Copa America Centenario begins in June. Here is one player to watch from each of the 16 teams in the tournament.
Christian Pulisic [USA] Pu-liss-ick. He’s a 17-year-old attacking midfielder. He’s playing legit minutes for Champions League bound Borussia Dortmund. He’s one of the brightest prospects in the international game. He’s American. The U.S. is in a “transition period” to use an oft-tread euphemism. But, we could be witnessing the start of a new era for U.S. Soccer.
James Rodriguez [Colombia] James was the best player and top-scorer at the 2014 World Cup. He hasn’t quite found a place in the attacking midfield at Real Madrid. But, battling for playing time with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Isco, that’s not necessarily a knock on him. A $90 million move to Manchester United is your early mega-transfer rumor of the summer.
Keylor Navas [Costa Rica] Real Madrid was stuck with Navas at goalkeeper, after their move to bring in Manchester United’s David De Gea fell through. But, he’s had an excellent season. He’ll be starting the Champions League final. He is the one truly world-class player in Costa Rica’s squad.
UPDATE: Navas is out for the tournament with an achilles tendon injury.
Juan Iturbe [Paraguay] A quick, skillful winger. He was drawing comparisons to Messi. He made a $25 million move to Roma two years ago as a 20-year-old. He has not been impactful since. Iturbe either opted to represent Paraguay in a major coup or played his way out of Argentina consideration, depending on how one looks at it.
Hulk [Brazil] Awesome name. Fittingly awesome physical specimen. Neymar is being held in reserve for the Olympics. Dunga cleared out a number of established Brazil stars. Brazil will lean on powerful, hard-charging Hulk up front to carry them.
Enner Valencia [Ecuador] Valencia has not quite come through since making the move to England’s West Ham. But, he scored three goals for Ecuador during the 2014 World Cup group stage. He had a goal and an assist, as Ecuador fell in the 2015 Copa America group stage. Another fine effort from him could carry them to the knockout round.
Jeff Louis [Haiti] The Haitians are the worst team in this tournament. This 23-year-old winger playing in France is probably their best bet to make things happen on the ball.
Paolo Guerrero [Peru] Currently playing in Brazil, played the bulk of his career in Germany with Bayern Munich and Hamburg. The 32-year-old Guerrero was joint or lone top scorer at the 2011 and 2015 Copa Americas.
Javier Hernandez [Mexico] Chicharito finally found his form at club level in Europe with Bayer Leverkusen. He scored 26 goals in all competitions. If he’s wearing his scoring cleats, Mexico will be a different, more dangerous team.
Luis Suarez [Uruguay] Suarez is a phenomenal striker. He’s one of the top five players in the world and maybe its top villain, excepting Diego Costa. Suarez may dominate the tournament. He may bite someone. He may find some new way to be odious. Whatever he does, it will be appointment viewing.
Wes Morgan [Jamaica] The 32-year-old central defender is having one heck of a late career resurgence. He won the EPL title with Leicester City. He was named to the PFA team of the year. The Reggae Boyz will hope he can captain them to some measure of success.
Salomon Rondon [Venezuela] The 26-year-old is a solid striker who has bounced around Europe. He had a promising first season with West Brom and probably should have scored more than his 10 goals. He’ll be Venezuela’s biggest threat.
Lionel Messi [Argentina] Best player in the world. Best player, one could argue, of all-time. Pele acknowledged Messi is almost as good. Not sure we need to dive too much further here.
Alexis Sanchez [Chile] Sanchez fought off injuries and fatigue for much of the season at Arsenal. When he’s on, he’s a tireless runner and one of the game’s most dynamic and threatening attackers. If he finds his form, Chile can play with anyone.
Ismael Diaz [Panama] The 19-year-old striker is the only Panamanian player plying his trade in Europe, for FC Porto. He scored 13 goals for the Porto B team. He scored four times for Panama’s U-20 team during the 2015 CONCACAF Championships.
Marcelo Moreno [Bolivia] The 28-year-old striker has had an itinerant career, which has brought him to Brazil, Ukraine, Germany, England, and now China. He scored twice for Bolivia during the 2015 Copa America. He retired from international play and is refusing to play under the present regime. Bolivia called him up for the preliminary squad anyway. Whether he plays or not, that’s the most interesting storyline.