Drilling down on: Los Angeles 5, at Portland 3

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Man of the Match: Two goals, one assist, and a night that will be remembered in the legend of David Beckham. The two goals were ones for the highlight reel, even if they’ll be hard to distinguish from his other memorable goals. Still, years from now people you’ll hear the refrain: “I once saw Beckham hit two bombs, back-to-back in Portland. Two goals in the first 25 minutes.”

Beckham opened his account in the 19th minute, when confusion between Portland midfielders left him an uncontested chance from 26 yards. It was too easy to curl an equalizer into the left-side netting.

Five minutes later, a dead ball at 24 yards out proved just as easy to convert, with teammates crowded into Portland’s porous wall helping Beckham give LA the lead.

In the 64th minute, another display of distinctly Beckham skill created LA’s final goal. A ball played back to him was hit first time from the center line past Portland left back Steven Smith, Beckham curling it onto the foot of the streaking Sean Franklin. Three touches later, Robbie Keane gave Los Angeles their final goal.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Portland came out in a new-look 4-2-3-1 with Lovel Palmer and Jack Jewsbury teaming in deep midfield behind Darlington Nagbe. It didn’t work:
    • Lovel Palmer’s positioning was poor throughout the half he played. On Beckham’s first goal, he was seen pointing to the spot he wanted Jewsbury to be in (while Jewsbury was marking another man). It wasn’t the first time Palmer disagreed with a teammate on his positioning. By the 46th minute, Palmer’s night was done.
    • Darlington Nagbe played too high in that playmaker’s role and didn’t do enough to show for the ball. As a result, Jewsbury was the player on the ball the most for the Timbers, and although he performed well, the formation is designed to play to Nagbe’s strengths. It didn’t.
  • Los Angeles’s midfield, by contrast, performed well despite potentially being outnumbered. Beckham had the luxury of being allowed to sit in defense and play deep in attack. Marcelo Sarvas put in admirable work picking up runners from midfield as well as playing to the edge of the box in the attacking phase.
  • All of which explains why Los Angeles was able to take control of the game after Portland’s opening goal, a clever finish by Kris Boyd off a Kalif Alhassan cross. From then on, Beckham was able to orchestrate from deep while Landon Donovan applied pressure in the final third.
  • After a Kosuke Kimura foul gave Donovan a penalty to convert for the third goal, pressure from the Galaxy captain created LA’s last goal of the half in the 28th minute – their fourth goal in 10 minutes. Donovan continued Steven Smith’s MLS struggles by beating him on the right flank before playing a ball across the six. Robbie Keane’s easy finish gave Donovan his 100th career MLS assist.
  • Kimura made up for his error with a goal, bringing his new team within one before half. The former Rapid took advantage of a ball spilled Josh Saunders, making it 4-2. Kris Boyd’s direct kick skidded to Saunders from 23 yards out. LA’s `keeper holds that most nights, but in Portland, it gave the Timbers hope 11 minutes before intermission.
  • Portland started the second half strong, but with the Timbers unable to get what would have been a crucial early goal, the match quickly evened out. Soon LA had restored their three-goal lead, Beckham starting the attack that culminated in Keane’s second goal.
  • To their credit, the Timbers maintained their intensity throughout the second half, though aside from Boyd’s second goal – a direct kick that beat Saunders along the ground, inside his left post – there weren’t many signs Los Angeles would give this game up. Long passes beating Portland’s high line make it more likely the Galaxy would score again, with Landon Donovan missing one breakaway chance on Troy Perkins.
  • After the game, new Portland coach Gavin Wilkinson said his team “gets a pass,” alluding to a week that saw the dismissal of John Spencer. Individual errors, he said, were responsible for Portland’s terrible first half, though he declined to name names. Lovel Palmer, however, was singled out by his substitution, and Steven Smith lost a crucial battle with Landon Donovan on the fourth goal.
  • It was a resounding victory for Los Angeles in a place few teams have won. Within 28 minutes, LA had posted four in a venue that’s played as a fortress throughout much of Portland’s MLS existence. Although it remains to be seen where this Timbers team will land, the win was as convincing a sign of LA’s resurgence as we’ve seen since the defending champions shook off their opening season slump.
  • For Portland, it was a terrible way to move out of the Spencer era. The one thing the Timbers had was Jeld-Wen, where they were coming off back-to-back wins over the Sounders and Earthquakes. Within 30 minutes, LA hinted Portland’s home field may not be so special anymore. Without it, what leg does Portland have to stand on?

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

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That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?