Sadly, none of the Copa America Centenario matches will be played in South Florida in the coming weeks. Sun Life Stadium would have been a perfect venue for the tournament, which features the finest 16 teams in the Americas, but the timing didn’t work because of the stadium renovations.
Local soccer fans can, however, get a sneak preview of the Colombian and Haitian teams at a 5 p.m. Sunday friendly at Marlins Park. The teams are using the match as a warmup for Copa America, which kicks off Friday in Santa Clara, California, with the opener between host United States and Colombia at 9:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1, Univision, UniMas).
“Los Cafeteros” are led by 2014 World Cup Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez. The Real Madrid playmaker is expected to attend the Haiti game Sunday but not play because he will be flying to Miami from Saturday’s Champions League final in Milan, Italy.
Even without Rodriguez, the Colombian roster features many well-known names, including Carlos Bacca and Cristian Zapata of AC Milan, David Ospina of Arsenal, Jeison Murilla of Inter and Juan Cuadrado of Juventus.
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Colombia reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup and last summer lost to Argentina in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals of the 2015 Copa America. Through six games of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Colombia is in fourth place, tied with Chile with 10 points, behind Uruguay and Ecuador (13) and Argentina (11).
In recent matches, Colombia beat Bolivia 3-2 and Ecuador 3-1.
“A few months ago we weren’t doing well; there were doubts,” Rodriguez told Spanish reporters. “But in the last two games we have improved. Now we have new players who help a lot, and now we are doing better. In the last Copa America it didn’t go well for us, we weren’t playing so well. But this is a new opportunity.”
Rodriguez’s role on Real Madrid has diminished since Zinedine Zidane took over as coach in January, and he is the subject of transfer rumors to Manchester City or Arsenal.
Colombia is in Group A for Copa America with the United States, Paraguay and Costa Rica.
“We got a tough draw,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone has a chance, but I think if we play well and we play each game with intensity we will advance. Costa Rica has grown a lot. They have Keylor [Navas, the Real Madrid goalkeeper]. Paraguay is always tough, and the United States in the past few years have really come up. It is going to be tough, but if our quality and desire is good we can pass to next round.”
Haiti is in Group B with Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. Coach Patrice Neveu called in six U.S.-based players, five from NASL — including Jean Alexandre of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers — and midfielder Soni Mustivar from Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City.
Mustivar, 26, is a Haiti-France dual citizen and has played 11 matches in the Haitian jersey.
“This is an opportunity that many of us dream about,” Mustivar said. “To represent Haiti at Copa America is an honor, and I look forward to competing against the top teams in our region.”
Haiti, No. 71 in the FIFA world rankings, reached the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup last summer and beat Trinidad and Tobago in January to earn the Copa America berth.
Fans in Haiti will be able to watch the Copa America thanks, in part, to U.S. forward Jozy Altidore, a Haitian-American who grew up in Boca Raton. Altidore is teaming with the St. Luke Foundation to host watch parties in areas of Haiti where fans would not otherwise have had access to the tournament.
“When Haiti qualified I just thought it’d be a cool thing, because they haven’t qualified for a major tournament since the World Cup [in 1974],” Altidore told SI.com. “I thought this would be something cool knowing how much Haitian people love their national team … to have thousands of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to see the matches broadcast the group games and see them perform.”
Haiti plays Peru on June 4, Brazil on June 8 and Ecuador on June 12.
“I think they can surprise some people, and hopefully they do,” Altidore said.
▪ Coming Up: Venezuela plays Guatemala on Wednesday at Lockhart Stadium to prepare for the Copa America. The “Vinotinto” are under new coach Rafael Dudamel, the former national team goalkeeper. The match is at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at compreboletos.com or at 877-737-3376.
▪ U.S. Open Cup: South Florida’s two NASL teams face third-round matches in the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers host the Richmond Kickers (USL), and Miami FC plays the Wilmington Hammerheads (USL) at FIU Stadium at 8 p.m. The Hammerheads won their second-round game 6-0 over Miami Fusion FC (NPSL).
MLS: East — Philadelphia (19), NYC (17), Montreal, D.C., N.Y. and Toronto (16). West — Colorado (27), Dallas (26), Real Salt Lake, Vancouver and L.A. (20).
NASL: N.Y. (15), Edmonton (14), Minnesota, Indy and Carolina (13), Fort Laud. (12), Tampa Bay (9).
NWSL: Washington and Chicago (13), Portland, Orlando and Western N.Y. (12).
On the tube
Sunday: Toulon Tournament championship (12:35 p.m., BEIN, BEINÑ), Portugal vs. Norway (3:35 p.m., BEIN), Panama vs. Brazil (9:20 p.m., BEIN).
GOALKEEPERS: David Ospina (Arsenal), Robinson Zapata (Santa Fe), Cristian Bonilla (Atletico Nacional)
DEFENDERS: Felipe Aguilar (Atletico Nacional), Santiago Arias (PSV), Farid Diaz (Atletico Nacional), Frank Fabra (Boca Juniors), Oscar Murillo (Pachuca), Cristian Zapata (AC Milan), Jeison Murillo (Inter Milan), Stefan Medina (Pachuca)
MIDFIELDERS: James Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus), Carlos Sanchez (Aston Villa), Guillermo Celis (Junior FC), Daniel Torres (Independiente Medellin), Andres Roa (Deportivo Cali), Sebastian Perez (Atletico Nacional), Edwin Cardona (Monterrey)
FORWARDS: Carlos Bacca (AC Milan), Dayro Moreno (Tijuana), Roger Martinez (Racing Club), Marlos Moreno (Atletico Nacional)
GOALKEEPERS: Johnny Placide (Reims), Steward Ceus (Minnesota United), Luis Valendi Odelus (Aigle Noir)
DEFENDERS: Jean Sony Alcenat (Voluntari), Judelin Aveska (Atletico Uruguay), Reginal Goreaux (Standard Liege), Kim Jaggy (Aarau), Alex Junior Christian (Vila Real), Mechak Jerome (Jacksonville Armada), Romain Genevois (Nice), Stephane Lambese (PSG)
MIDFIELDERS: Jean Alexandre (Fort Lauderdale Strikers), Max Hilaire (Cholet), Soni Mustivar (Sporting Kansas City), James Marcelin (Carlona Railhawks), Pascal Millien (Jacksonville Armada), Sony Norde (Mohun Bagan), Kevin Lafrance (Chrobry Glogow)
FORWARDS: Kervens Belfort (1461 Trabzon), Duckens Nazon (Laval), Jeff Louis (Caen), Jean-Eudes Maurice (Sai Gon), Wilde-Donald Guerrier (Wisla Krakow)