Predicting the Major MLS, U-20 World Cup and International Fixtures This Weekend
Thought this weekend was just going to be a non-football weekend?
It might not have the abundance of World Cup qualifiers, Confederations Cup matches or domestic European football that we've come to expect this year, but the weekend ahead still has plenty of worthwhile fixtures lined up.
From the Gold Cup to Major League Soccer in the United States to the semifinals of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, there's a stack of matches worth keeping an eye on this weekend and a host of winners and losers to be found as well.
Which teams will emerge from the weekend ahead in the winners circle? Read on and find out.
Ghana U-20 vs. Iraq U-20
Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 11 a.m. ET
FIFA U-20 World Cup, bronze medal match, Ali Sami Yen Stadium, Istanbul, Turkey
Ghana and Iraq will both have been disappointed with their close semifinal losses during the week, but now find themselves with a chance to close out the tournament with a win—something that both squads deserve after an impressive showing in the Under-20 World Cup so far.
Ghana have been one of the best attacking teams in the tournament this year, with the African nation sitting second behind France in total goals for the competition. They also rank first for total shots on goal—something they'll no doubt be looking to increase again here against Iraq.
Iraq played their third 120-minute match in a row against Uruguay during the week and finally saw their luck run out against the South Americans. They had previously defeated Paraguay and South Korea both in extra time and were looking to make it three straight wins, but were defeated in a heartbreaking penalty shootout. And while that might not seem like much, the fact they've played substantially more minutes than Ghana could have a very big impact here, affecting their fitness and fatigue levels.
Ghana have shown to be too good in attack this tournament and should score plenty of goals against a pretty flat Iraqi team. They'll definitely concede goals as well—given their lack of defensive solidity—but it's hard to see the Africans being beaten for the bronze medal given their form so far.
Prediction: Ghana 3, Iraq 1
France U-20 vs. Uruguay U-20
Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 2 p.m. ET
FIFA U-20 World Cup Final, Ali Sami Yen Stadium
Can the French be stopped?
That's the question that is seemingly on everybody's lips after the European powerhouse stormed their away to another victory against Ghana in the semifinals despite finishing with only 10 men.
France were simply too strong in attack, and while they did allow just their sixth goal for the tournament in defense, it was their potency in midfield and ability to win back possession that was the biggest turning point in their semifinal. They're in excellent form and will definitely be the favorite heading into the final against a Uruguay side that needed more than a little bit of luck to dispose of their semifinal opponent.
Winning through 7-6 in a penalty shootout, Uruguay will no doubt be on a huge high at the moment and will look to carry that momentum through to their final match.
They'll be led by the likes of Nicolas Lopez in attack and held together by recent Manchester United signing Guillermo Varela at the back—so there's certainly no shortage of talent from the South Americans.
But when you're up against one of the hottest junior teams in football and one boasting striker duo Florian Thauvin and Yaya Sanogo as well as Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, this one can only go one way.
Prediction: France 2, Uruguay 0
United States vs. Cuba
Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 3:30 p.m. ET
CONCACAF Gold Cup, Group C, Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
The United States will make it two wins in two tries when they take on Cuba at the Gold Cup this weekend. There's no point even trying to argue the other side of the coin, because the reality is that the USMNT are a far superior team than their Caribbean opponents and will definitely prove that to be the case.
Having thumped Belize 6-1 in their opening match (and barely breaking a sweat in doing so), the United States will look to improve their points differential even further with a win here. Cuba were handsomely beaten 3-0 by an otherwise underwhelming Costa Rica side, and it's hard to see them playing any better than that against a United States side packed with exciting talent.
The loss will see the United States move further clear on top of Group C; the loss will all but end Cuba's chance of making it through to the knockout stages given how poor their points differential will look after 90 minutes; and questions about the necessity of the Gold Cup will no doubt be raised once more.
It's not a matter of if the United States win, but rather, by how much. And given what we've seen in the tournament so far, the answer to that question is seemingly a lot.
Prediction: United States 8, Cuba 0
Costa Rica vs. Belize
Saturday, July 13, 2013 at 6 p.m. ET
CONCACAF Gold Cup, Group C, Rio Tinto Stadium
While Costa Rica's match against Belize might seem a little closer than the United States' fixture against Cuba, the reality is that this one also could be destined for a pretty spectacular blowout.
Costa Rica were very impressive against Cuba and showed some real form in the middle of the field, whereas their opponents were made to look second- or third-class against a United States outfit that, in all honesty, really didn't play all that well given the circumstances.
Belize did manage to nab a goal against the USMNT (which was a pretty big shock in itself), yet even if they do that here, it's hard to see them netting often enough to stop Costa Rica from pulling ahead. And when the floodgates start to open, who knows when the Central American nation will eventually stop?
