Soccer

Copa America Centenario: A team-by-team guide of players to watch

AP

The Copa America Cenatario kicks off Friday. It’s a historic tournament not usually played on U.S. soil, and it will bring some of soccer’s biggest stars Stateside. For casual fans here in the States, keeping track of international players during their professional seasons is hard work, so here’s a player to watch from each of the 16 teams.

Group A

United States

Christian Pulisic — The 17-year-old is on the cusp of becoming the next-big-thing in American soccer, and the Copa might just be the place where he does it. The youngster has been starting for Champions League-bound Borussia Dortmund, one of the best clubs in Germany, and will provide a change of pace for the U.S. up front. The future is bright for this one.

Colombia

James Rodriguez — The midfielder had a stellar 2014 World Cup and made a splash with a six-year contract with perennial power Real Madrid. However, Rodriguez has languished on the bench with the Spanish giants and is reportedly eying a move to Manchester United. He should be the focal point for a talented Colombia team.

Costa Rica

Joel Campbell — The Arsenal forward also emerged at the 2014 World Cup and will look to be the play maker for a Costa Rica team that could struggle at times with the loss of star goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Paraguay

Juan Itrube — The AFC Bournemouth loaner drew comparisons to Messi early in his career, but he has been somewhat of a disappointment since given his five-year, €22 million contract. Itrube was once in contention for the Argentina national team, but his career arc led him to Paraguay.

Group B

Brazil

Philippe Coutinho — International star Neymar withdrew from the Copa so he could play in the Olympics, leaving Coutinho to be the figurehead. Coutinho plays for Liverpool and is being targeted for transfer by French powerhouse PSG this summer. Look for the midfielder to link up with striker Hulk or perhaps grab a highlight of his own, which he is more than capable of doing:

Ecuador

Antonio Valencia — The Manchester United midfielder will try to help Ecuador escape Group B. Speedy down the wing, the 30-year-old will try to find teammate Enner Valencia in the middle.

Haiti

Jeff Louis — By far the most talented player on the Haiti team, the 23-year-old winger will be the best bet to make something happen.

Peru

Paolo Guerrero — The striker had stints with Bayern Munich and Hamburg in Germany and currently plays in Brazil. He tied or led the team in goals in the 2011 and 2015 Copa Americas.

Group C

Mexico

Javier Hernandez — Better known as Chicharito, the striker scored 26 goals last year for Bayern Leverkusen after disappointing campaigns for Manchester United and Real Madrid. If he continues his current form, El Tri could be dangerous.

Uruguay

Luis Suarez — Suarez is one of the top five best players in the world, when he isn’t biting people. The striker is coming off a year in which he tallied an absurd 62 goals in 57 appearances for Barcelona, including six hat-tricks. Suarez is coming off a hamstring injury and may not play in the group stage, but as Suarez goes, so does Uruguay.

Jamaica

Wes Morgan — The central defender played a key role in Leicester City’s miracle season as a 32-year-old. Figure on Morgan to do the same for Jamaica as they try to beat out Mexico and Uruguay for the top two spots in the group.

Venezuela

Salomón Rondón — Not much is expected of Venezuela in the Copa this year. The team has steadily dropped 38 places in the FIFA rankings since 2013 to 77 overall, the Los Angeles Times reported. Rondón should be one of the few bright spots and is coming off a 10-goal season at West Bromich Albion in the Premier League.

Group D

Argentina

Lionel Messi — One of the best — if not the best — player of all-time. Not much more needs to be said. Messi has had bad luck with the national team, never winning a major international trophy. Perhaps that will change this year.

Chile

Arturo Vidal — Some would argue that Alexis Sanchez should be the player to watch for Chile. However, Vidal is more important to the success of the team. The Bayern Munich midfielder is a workhorse that does the dirty work defensively. He is coming off a knee injury but is expected to start against Mexico. He’ll be easy to pick out due to his haircut — you won’t miss it.

Panama

Ismael Diaz — The 19-year-old sat out a few friendlies leading up to the Copa due to injury, but look for him to be dangerous on the ball. The striker scored 13 goals for the Portuguese Porto B team this past year and is the only Panamanian player on the roster that plays in Europe.

Bolivia

Alejandro Melean — The American-born-and-raised midfielder is looking to move from his parents home country back to MLS. The American teams will be hard pressed to miss the 28-year-old on their home soil.

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