Drilling down on: San Jose Earthquakes 1, at LA Galaxy 0

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The LA Galaxy were left stunned Sunday night after a 94th minute free kick from Victor Bernardez gave San Jose a 1-0 victory, leaving the defending Major League Soccer champions on the edge of elimination ahead of the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal.

An often cagey match in front of 27,000 at Home Depot Center was brought to life late when Robbie Keane nearly put the home team in front, his the 86th minute shot from 22 yards nailing Jon Busch’s crossbar.

Eight minutes later, when Marcelo Sarvas fouled Simon Dawkins 30 yards from LA’s goal, Bernardez put San Jose in front, his free kick skidding beneath a jumping Omar Gonzalez and under a diving Josh Saunders to give the Supporters’ Shield winners their 10th extra time goal of the season.

Man of the Match: Before his goal, Victor Bernardez was close to leaving the game, the Honduran international having injured his right leg late in the match. With San Jose out of substitutions, the defender had little choice but to continue, a decision that almost came back to haunt the Earthquakes when he appeared to aggravate the injury in the 92nd minute.

Two minutes later, Bernardez was the man behind the ball, set for a 15-yard run up on what looked like it would be more of a prayer than a shot. But thanks to a hop from Gonzalez and a slow reaction from Saunders, Bernardez snagged San Jose’s match winner.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Sometimes they feel like first legs.

Friday (Seattle-Real Salt Lake) and Sunday afternoon (Houston-Sporting Kansas City) debunked the notion that the first game of a two-legged series has to be a conservative affair. Unfortunately, tonight’s game gave us more of what we saw between D.C. United and New York – two teams taking a wait-and-see approach over the first half of a 180-minute game.

Over the first 45 minutes, with the teams combined for one shot on goal. Most of the game was played in the middle third between two sides more concerned with avoiding big mistakes than making something happen. The league’s two best attacks were waiting for the other guy to mess up.

When the second half started, it was more of the same, though at the hour mark, LA started pushing for a goal. In the 65th minute, Jon Busch was called on to make his first save of the match, with Keane nearly stealing a lead for the Galaxy in the 86th.

For San Jose, a conservative approach made sense. They were on the road against the defending champions. If somebody offered them a 0-0 before the game, they would have snatched it, said thank you, and spent three hours at the beach before their flight home.

LA’s tactics were a little more confusing, though when you think back on the team’s last week of action, you see why Bruce Arena’s team looked so flat.

LA was either out of gas, conserving energy, or just off.

Arena played a full team last Sunday in their meaningless season finale against Seattle. On Thursday, he team spent near-70 minutes chasing the game against Vancouver, who took a shock third minute lead in the teams’ knockout round match. Even though they were all at home, Los Angeles was playing their third game in eight ways, not an ideal schedule for a team built around David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Robbie Keane.

So if Los Angeles wanted to slow down Sunday’s game and try to steal it late, you couldn’t blame them. If Keane’s late blast was two or three inches lower, the plan would have worked. Bruce Arena would have been hailed as a magician.

But for whatever reason – fatigue, tactics, or just a flat performance – LA did not look themselves tonight, and when they take the field at Buck Shaw on Wednesday, the Galaxy’s aging core will be playing their fourth game in 11 days.

San Jose did it again, but don’t read too much into it.

The Earthquakes are up to 23 goals after the 75th minute. Chivas USA only scored 24 goals all season. As much as we’ve marveled at it throughout the year, San Jose’s late-match exploits remain an amazing (and probably under-appreciated) part of their success.

Tonight, however, they were outplayed over the last quarter hour. Los Angeles looked far more likely to score, and although you can explain the end result as San Jose’s ability to win against all odds, Bernardez’s goal was less their doing than the result of three Galaxy mistakes (Sarvas’s foul, Gonzalez’s hop, Saunders’ whiff).

San Jose’s results long ago established their end-game bonafides, and with their depth and tactics, you can see why they score so many late goals. Sunday, however, was less about never say die than being the beneficiaries of a gift from their opponents.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Bruce Arena shuffled his team, starting Marcelo Sarvas, pushing David Beckham out right, and having Landon Donovan partner Robbie Keane up top. Add the return of right back Sean Franklin and four of LA’s 11 starting positions changed from Thursday night.
  • Beckham’s night was quiet or ineffective, depending on how hard you want to be on him. While he put in a few dangerous crosses, most of his service was lacking, and he was often seen walking back to his defensive position. He failed to connect on any of his 11 crosses and was subbed off in the 78th minute, Bruce Arena’s only change of the match.
  • San Jose elected to go with Ramiro Corrales in midfield, with Simon Dawkins starting on the bench. The Tottenham loanee was listed as probable on the injury report and eventually came on for Martín Chavez in the last half hour.
  • Up until his stoppage time gaff, Saunders had quietly put in a strong night, making three or four nice reads to kill attacks before they became dangerous.

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?