Robbie Keane

On fire Keane a cruel test for burned Opara, Earthquakes

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. – “All I remember is a miscommunication along the back line,” San Jose defender Ike Opara offered Wednesday night, asked to describe what transpired on the second goal of a 3-1 loss. The result saw the defending champions, LA Galaxy, eliminate the Supporters’ Shield-winners 3-2 (aggregate) in the Western Conference semifinals.

“(San Jose right back) Steven (Bietashour) wanted me to follow the runner even though I couldn’t hear him. He thought I could hear him. The miscommunication was there. (Galaxy forward Robbie) Keane floated in behind us and got a goal.”

Given the circumstances that forced Opara into the game, miscommunication was no surprise. The third overall selection in the 2010 draft had only started seven games all year, Victor Bernardez and Jason Hernandez serving as head coach Frank Yallop’s first choice central defenders.

But when Bernardez had to leave with a right knee injury, Opara was pressed into action. Not only was an inexperienced defender (22 career starts) being inserted into an elimination game against Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, he was replacing a Defender of the Year candidate.

“It was very tough losing [Bernardez] early in the match,” Yallop admitted, “… when you lose arguably your best defender, it’s very tough. When you lose someone of that stature, it doesn’t help.”

Early sub. Best defender. One of the league’s elite. Bernardez’s absence was a harsh blow. It only took nine minute to feel its effects.

In the 21st minute, Keane, attacking above LA’s penalty area, cut across the defense onto his right foot, pulling up for a shot near the arc. Opara failed to react. Keane’s shot went off Jon Busch’s right post and in, unstoppable. The series was tied at one.

MORE: Highlights from last night’s semifinal deciders

Thirteen minutes later, Bernardez’s absence was made more apparent. A long ball from LA defender Tommy Meyer found Donovan on the right, near the center line. The Galaxy captain carried the ball toward the penalty area, hesitating as Keane made his run behind Opara from the edge of the area. A perfect pass from left Keane one touch to round Busch and finish into an empty goal.

“We tried to get our shape defensively right because we know they’re good on the counter,” Opara said, asked to recall how the goal developed. “We were actually setup decently, but then they sprung pretty quickly.

“All I remember is a miscommunication along the back line.”

Break down the second goal, and you’ll see little the defenders could have done to stop it. Once Landon Donovan had the ball near the penalty area (with Keane and Edson Buddle drawing defenders’ attention), LA’s execution was going to win out. Likewise, on the first goal, although Opara could have reacted to close down Keane, how many times each game do we see shots like that never test a keeper, let alone beat him?

San Jose’s problems in defense were about more than a substitute, a lost star, their talented opposition, an eliminator’s stakes, an ill-timed bad night or a great game from one of the league’s best players. It was the confluence of all those factors that handed San Jose their first home loss since March.

MORE: Analysis of that rare defeat at Buck Shaw for San Jose

“After Victor went out, Ike comes in, not playing on a regular basis, and is asked to adjust in the biggest game of his career,” Earthquakes captain Chris Wondolowski said, empathetically, after the match. “I can’t even explain how difficult that is to do.”

“Their attacking play is arguably best in the league in terms of how they move off the ball,” Opara offered. “Getting thrown into the fire that way is never easy.”

As the game went on, the magnitude of the task became clear. Whereas Opara’s part on Keane’s first goal raised eyebrows, the rest of Keane’s night made it clear his success was more his doing than San Jose’s failings. Left disappointed in leg one after a potential 86th minute opener found Busch’s crossbar, Keane made up for Wednesday’s lost time with a Man of the Match performance, his two goals complementing relentless effort to pressure San Jose’s defenders.

“Since he has come back (from international duty), he has been the best player in the league,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said, standing outside the Santa Clara Broncos’ locker room the Galaxy had co-opted for the night. “He is a great leader on this team and when the whistle blows he is ready to play.”

Those qualities helped Keane score 16 goals in his first full Major League Soccer season, results that were lost in the shadow of Wondolowski’s record-tying 27 goals. This year, if you were going to talk about goalscorers, Wondolowski was the beginning and end of the conversation, one which also saw great seasons from New York’s Kenny Cooper (18 goals) and Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio (17) overlooked.

That Keane is so much more than a goalscorer makes his place in the shadow particularly unfair. Elite work rate and creativity distinguish Keane from players with similar striker rates, as evidenced by his nine assists. As the MLS playoffs start reducing the number of players vying for the spotlight, Keane’s getting his chance to show he’s one of the league’s best players.

MORE: San Jose not the only number one seed to go home early

“We knew that if we scored a goal that we would have good chances,” Keane said, explaining LA’s three-goal first half. “That was the case, we got that first goal and they sat back a little bit and let us play the game we like to play. That was the difference tonight.”

The sentiment is unnecessarily humble. LA’s first half efficiency was one of the stories of the match, as were the performances of Landon Donovan, Mike Magee, and Josh Saunders. But Wednesday’s difference-maker wasn’t the first goal, the style of play, or San Jose’s inexperienced substitute at the back. The difference was Robbie Keane.

“The guy never stops running,” Opara said, asked to describe the difficulties in dealing with Keane. “He doesn’t necessarily waste [his energy on] runs he won’t get. He’s very smart in how he moves and tactically one the best, probably the best forward in terms of his movement off the ball.”

It was the fourth match in 11 days for the 32-year-old, but in a must-win game – against a team the Galaxy had failed to beat in four meetings this season – Keane’s effort was essential.

“This is when it really matters, when it really counts,” according to Keane. “[It’s] about winning games when it really matters.”

