Copa America Group C preview: Mexico hopeful; Suarez injury key
Copa America’s most in-form team, one of its most in-form players and a near-facsimile of home field advantage all live in the tournament's Group C. What’s more, they all live within the same team. Though South American powers like Argentina and Brazil are popular picks to win the Copa America this summer, Mexico has all the ingredients to win what could arguably be the most consequential trophy in the country’s proud soccer history.
Mexico enters the summer tournament on an 11-game unbeaten run in competitive games, including eight wins in a row, and it has yet to concede a goal in five games under manager Juan Carlos Osorio (five games). It balances an experienced, battle-tested defense, a savvy midfield, and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez up top. Mexico games seem to draw well wherever they take place in the U.S., but the location of El Tri’s three group games (Glendale, Arizona; Pasadena, California; Houston) ensures that the team will be playing in front of raucous, pro-Mexican crowds every time.
Uruguay striker Luis Suarez’s hamstring injury makes the rest of Mexico’s group seem a bit easier than it would otherwise, but not by much. Uruguay has enough quality throughout its side and is dogged enough defensively that it can still give Mexico a run for the group even without Suarez, but the task will be tougher than it looked a month ago.
If Suarez’s injury does affect Uruguay’s effectiveness in this tournament, Jamaica would be a good bet to take advantage and possibly nip the second spot in the group. However, the team will be reliant on veteran Giles Barnes for goals and hasn't been in great form since finishing as runner-up in last year’s Gold Cup.
Venezuela is another outfit that could surprise, with intriguing individuals in all three lines. However, the team hasn’t been in good form, currently sitting last in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying. There aren’t a whole lot of reasons to think La Vinotinto could turn that around in Copa America.
Match schedule (All times Eastern)
June 5: Jamaica-Venezuela at Soldier Field in Chicago, 5 p.m.
June 5: Mexico-Uruguay at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, 8 p.m.
June 9: Uruguay-Venezuela at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.
June 9: Mexico-Jamaica at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, 10 p.m.
June 13: Mexico-Venezuela at NRG Stadium in Houston, 8 p.m.
June 13: Uruguay-Jamaica at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, 10 p.m.
Five players to watch
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Mexico: The Mexico forward bagged 26 goals this season for Bayer Leverkusen, a career high. His pace and instincts in front of goal are among the best in the world, and his continued good form will be imperative if Mexico is to live up to its potential in this tournament.
Miguel Layun, Mexico: He may not score goals like Chicharito, but Layun’s ability to stretch defenses with his width, work rate, and passing ability will be very important in making those goals happen. Layun is fresh off a solid 15-assist season with Porto in the Portuguese league, and Mexico will hope he has a few more this summer.
Edinson Cavani, Uruguay: If Suarez is out, or limited, the onus will be on Cavani to score (which he's done plenty this season at PSG), and also come through in big moments—something he hasn't done at PSG. However, Cavani does have a stellar record scoring for his national team. Either way, his ability to deal with the pressure of being Uruguay’s primary scoring option will help determine his team’s fate.
Wes Morgan, Jamaica: The captain of surprise EPL champion Leicester City, Morgan obviously has the leadership qualities one wants in a back line marshal. Morgan is also a commanding physical presence, and his matchups with dangerous attackers like Chicharito, Cavani, and others will be fascinating to watch.
Salomon Rondon, Venezuela: Rondon is coming off a solid debut season in the English Premier League with West Bromwich Albion, including a memorable one against none other than Morgan and Leicester City. He’ll hope to repeat that feat, albeit while wearing different colors.
Jamaica hasn’t been in great form lately, having only won twice in seven games since making a run to the Gold Cup final in 2015. However, the team has that oh-so-important experience of a deep tourney run, and should be tough to break down given the presence of Morgan and goalkeeper Andre Blake, who has been in excellent form for the Philadelphia Union this year.
Two picked to advance