Copa America: Friday-Saturday Picks

Copa America: Friday-Saturday Picks

This article is part of our Copa America series.

GROUP A

COLOMBIA VS. USA
PARAGUAY VS. COSTA RICA

As an American and a fan of Major League Soccer since the beginning days, I have always been content with the fact that soccer in the United States was largely under the radar, the passionate fan bases confined to a small segment of the population. Often treated as an opening act for the "Big 4" sports, major soccer tournaments have never held much intrigue outside of the fervent patriotism that shows up every four years for the World Cup. Something seems different about the Copa America, however.

Whether it is our duties as host nation, or the 100-year anniversary of this prestigious tournament I am still unsure, but much of the rabid support and television placement that I witnessed in England has made its way across the pond. Unfortunately for US supporters looking to sink their teeth into an international tournament, this is not going to be a comfortable ride for Jurgen Klinsmann's squad. This Group A matchup might be the USA's biggest test of the group stage, and while it is always nice to 'put your best foot forward,' this group also features Paraguay and Costa Rica, making it arguably the toughest group of them all. Colombia are loaded with talent up front, and while everyone will be talking about James Rodriguez (Real Madrid) and the statement he needs to make for his rumored Manchester United transfer, it is impossible to overlook players such as Milan's Carlos Bacca, Tijuana's

GROUP A

COLOMBIA VS. USA
PARAGUAY VS. COSTA RICA

As an American and a fan of Major League Soccer since the beginning days, I have always been content with the fact that soccer in the United States was largely under the radar, the passionate fan bases confined to a small segment of the population. Often treated as an opening act for the "Big 4" sports, major soccer tournaments have never held much intrigue outside of the fervent patriotism that shows up every four years for the World Cup. Something seems different about the Copa America, however.

Whether it is our duties as host nation, or the 100-year anniversary of this prestigious tournament I am still unsure, but much of the rabid support and television placement that I witnessed in England has made its way across the pond. Unfortunately for US supporters looking to sink their teeth into an international tournament, this is not going to be a comfortable ride for Jurgen Klinsmann's squad. This Group A matchup might be the USA's biggest test of the group stage, and while it is always nice to 'put your best foot forward,' this group also features Paraguay and Costa Rica, making it arguably the toughest group of them all. Colombia are loaded with talent up front, and while everyone will be talking about James Rodriguez (Real Madrid) and the statement he needs to make for his rumored Manchester United transfer, it is impossible to overlook players such as Milan's Carlos Bacca, Tijuana's Dayro Moreno, and Monterrey's Edwin Cardona. The United States will rely on a mixed approach, pairing a heavily MLS-based attack with a group of defenders representing international clubs. Stoke City's Geoff Cameron and Tottenham's DeAndre Yedlin will be instrumental in suppressing the Colombian attack, while the role of goalscoring still lands on the shoulders of older, but impactful, players such as Seattle's Clint Dempsey, Toronto's Michael Bradley, and Colorado's Jermaine Jones. All indications point to a David Ospina/Brad Guzan matchup in goal.

The other opening matchup in Group A, the group which I am giving the 'group of death' designation (because every tournament needs one!), pits Paraguay against Costa Rica. Paraguay had fallen on hard times following its run to the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup, however, their semifinal showing in the 2015 edition of this tournament was very encouraging. Perhaps the most unspectacular team in Group A, Paraguay structures its matches around its solid defending, but ESPNFC's Tom Marshall puts it best when he simply says "[Paraguay] will have to be much more creative in the final third if it is to be a threat…" This was on display in their shutout loss to Mexico in their last tune-up, where we saw the typical Paraguayan international tactic. Colo Colo's Justo Villar should be the goalkeeper of choice, and he will be protected by a fearsome pair of defenders from CF America in Liga MX: Pablo Aguilar and Dario Lezcano (Ingolstadt) got a long look over international stalwart Roque Santa Cruz (Malaga), but whether that was scheduled rest for the 38-year-old is yet to be seen. This match will most likely be the most important for these two squads, as it could be the decider for who follows Colombia through. Costa Rica comes into the match on the heels of bad news, however, as their No. 1 goalkeeper Keylor Navas will miss the tournament with injury, handing the net to Saprissa's Danny Carvajal.

Costa Rica has been a nation playing with a purpose for much of the last few years, with an impressive quarterfinal showing at the 2014 World Cup and an unbeaten run through World Cup qualifying this time around. Before the Navas injury, many people predicted Costa Rica to be a strong contender in this group, and though Carvajal is no slouch in net, Costa Rica is another team that depends heavily on defending and goalkeeping to win matches. A good mix of under-the-radar players from European clubs make up the roster, but MLS players Christian Bolanos (Vancouver) and Alvaro Saborio (DC United) need to make an impact up front to ease the pressure on their second-choice goalkeeper.

GROUP B
BRAZIL vs. ECUADOR
PERU vs. HAITI

Contrary to popular belief, the "B" in Group B does not stand for Brazil. Neymar is the most obvious omission, but being led by a manager who has already been sacked for questionable roster decisions, it is much easier to just list the names that won't be participating: Oscar, Thiago Silva and Kaka, who was named to the squad late after Douglas Costa pulled out, has withdrawn participation due to injury. Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid) still provides some offensive ability from the back end, and responsibility for Brazil's trademark creativity falls on Chelsea's Willian and Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho.

