Soccer

Copa America and European Championship lead way this summer

DeAndre Yedlin of the United States, controls the ball next to Colombia's Edwin Cardona during a Copa America Centenario Group A soccer match at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, June 3, 2016.
DeAndre Yedlin of the United States, controls the ball next to Colombia's Edwin Cardona during a Copa America Centenario Group A soccer match at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, June 3, 2016. AP

Forgive your soccer fan friends if they seem distracted over the next four weeks. It’s going to be hard to concentrate on work, or much of anything, with the Copa America Centenario and the European Championships going on at the same time.

Talk about a summer soccer bonanza! Consider it like a World Cup, split in two.

In the United States, the 16 best teams from the Americas have convened for a special 100th anniversary edition of the sport’s oldest international competition. Meanwhile, in France, the best 24 teams in Europe will compete for the Euro 2016 crown.

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The opening game is Friday at Stade de France, where France plays Romania.

World Cup champion Germany, host France, defending European champion Spain and England are the favorites for the European title. The Copa teams most likely to take home the trophy are Argentina, Brazil, Colombia or Uruguay.

But with the Euro field expanded from 16 to 24, there is a greater chance for upsets in the group stage. Greece was a surprise winner in 2004, and another dark horse could make a magical run this summer. There are a few Copa teams that might pull off shockers, as well.

Here are some outsiders to watch:

▪ Croatia: The last time Croatia played a major international event in France, the red-checkered fans went wild as their team finished third at the 1998 World Cup. That team beat Germany 3-0 in the quarterfinals and the Netherlands 2-1 in the third place game. This year’s collection of Croatian talent is the best since that group that included Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki.

Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic team up, and they’ll be joined by Mario Mandzukic, Milan Badelj, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Perisic. There’s a reason Croatia has lost only two games since the 2014 World Cup.

▪ Poland: Any team featuring Robert Lewandowski must be considered dangerous. The Bayern star scored a whopping 13 goals in 10 qualifying games. Poland scored 33 goals during qualifying, more than any other team. It has lost only once in two years — to Germany.

▪ Austria: Not since the 1930s have Austrian fans had more reason to be excited about their team. Austria was unbeaten through qualifying, won nine of 10 games and is led by a quartet of exciting players — Bayern Munich’s David Alaba, Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic, Leicester City’s Christian Fuchs and Marc Janko, who plays for FC Basel in Switzerland. Consider that they beat Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Swedish team 4-1 in Stockholm last fall.

▪ Wales: Gareth Bale is the world’s highest-paid player, and that counts for something. Only Spain, England and Romania allowed fewer goals in qualifying.

▪ Others to watch: Iceland and Ukraine.

As for the Copa surprise teams, keep an eye on Costa Rica and Jamaica. Los Ticos will be missing injured Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, but they showed with their magical run to the World Cup quarterfinals that they can play with the big boys. Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz raised eyebrows last summer with a Gold Cup win over the United States, and they also won a friendly at Chile.

CINCY SUCCESS

With all the excitement surrounding the Copa America, one of the biggest success stories in American soccer this year has slipped under the radar. It is the story of FC Cincinnati, an expansion USL team coached by former U.S. national team star John Harkes.

Cincinnati drew a league-record crowd of 23,375 to Nippert Stadium for its season-opening 1-0 win over Pittsburgh and followed that with 20,497 for a game against Louisville City FC. Through five games, the team is averaging a league-high 17,189 fans — which is better than six Major League Soccer teams.

Those numbers are staggering, considering the USL is the third-tier American league whose average attendance was 3,369 last season.

The best attendance in the higher-tier NASL is Minnesota’s 8,996. The NASL average is 5,088. Miami FC, an expansion team, is averaging 5,252 at FIU Stadium and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers’ attendance has plummeted to 1,340 from 4,518 last season — a drop of 70 percent.

Cincinnati’s numbers are on par with MLS, which averages 21,385 fans per game. Seattle (39,848) has the highest MLS attendance, followed by Orlando City (35,116). Cincinnati is outdrawing six MLS teams — Philadelphia Union, Columbus Crew, D.C. United, FC Dallas, Chicago Fire and Colorado Rapids.

FCC is doing well on the field, as well, with a 7-3-2 record. They lost 1-0 to the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup, ending a seven-match unbeaten streak. Nine players have scored for Cincinnati, and the team has quickly become one of the most aggressive in the league.

Who’s leading

MLS: East — Philadelphia (23), N.Y. and Montreal (19), NYC (18), Toronto (16). West — Colorado and Dallas (28), Real Salt Lake (23), Vancouver, Los Angeles (21).

NASL: N.Y. (18), Edmonton and Indianapolis (14), Minnesota, Carolina (13).

NWSL: Chicago (14), Washington, Portland (13) Orlando, West NY (12).

On the tube

Sunday: Jamaica vs. Venezuela (5 p.m., Fox), Mexico vs. Uruguay (8 p.m., FS1).

Monday: Panama vs. Bolovia (7 p.m., FS1), Argentina vs. Chile (10 p.m., FS1).

Tuesday: U.S. vs. Costa Rica (8 p.m., FS1), Colombia vs. Paraguay (10:30 p.m., FS1).

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