Friday, June 3, 2016

2016 Copa America Predictions

Copa America Centenario begins tonight with USA-Colombia. This is the biggest soccer event on American soil since the 1994 World Cup, and, as I proposed on Last Word Soccer Club Radio last night, could be a dry run for a potential 2026 World Cup bid for the United States.

The USA isn't one of the favorites for the tournament, but how far can they go? Jurgen Klinsmann says he wants them to make the semi-finals, but that is a lofty ambition. The quarterfinals are a more realistic target, but even that will be a challenge. Let's begin with the USA's group, termed the group of death for this special edition of South America's regional championship.

Group A
United States
Costa Rica

Colombia are the favorites here. They have the most talent and are the deepest squad of this field. They take on the USA in the opening match of the tournament tonight. The result of that one will not be overly significant for the USA's chances of advancing. A point there would be fantastic, but a loss would not severely derail their efforts to make the quarterfinals.

The match that will determine their fate will be Tuesday night's clash with Costa Rica in Chicago. If the Yanks come out of that will three points, then they will move along. To be honest, a point may even be enough since I feel that they should be able to dispose of Paraguay without much difficulty.

Colombia will win the group, probably with seven points or more. The USA is my pick for second, with Costa Rica right on their tails and Paraguay bringing up the rear.

Predicted order of finish:
1. Colombia- 7 pts
2. USA- 5 pts
3. Costa Rica- 4 pts
4. Paraguay- 0 pts

Group B

Brazil are far and away the leaders here. Being without Neymar should not adversely affect their ability to storm through this group with relative ease. Ecuador will be their biggest challenge, but even that should be a small bump in the road for them. El Tricolor will likely come in second, but Haiti can be a tricky team to play. They have made a few waves throughout CONCACAF in recent years and could end up giving Ecuador a rough time, but not enough for them to leap into the quarters. Peru, thanks for playing. They will be lucky to get out with a single point this time around.

Predicted order of finish:
1. Brazil- 9 pts
2. Ecuador- 6 pts
3. Haiti- 3 pts
4. Peru- 0 pts

Group C

There are a lot of folks out there who think this is Mexico's tournament to lose. They will have a home field advantage with their three group stage matches being played in markets with huge Mexican-American populations and that are short hops away from the Mexican border. Their one major test will be their opener agaisnt Uruguay in Glendale, Arizona. The crowd could very well be enough to push them through there. Uruguay are the next best team in the group and they may well be better than El Tri. Part of me likes them to escape this group on top, but second place could be more likely for them.

Jamaica are a difficult matchup for anyone. Their above expectations performance in last summer's Gold Cup makes them a dark horse team to cause an upset. I think they will fall short, but they will make an entertaining run.

Predicted order of finish:
1. Mexico- 7 pts
2. Uruguay- 7 pts
3. Jamaica- 3 pts
4. Venezuela- 0 pts

Group D

Argentina are my personal pick to with the whole thing at Copa America Centenario. They have the most talent, even without Lionel Messi in the squad. They are the most motivated, having not won a major tournament in over 20 years. They have themselves a favorable draw, getting matched up with two lower end sides and Chile, who are the defending champions. The early rematch of last year's final will take center stage here, and I expect Argentina to make it through Chile when all is said and done.

Chile is still a great team that will recover to finish second. Panama and Bolivia will bring up the rear. Panama is one of the better teams in CONCACAF, but they lag behind Haiti and Jamaica in that second tier. Bolivia, who play well at home with their extreme altitude, will struggle closer to sea level against this strong field.

Predicted order of finish;
1. Argentina- 9 pts
2. Chile- 6 pts
3. Panama- 1 pt
4. Bolivia- 1 pt

As for who wins it all, I am picking Argentina. They are the most talented and the most hungry for a title, Brazil and Mexico should make strong runs, but in the end, I feel Argentina will come out on top and what should be a fun Copa America tournament.

I like the USA to bow out in the quarterfinals here. If for no other reason than their second place finish leading to a knockout round match against Brazil, who always give the USA trouble in competitive matches. I would consider that a successful run, too. With Jurgen Klinsmann's job under fire, he needs at least a trip to the quarters to solidify his supporters and calm down his critics.

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