Biggest Winner – Chile
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Chile did not play well. The Chileans struggled to consistently create opportunities in the first half and it took a questionable handball call in the 10th minute of stoppage time to get a win over 87th – ranked Bolivia. I don’t think it’s unfair to expect better from the defending Copa champion. However, Chile did what it had to do and Argentina’s win over Panama means Chile only needs a draw against Panama to secure passage to the knockout rounds. If and when Chile gets there, it’s going to take a much better performance to progress any farther.
((BONUS ROUND – Fans at Soldier Field))
He’s baaaaaaack. Leo Messi delighted everyone who shelled out big money in Chicago, coming on as a 61st minute sub and getting a hat-trick in Argentina’s blowout win. The Argentina star certainly looked like he’s back to full fitness. He had clinical finishes to take advantage of two terrible Panamanian defensive errors and he gave Jamie Penendo no chance on a world-class free kick.
Daily MVP – Lionel Messi
It was going to be Arturo Vidal, who was fantastic in Chile’s win, but then Messi went and bagged a hat-trick in addition to setting up Argentina’s fifth. So fine, Messi. Take your daily MVP award to go along with your surprisingly impressive beard.
Goat of the Day – Jair Marrufo and his crew
Welcome to CONCACAF, Bolivia! The Bolivians were outraged when, in the TENTH MINUTE of stoppage time, one of the assistant referees (couldn’t tell if it was Corey Rockwell or Peter Manikowski) raised his flag for a handball in the box. Jair Marrufo pointed to the spot and Arturo Vidal stepped to up bury Bolivia’s hopes of securing a point. Never mind the Bolivian defender had his hand and most of his arm behind his back and the ball hit his shoulder, PRO Referees doesn’t care about silly details like that. While Marrufo can’t really be blamed for his assistant’s questionable call, he doesn’t come away clean. The MLS regular let a lot of contact go, making for an extremely physical game, and didn’t whistle a much more obvious first-half, in-the-box handball against Bolivia. CONCACAF gonna CONCACAF.
Biggest Surprise – Bolivia
The 87th-ranked nation put up one heck of a fight against Chile. Bolivia was well-organized defensively and Chile only had one real first-half chance as a result. When Chile went ahead right after the break, Bolivia didn’t panic, opening up and eventually finding an equalizer through Jhasmani Campos’ wonder goal. It’s a shame shoddy refereeing cost them a point.
Worst Moment – Eduardo Vargas kicks Ronald Eguino in the head
Vargas’ kick was by no means intentional. He was going up for a bicycle kick and unfortunately connected with Eguino instead of the ball. It looked like Eguino was knocked out before he hit the ground and the treatment for the injury led to 10 minutes of stoppage time, but Eguino was somehow deemed okay to continue seconds after being stretchered off the field. We have no way of knowing what the Bolivian training staff saw on the sideline, but we do know concussion protocol takes longer than that. Do better, trainers.
Best Goal – Jhasmani Campos
Remember when we decided Paraguay’s Victor Ayala had goal of the tournament locked up? Yeah, Campos was unimpressed. Sit back and enjoy as he channels his inner Marco Etcheverry on this world-class free kick.
Rough day for MLS’ Panama contingent. San Jose’s Anibal Godoy erased any hope a result against Argentina by getting himself sent off in the 30th minute. Fellow Earthquake Alberto Quintero absolutely butchered Panama’s best chance at a goal. Blas Perez was isolated before Godoy’s second yellow and it only got worse for the Vancouver Whitecaps man after. Panama still has a chance to advance, but will need a much better performance against Chile.
Final Whistle – Stadium Choices
I hate to keep harping on attendance numbers, but it’s a topic that needs to be discussed throughout the tournament. The issue isn’t so much the numbers, but the stadiums. 19,392 fans tuned out to watch Chile – Bolivia which is actually a pretty decent number. Unfortunately, any chance at atmosphere was swallowed up by the mostly empty Gillette Stadium. Look, I get it; the point is to make money by playing in the 70,000-seat stadiums the U.S. offers. But for these smaller group games, the organizing committee should have made smarter choices. MLS is on a break for the entirety of the group games, why not put matchups like Chile – Bolivia or Venezuela – Jamaica in smaller MLS stadiums like Kansas City, Columbus or Houston? A crowd of 20,000 is enough for a great atmosphere when it’s not scattered across three decks of seats.
Group A: USA v Paraguay (7:00 PM ET, FS1) Philadelphia, PA
Group A: Colombia v Costa Rica (9:00 PM ET, FS2) Houston, TX