The question up front will become much more intriguing as the tournament goes on: Hulk (Zenit) should be plenty to get them through their group, but can this roster challenge Argentina or Colombia? We will have to wait and see. Ecuador, on the other hand, are one of my favorite looks this tournament. Ecuador sit at their highest FIFA ranking ever after tearing through World Cup qualifying with wins over Argentina and Uruguay, and they seem poised to strike an upset here. Given the strengths of the teams entering the tournament, however, I'm not sure how much of an upset an Ecuador win over Brazil would actually be. Even without Felipe Caicedo, a trio of Premier League attackers will give Ecuador a very potent punch in this tournament; pay close attention to Jefferson Montero (Swansea) and Antonio Valencia (Manchester United).

Even though Brazil is not the juggernaut it has been in years past and this group is a bit more open that it would seem, the Peru vs. Haiti matchup has all the making of a consolation prize for both squads. There isn't much to say about this Haiti team, which played well to make an appearance in this tournament but will be surely overwhelmed by superpowers Brazil and Ecuador. A team made up of mostly Ligue 1 reserves and second-tier American league players will be happy with any result, but they can pride themselves on their defense of late. Likely goalkeeper Johnny Placide (Reims) has played well with assist from the backline, however, Haiti has failed to score in any World Cup qualifier at this point and their lack of creative offense should see them as an easy out. Laval's Duckens Nazon is their best chance up front.

Peru, on the other hand, is a team that nobody has given any thought to but can still make a scene in this group. Although their usual roster is mostly absent, many young Peruvian players have been on audition lately and this team makes an excellent surprise squad. Feyenoord's Renato Tapia and Universitario's Andy Polo have been intriguing additions and could cause a few problems for Ecuador and Brazil. They should muscle past Haiti easily, but with a strong effort against Brazil, they could be fun to watch.

FRIDAY-SATURDAY PLAYER RECOMMENDATIONS

FORWARDS

Dayro Moreno, COL vs. USA ($6,600): You would have to go back to early March in Liga MX play to find the last time Moreno had fewer than double-digit fantasy points in a match. With the new (old?) DraftKings scoring, fewer roster spots mean that forwards must shoulder more of the "floor" responsibility. I think this Colombia attack will be powerful, and Moreno will be the spearhead for James' creativity. This is the cheapest way to get exposure to a multi-goal ceiling.

Dario Lezcano, PAR vs. CRC ($5,400): Pay close attention to starting lineups, as Lezcano is not a lock. However, in the last tune-up against Mexico he was given plenty of rope on the field and showed some good creativity and intuition. Costa Rica gives up an enormous number of shots, and without Keylor Navas in net, Lezcano will have a good chance to put one in if he is given ample room.

Duckens Nazon, HAI vs. PER ($3,900): The hot take to end all hot takes, but truly all credit to DraftKings for tweaking the salaries again as roster construction remains genuinely difficult. Nazon is the cheapest forward on the board, and though this is a pure tournament play, he is Haiti's best hope for a goal. They have not scored in ages, but if they are feeling inspired, it will be Nazon who slots it home, and he will certainly be the lowest owned player on your roster.

MIDFIELDERS

James Rodriguez, COL vs. USA ($9,500): This is a slate where you will have to spend money on your midfield, and while the price is high, it's hard to ignore the upside potential that James brings to this matchup. While it certainly won't be a romp over the hosts, Colombia has a very potent attack and James should be the creative force controlling it. He has too much to prove to European suitors to have a quiet tournament.

Philippe Coutinho, BRA vs. ECU ($6,800): While Willian might be the most skilled player on Brazil's roster, it's very difficult to justify his $9,600 price. Brazil is not the creative masterpiece that it has been in previous international tournaments, and that is precisely the reason I like the Liverpool man here. He has improved in all areas of his game this season, but his biggest improvement has come with his shot; he is taking more, and he is becoming more accurate from distance.

Darlington Nagbe, USA vs. COL ($6,100): There is nothing I like about this price, but there is everything to love about Nagbe at the moment. He has hit the button that turned his offense on in MLS play, and he even took eight shots in his last match. If the USA falls behind early, it will be all systems go on attack, and this may be the tournament where we finally see the old guard being changed out for players like Nagbe.

Andy Polo, PER vs. HAI ($5,700): Unfortunately, I will reiterate that midfield is not a position where you can afford to spend down on this slate; the pricing is too sharp and the budget is too tight. Polo is probably the best sub-$6K midfielder, but again, his role on the team is still TBA. As a player, however, he is attack minded and should be very low owned.

DEFENSE

Renato Tapia, PER vs. HAI ($4,400): A clean sheet bonus is a very good bet for Peru, but knowing that they need to win this opener by a wide margin to have a shot of advancing means that possession will be pushed forward every opportunity. Tapia oozes skill and touch and will be responsible for sending in crosses. His lack of game log should see him quite low owned as well, but this has been a player to watch in the tuneups.

Walter Ayovi, ECU vs. BRA ($3,900): Ayovi is a 'been there, done that' type of seasoned veteran that is poised to see Ecuador have their best tournament in a very long time, and the stability that he brings to this squad cannot be overlooked. He is a step slower at this point in his career, but he reads the game brilliantly and is always in position to make tackles. He does have attacking upside, albeit limited to assists and a few crosses.

John Stefan Medina, COL vs. USA ($3,600): Sometimes great defenders don't have the ability to put up fantasy statistics, however, Medina is great on both ends of the field. He sends in crosses and piles up tackles and interceptions, which are must-need stats for a defender in this price bracket.

GOALKEEPER

Danny Carvajal, CRC vs. PAR ($3,900): The upside that Carvajal brings for the price makes this a no-brainer. The cheapest goalkeeper on the slate that is likely to see the field, he will face a ton of shots. Costa Rica gives up a massive number of shots, however, they rarely concede. Carvajal may be the top choice on the board regardless of price.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Henne
Chris is a former soccer player turned soccer handicapper and daily fantasy sports player. He's currently pursuing a PhD.
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