Commentary

Copa Centenario Preview: Mexico and Uruguay a class above in Group C

A new-found defensive resiliency under head coach Juan Carlos Osorio should propel Mexico past Venezuela and Jamaica, though the Caribbean nation showed enough last year at the Gold Cup -- beating the USA in the semifinals before falling to Mexico in the final -- to rate an outsider’s chance to plucking a point off the two group favorites.

Group A: Preview
Group B: Preview

Uruguay’s prospects are clouded by age creeping into an accomplished squad and injury concerns regarding Luis Suarez. The favorites to advance start off the tournament against each other and don’t regard the opener as a must-win.
 
MEXICO. Nine straight victories -- the last seven by shutout under head coach Osorio -- have fueled curiosity as well as optimism amongst Mexican fans and journalists.

To some observers, Mexico hasn’t been Mexican enough, considering all the flair players Osorio can choose from. In its last two friendlies, it ground out 1-0 victories against South American opposition, Paraguay and Chile, and starts off the Centenario against a nation with decades of defensive resiliency to rely upon.

Those disdainful of Osorio’s methods should recall an incredible 4-4 tie with Trinidad & Tobago in the 2015 Gold Cup Group C finale that dropped Mexico into second place, and necessitated a quarterfinal against Costa Rica that went into extra time scoreless. In the 124th minute, Andres Guardado converted a penalty kick and Mexico regained its mojo to capture the regional crown.

More turmoil ensued. Head coach Miguel Herrera was fired for fighting with a reporter at the Philadelphia airport, and interim replacement Ricardo Ferretti returned to his club job after guiding Mexico past the USA, 3-2, in a Concacaf playoff last October.

Osorio has brought stability to the team on and off the field yet is certainly not short of firepower with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Jesus Corona and Guardado among his attacking options and experienced veterans like outside back Miguel Layun joining in.

Mexico will be backed by huge, noisy crowds and with a good history against South American teams at the World Cup and in the Copa America it probably rates third favoritism behind Brazil and Argentina. But how Osorio will fare in a big tournament remains the major question mark.

Player you know: Hernandez notched 17 goals in his debut Bundesliga season and has been rested by Osorio in the friendlies; he came off the bench to score the goal that downed Chile on Thursday

Player you’ll know soon enough: Jurgen Damm.The Tigres winger is 23 and has played more than 100 professional games since starting his pro career with Tecos in 2012. He scored in his second international appearance last November against Honduras.

UPDATE: Damm was injured and replaced by Candido Ramirez of Monterrey on Mexico's roster.
 
URUGUAY. Two years ago, losses to Costa Rica (in the group phase) and Colombia (round of 16) left Uruguay short of matching its third-place performance at the 2010 World Cup. Last year at the Copa America, it scraped through as a third-place team to quarterfinals, in which it lost to host and eventual champion Chile.

Suarez is expected to miss the group stage to nurse a hamstring injury he suffered in the Copa del Rey final, and so the scoring onus passes to Edinson Cavani, whose club career has stagnated since he transferred from Napoli to Paris St. Germain in 2013. Cavani – burdened at the Copa America last year by a Suarez suspension -- departed the tournament in disgrace against Chile when he flicked at Guillermo Jara’s face and received a second caution.

Defenders Diego Godin and Maxi Pereira provide a strong core that can blunt opposing attacks, and Godin’s prowess on set plays has brought him three goals -- tied with Cavani for the team lead -- in World Cup qualifying. Uruguay is tied with Ecuador in first place (4-1-1, W-L-T) and hasn’t been overly dependent on Suarez, who has netted just one of Uruguay’s 12 qualifying goals.

Player you know: Cavani, 29, has yet to truly impress at a major international competition such as a World Cup or Copa America. Though he was a member of the 2011 squad that lifted the latter trophy, Suarez and Diego Forlan drove the attack.

Player you'll know soon enough: Jose Maria Gimenez, 21, started 27 La Liga games for Atletico Madrid alongside Godin at center back. He is one of the few youngsters in a team loaded with players over 30.
 
JAMAICA. How the U.S. team performs at major competitions is one of the barometers by which MLS is judged, yet the Jamaicans could field as many league starters as the host nation, despite the withdrawal of San Jose attacker Simon Dawkins because of injury.

Keeper Andre Blake has played a vital role in Philadelphia’s rise to the top of the Eastern Conference, the defense and midfield are well-represented with Kemar Lawrence, Jermaine Taylor and Je-Vaughn Watson, and forward Giles Barnes is one of the players who will be counted on for goals.

Jamaica should feel right at home in this competition; aside from its MLS representatives, it rolled to four straight victories last summer at the Gold Cup that included a semifinal triumph over the USA. Its success in that competition was honed by solid efforts at the 2015 Copa America, so on both the Concacaf and Conmebol fronts the Caribbean nation is well-prepared.

Unfortunately, its game against Mexico is at the Rose Bowl in what will be a hostile environment of the highest order and the Reggae Boyz will be a decided underdog against Uruguay as well.

Player you know: Blake started both World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica in March and at 25 is primed for long, successful runs with club and country.

Player you'll know soon enough: Defender Wes Morgan helped backstop Leicester City’s incredible capture of the Premier League title and played well in last year’s arduous run of games.
 
VENEZUELA. Last year at the Copa America, Venezuela shocked Colombia, 1-0, in its opening game. It kicks off the Centenario against fellow underdog Jamaica a few hours before Mexico tangles with Uruguay, and so the interesting dynamic is whether the minnows go all-out for a victory or regard this first match as one they cannot lose.

One-third of the way through its 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Venezuela is mired in last place with only a single point extracted from six matches. If its players see this tournament as a shot at redemption, Venezuela will be a worthy if outmanned foe. If not, it could be blanked pointless.

Player you know: Salomon Rondon (nine goals in the EPL for West Brom) has a big task on his hands in leading the line.

Player you'll know soon enough: Torino forward Josef Martinez, 23, has also shown flashes of brilliance and at 23 is bright young talent who could have a breakout showing in the Copa.

Group C Schedule:
June 5 in Glendale, Arizona

Mexico vs. Uruguay
June 5 in Chicago
Jamaica vs. Venezuela
June 9 in Pasadena, California
Mexico vs. Jamaica
June 9 in Philadelphia

Uruguay vs. Venezuela
June 13 in Houston
Mexico vs. Venezuela
June 13 in Santa Clara, California
Uruguay vs. Jamaica

1 comment about "Copa Centenario Preview: Mexico and Uruguay a class above in Group C".
  1. R2 Dad, June 5, 2016 at 9:05 p.m.

    Mexico movement off the ball has been excellent. Even without Herrera El Tri hasn't missed a beat--dammit. Looking incisive in the attacking 3rd, and now against 10 men they will cruise against Suarez-less Uruguay. At 9-1 odds they are lookin' good.

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