I don't think it will be as bad as the United States' win, but it will be more clinical—something that probably won't make Belize feel any better about their Gold Cup campaign.
Prediction: Costa Rica 5, Belize 0
Martinique vs. Mexico
Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 6 p.m. ET
CONCACAF Gold Cup, Group A, Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colo.
On paper, this fixture is seemingly not even worth writing about.
Mexico are one of the best young teams in the world and proved that with a gold-medal victory over Brazil in the 2012 London Olympics. They are well ranked in FIFA's latest rankings and possess a number of world-class players who are seemingly more than capable of disposing of the tiny Martinique.
After all, few would even be able to find Martinique on a map.
However, the tiny Caribbean island shocked the world with their performance against Canada—stealing a 1-0 win thanks to an incredible strike from distance. They'll carry plenty of confidence with them into their fixture against Mexico, who have constantly struggled throughout the year in World Cup qualifiers, the Confederations Cup as well as the CONCACAF Gold Cup so far.
Mexico almost daren't lose this match for fear of how their supporters will respond to a coaching staff already under mountains of pressure. Whether that inspires them to play well or just heaps more pressure on them still remains to be seen, but either way, expect El Tri to emerge on top.
They just have too much to play for, and too much to lose otherwise.
Prediction: Martinique 0, Mexico 2
New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact
Saturday, July 16, 2013 at 7 p.m. ET
Major League Soccer, Week 20, Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.
The Montreal Impact have already slipped from the No. 1 spot in the overall MLS rankings over the past few weeks and will look to avoid slipping off the top of the Western Conference altogether when they travel to New York to take on the Red Bulls. The Impact have won just one of their last five matches and dropped points to lowly Toronto FC last weekend—something that doesn't seem to bode well for them here.
The Red Bulls are pretty up-and-down at the moment, but they have been very good at home this year—scoring 14 goals and conceding just eight goals against. They'll know they need to improve after their disappointing loss to Colorado, but the prospect of going top of the Western Conference will no doubt be more than enough to inspire them to play their best football here.
And while I don't think it'll be pretty, I think the Red Bulls will get up at home—reversing the score from when they played the Impact in Montreal earlier this year.
Prediction: New York Red Bulls 1, Montreal Impact 0
FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake
Saturday, June 16, 2013 at 9 p.m. ET
Major League Soccer, Week 20, FC Dallas Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Without doubt the pick of the games this weekend is the top-of-the-table showdown in the Western Conference between FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake. Barring Dallas winning by a huge margin, it's unlikely that anything will change in terms of overall positioning, but the result will definitely give one team a huge boost and potentially even an upper hand should they meet in the playoffs later this year.
FC Dallas haven't won in their last six MLS matches and picked up just one point from their trip to Los Angeles last weekend. They were poor in attack and wasteful in midfield—something they'll definitely need to improve on if they're going to stop arguably the best team in the MLS this year.
Real Salt Lake got lucky against Philadelphia last weekend, but that's been rather indicative of their season—always finding a way to get the job done. They haven't been defeated in their last seven matches and have only conceded 18 goals all year, and should extend their undefeated streak this weekend.
Dallas just isn't in a good run of form, and Real Salt Lake most certainly is.
Prediction: FC Dallas 0, Real Salt Lake 1
Portland Timbers vs. Los Angeles Galaxy
Saturday, June 16, 2013 at 11 p.m. ET
Major League Soccer, Week 20, JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Ore.
Closing out our weekend's top matches is another high-quality showdown scheduled in the MLS—again coming from the Western Conference as the No. 3 Timbers take on the No. 4 Galaxy.
Only goal differential separates these two teams at the moment, and both will clearly know how important a result here could be for their playoff hopes. They might seem safe right now, but they're only two wins ahead of the seventh-placed Seattle Sounders and could easily fall right down the Western Conference table if they don't continue to chalk up points on a regular basis.
Led by Robbie Keane, the Galaxy have won back-to-back matches and will be looking to make it three in a row here for the first time all year. Their away form this season is questionable at best (three wins from 10 matches), but they have momentum on their side, and that will be tough to stop.
However, Portland aren't beaten easily, and this season has again proved that to be the case—losing just two matches all year with the most recent coming last week against Columbus Crew. The Timbers are undefeated in their last six home matches and have conceded just five goals in front of their home fans all year—a record that they should be able to keep intact against the Galaxy here.
I like Portland's defense to prevail over the Galaxy's attack, but I'm not convinced that will mean an automatic win for the Timbers. Los Angeles are in a nice spot right now and will be desperate not to give up all three points, which should lead to a league-high 10th draw for the Timbers this season.
Prediction: Portland Timbers 0, Los Angeles Galaxy 0
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