As Copa America Centenario kicks into Week 2, let’s take a moment to review the first week of what has been a very memorable tournament so far.
Without question, the biggest surprise is that Uruguay was eliminated and Venezuela advanced in Group C. Coming into the tournament, 15-time winner Uruguay was No. 9 in FIFA’s world rankings and leading World Cup qualifying, while Venezuela was ranked 77th and languishing in last place in qualifying, the only team without a win through six matches.
And yet, it is “La Vinotinto” that is still alive, assured of a quarterfinal berth, while the Uruguayans are packing their bags early after a stunning 1-0 loss to Venezuela following a 3-1 loss to Mexico. Venezuela opened the tournament with a mild upset — 1-0 over Jamaica — and then pulled the shocker over Uruguay.
It marks the first time in Copa America history that Venezuela has won back-to-back games.
“Today we showed the Rocky we have inside,” said Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel, the team’s former goalkeeper. “That fighter who never gives up, who may go down, but gets up again.”
Uruguay has to play a meaningless game Monday against Jamaica, and then heads home with a lot of questions.
“I am surprised. The majority of my players did not have a good game,” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez told reporters. “The Uruguay that we are saw today are a long way from the Uruguay we saw play not that long ago.”
▪ Biggest tantrum: Uruguay’s biggest star, Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, didn’t play a minute. And he was not happy about it. He was nursing a hamstring injury, and Tabarez thought he was not fit enough to play. Apparently, Suarez didn’t realize he was left off the active roster for the Venezuela game because he began warming up in the sideline. When he was told he couldn’t play, he punched the dugout wall, ripped off his cleats and tossed them toward the field. Would he have made a difference? We’ll never know.
▪ Most memorable goals: Let’s start with the Venezuelan goal that knocked Uruguay out of the tournament. Alejandro “Lobo” Guerra launched a long-range chip from midfield that sent Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera backpedaling. Muslera made a very athletic play to get there and got a finger on the ball, but it ricocheted off the post and West Brom’s Salomon Rondon pounced on it for the winning goal. Rondon became the first Venezuelan ever to score in three consecutive Copas.
Although it’s a goal American fans would rather forget, we must give a shout-out to Colombia’s Cristian Zapata, whose goal off a corner kick in the 8th minute against the U.S. team set the tone for the rest of the 2-0 Colombian victory.
Jermaine Jones’ bullet of a shot for the second goal against Costa Rica was one to remember. It was one of four the U.S. team scored that night in a 4-0 win over the Ticos. The others were scored by Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood and Graham Zusi.
Mexico’s Rafa Marquez also had a beautiful shot in the 85th minute in a 3-1 win over Uruguay.
▪ Leading scorers: Through the first 14 games, the leading scorer is Brazil’s Philippe Coutinho with three goals — the result of a hat trick in a 7-1 rout of Haiti. Colombia’s James Rodriguez, Paraguay’s Blas Perez and Brazil’s Renato Augusto each scored two goals leading into the weekend matches.
▪ Highest-scoring teams: Brazil (7 goals), Mexico (5), United States and Colombia (4), Peru (3).
▪ Thumbs up: To Fox, for hiring Fernando Fiore to add some spice and humor to the Copa broadcast. The Miami-based Argentine, nicknamed “El Presidente,” is a legend among Spanish-speaking viewers who watched him host Republica Deportiva on Univision from 1999 to 2014. He also worked as a World Cup commentator from 1990 to 2014. His goofy antics — including silly hats — are new to English speakers and seemed to catch co-host Alexi Lalas off guard at first, but the two are developing a good rapport that injects much-needed personality and fun to U.S. soccer coverage.
▪ Thumbs down: To whomever was in charge of playing the national anthems at University of Phoenix Stadium and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. It should have been a sign that Uruguay was in for a long week from the moment the team lined up for its national anthem before its opener against Mexico in Glendale, Arizona. Uruguayan players were ready to belt out their anthem, but the Chilean anthem played instead as some of the players mouthed out the words to their anthem anyway.
Organizers issued an apology. But the next day, there was another anthem blunder at Levi’s Stadium before the Argentina-Chile match. The Chilean players and fans were in the middle of singing their anthem when Pitbull’s tournament song blasted from the stadium speakers. Organizers explained that the abbreviated version of the anthem chosen was approved by the Chilean federation, but still an embarrassing moment.
▪ Upcoming matches: Sunday — Ecuador vs. Haiti (6:30 p.m.), Brazil vs. Peru (8:30 p.m.). Monday — Mexico vs. Venezuela (8 p.m.), Uruguay vs. Jamaica (10 p.m.). Tuesday — Chile vs. Panama (8 p.m.), Argentina vs. Bolivia (10 p.m.).
MLS: East — Philadelphia (23), N.Y. and Montreal (19), NYC (18), Toronto (16). West — Colorado and Dallas (28), Real Salt Lake (23), Vancouver and L.A. (21).
NASL: N.Y. (18), Indy, Tampa Bay, Fort Lauderdale (15), Carolina, Edmonton (14), Minnesota (13), OKC (11), Ottawa (8), Miami (7), Jacksonville (6).
NWSL: Chicago (14), Portland and Washington (13), Orlando and W. New York (12).
On the tube
Sunday: Turkey vs. Croatia (8:30 a.m., ESPN), Poland vs. Northern Ireland (11:30 a.m., ESPN), Germany vs. Ukraine (2:30 p.m., ESPN), Ft. Lauderdale vs. Edmonton (4 p.m., ESPN3), Brazil vs. Peru (8:30 p.m., FS1).