USWNT cruises past Costa Rica in final pre-Olympic warm up

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 09: Julie Johnston #8 of the United States shoots past Nomoumelelo Nyandeni #18 of South Africa during a friendly match at Soldier Field on July 9, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The United States defeated South Africa 1-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The U.S. Women’s National Team wasn’t really lacking confidence heading into Friday night’s clash with Costa Rica, but the squad’s utter dominance certainly didn’t hurt things as Jill Ellis’ group gets ready to head to Brazil for next month’s Olympic Games.

[ MORE: Pulisic says Klinsmann links to England job made sense ]

The USWNT captured a 4-0 win against Costa Rica in the side’s final send-off match before the Olympics, extending the no. 1 ranked team in the world’s unbeaten streak to 15 matches.

It only took a quarter of an hour the USWNT to find the lead, but it always looked like it was coming for Jill Ellis’ group. Meghan Klingenburg made a great run deep into the Costa Rica area, and played a perfect square pass across the face of goal for Crystal Dunn to give the U.S. the lead in the 15th minute.

Mallory Pugh got her name on the scoreboard in the 22nd minute after making a brilliant darting run forward and beating the Costa Rican goalkeeper at the near post.

The U.S. pushed their advantage to 3-0 on the stroke of halftime when Becky Sauerbrunn’s free kick was headed home by Carli Lloyd in first-half stoppage time.

With a number of chances in the second half that didn’t take the right bounce for the USWNT, Christen Press made no mistake from close range in the 79th minute and gave the home nation a four-goal lead.

Dunn continues to impress on the international stage, and nearly gave the U.S. an advantage after just seven minutes. The 24-year-old gathered the ball inside the penalty box before unleashing a strong effort that struck the crossbar and stayed out.

The U.S. found another dangerous opportunity three minutes later, when Carli Lloyd was brought down from behind on the edge of the penalty area. Costa Rica defender Katherine Alvarado was shown a yellow card for the rash tackle, but the USWNT couldn’t make anything of the ensuing free kick.

While Costa Rica put in a valiant effort against their competition, the Ticas were no match for the Americans, and failed to muster up any shots on target throughout the night. The 29th ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings struggled to move the ball past midfield for most of the outing largely due to the USWNT’s constant press.

UEFA confirms 3 entries for presidential election

SAINT DENIS, FRANCE - JULY 08:  In this handout image provided by UEFA, UEFA Vice President Angel Maria Villar addresses the UEFA Euro 2016 closing press conference at Stade de France on July 8, 2016 in Saint Denis, France. (Photo by Handout/UEFA via Getty Images)
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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Contenders from Slovenia, the Netherlands and Spain have entered the UEFA presidential contest to replace the banned Michel Platini.

[ MORE: Sam Allardyce officially named England manager ]

UEFA confirmed the three national federation presidents on Friday: Aleksander Ceferin, Michael van Praag, and Angel Maria Villar.

[ MORE: Steve Bruce has resigned at Hull City ahead of PL season ]

All must pass an integrity check to be accepted as a candidate for a job which includes the role of FIFA vice president.

UEFA’s 55 member federations will vote on Sept. 14 in Athens.

Van Praag and Villar are currently UEFA vice presidents, and Ceferin is a relative newcomer to European football politics.

Van Praag stood against Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency last year, then withdrew days before the vote.

Villar, who already is a FIFA vice president, has been a member of FIFA’s ruling committee for 18 years and leader of Spanish football for 28 years.

The winner will complete Platini’s third four-year presidential term which expires in early 2019.

A four-nation group of Nordic federations, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, said in June it would support Ceferin. The group also wants to co-host the 2024 European Championship.

UEFA should make that hosting decision during the current presidential term.

In a separate election due Sept. 14, there are two contenders for the UEFA position of a women’s delegate to the FIFA ruling council.

Evelina Christillin of Italy and Laura McAllister will also be subject to a FIFA eligibility check, UEFA said.

Nottingham Forest signs former Toronto FC defender Damien Perquis

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13:  David Villa #7 of New York City FC kicks the ball past Damien Perquis #24 of Toronto FCat Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Damien Perquis has found a new home after recently leaving MLS side Toronto FC in search of a new challenge.

[ MORE: Man City expected to land Everton defender John Stones ]

Nottingham Forest confirmed the signing of Perquis on Friday after making 37 appearances for Toronto dating back to the beginning of the 2015 MLS season.

[ MORE: Crystal Palace has entered race for West Brom’s Saido Berahino ]

Perquis, 32, began his career with French side Troyes, and played domestically in his homeland for over 10 years before moving to La Liga side Real Betis.

After playing briefly for France at the Under-21 level, Perquis opted to switch his national team allegiance to Poland and appeared in 14 matches for the White Eagles between 2011-2013.

Report: Man City expected to land Stones for $65 million

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Ross Barkley (L) of Everton celebrates scoring his team's third goal with his team mate John Stones (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Everton at Vitality Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Everton appears set to lose one of its most prized young players, albeit for a pretty penny.

[ MORE: Steve Bruce leaves Hull City prior to Premier League season ]

After heavily pursuing England centerback John Stones this summer, Manchester City looks to be closing in on a deal for the 22-year-old, according to the Telegraph.

[ MORE: Wijnaldum officially completes move to Liverpool

The Toffees had placed a fee of roughly $65 million on Stones as more teams became interested in the young defender, but the sizable fee doesn’t seem to have swayed City’s front office from pursuing Stones.

Since taking over as the club’s new manager this summer, Pep Guardiola has been adamant about acquiring Stones, particularly with centerback being one of City’s biggest needs. Currently, the squad boasts captain Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala as their only true options to man the central defending positions.

The Citizens and their relentless pursuit for Stones will likely leave Chelsea, Manchester United and Barcelona searching elsewhere to improve their defenses. The Blues were favorites to acquire Stones last year, however, Chelsea had its bid of nearly $48 million turned down by Everton.