil failed to get past the quarterfinals.

It's easy to cast doubt on the seriousness with which Brazil is taking the tournament, but it is still loaded with the likes of Atletico Madrid's Filipe Luis and Real Madrid's Casemiro, who went up against each other in the UEFA Champions League final.

Player you know. Midfielder Willian was always a favorite of ousted Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho but was also one of the few players to have a good season for the Blues, earning the team's Player of the Year award. He was a role player on the 2014 World Cup team but will need to carry a big load for Brazil.

Player you'll know soon enough.  Jonas expected to be on vacation after his season with Portuguese club Benfica, but an injury to striker Ricardo Oliveira thrust him into the team. Now, he looks to be the answer for Brazil, which has struggled to find a consistent goal scorer up front. The 32-year-old Jonas was certainly that for Benfica with 32 goals.

ECUADOR. Ecuador is the only one of the nine Copa Centenario entrants that played at the 2014 World Cup but did not reach the knockout stage. That was two years ago, however. It enters the Copa Centenario tied for first place with Uruguay in South America's World Cup 2018 qualifying competition.

Ecuador is the only South American team besides Venezuela that's never won the tournament -- the Tricolor has never finished higher than fourth -- but it has a reasonable shot at going far at the Copa Centenario thanks to a favorable draw.

Antonio Valencia (Manchester United) and Jefferson Montero (Swansea City) play in the EPL, while Christian Noboa is at Rostov in Russia. They give Ecuador one of the most underrated midfields in the tournament.

Player you know. With Felipe Caicedo sidelined with a thigh injury, the pressure will be on Enner Valencia to carry the scoring load up front. Valencia's playing time at West Ham United dropped in 2015-16, and he needs a strong Copa Centenario to showcase his talents for a possible transfer over the summer.

Player you'll know soon enough. Carlos Gruezo, 21, is Ecuador's lone MLS representative. The first-year FC Dallas player was injured in Ecuador's 1-0 loss to the United States, but Coach Gustavo Quinteros remains high on him and might start him in central midfield alongside Noboa.

PERU. Back in the 1970s, Peru was a world power, making the second round of the World Cup twice with stars like the great Teofilo Cubillas. But it has been 34 years since it appeared in the finals, and that drought isn't expected to end any time soon. It is struggling in World Cup qualifying with just four points in six games.

Was Peru's third-place finish at the 2015 Copa America a fluke? It beat Venezuela and Bolivia before being ousted by host and eventual champion Chile in the semifinals.

Coach Ricardo Gareca is building for the future, having taken just four players with 20 or more caps. Gone are veterans Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfan.

Player you know. Paolo Guerrero, whose hat trick gave Peru a 3-1 win over Bolivia in the quarterfinals of the 2015 Copa America, is Peru's oldest player (32) and most prolific goal scorer (26). No other player on the team has scored more than one.

Player you'll know soon enough. Renato Tapia, 20, is expected to break into Gareca's starting lineup in midfield for Peru's opener against Haiti. He joined Feyenoord from Dutch rival TC Twente in January and has started in four of Peru's six World Cup qualifiers.

HAITI. Haiti is the surprise of the tournament, having beaten Trinidad & Tobago in a one-game playoff for one of Concacaf's final two berths in the Copa Centenario.

Like Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti reached the quarterfinals of the 2015 Gold Cup, but unlike the Soca Warriors, who are in good shape to advance to the Hexagonal, Haiti has struggled in World Cup 2018 qualifying, going winless and without a goal in four games.

Haiti has a heavy contingent of U.S.-based players: Sporting Kansas City midfielder Soni Mustivar, plus five players from the NASL: Steward Ceus (Minnesota United), Mechack Jerome (Jacksonville Armada), Pascal Millien (Jacksonville Armada), James Marcelin (Carolina RailHawks) and Jean Alexandre (Fort Lauderdale Strikers).

Player you know. Goalkeeper Johnny Placide, the Haiti captain, is the most experienced player with 41 starts for French first division club Reims the last two seasons.

Player you'll know soon enough. Duckens Nazon, is another French-born and -bred player, having debuted for Laval in 2015. The 22-year-old forward had two goals for Haiti at the 2015 Gold Cup, including the winner that gave Haiti a 1-0 win over Honduras and sent it into the quarterfinals. 

Group B Schedule:
GROUP B:
June 4 in Pasadena, California
Brazil vs. Ecuador
June 4 in Seattle
Haiti vs. Peru
June 8 in Orlando, Florida
Brazil vs. Haiti
June 8 in Glendale, Arizona
Ecuador vs. Peru
June 12 in Foxborough, Massachusetts
Brazil vs. Peru
June 12 in East Rutherford, New Jersey
Ecuador vs. Haiti

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