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.”

VIDEO: 70-yard run leads to incredible goal at Africa Cup of Nations

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Take a bow, Piqueti.

Guinea-Bissau took the lead against Cameroon in stunning fashion on Wednesday in group play at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Watch the incredible clip below as Piqueti — full name Piqueti Djassi Brito Silva — controlled the ball and ran 70-yards before hammering home to put the underdogs ahead.

The winger for SC Braga in Portugal has certainly made a name for himself.

What a goal!


LIVE: Liverpool, Saints both in FA Cup replay action

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 08: Emre Can of Liverpool takes a free kick during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Liverpool and Plymouth Argyle at Anfield on January 8, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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The final three games of the FA Cup third round will take place on Wednesday and it is time for some more replays.

[ LIVE: Follow FA Cup scores here

Premier League title contenders Liverpool head down to the far south west of England to play fourth-tier Plymouth Argyle after the Pilgrims grabbed a famous 0-0 draw at Anfield to set up this replay. Jurgen Klopp will once again rest plenty of first team stars. The winner of this game will host Wolverhampton Wanderers at home. Surely we couldn’t see a massive giant-killing down at Home Park…

The other Premier League side in action is Southampton as they host Championship outfit Norwich City. Both teams will be understrength as second-tier Norwich focus on getting back into the playoff hunt in the league, while Saints have an EFL Cup semifinal second leg at Liverpool next week on thier mind plus a big Premier League game against Leicester this Sunday as they aim to stop a run of four-straight defeats in the PL. Whoever wins this clash will host Arsenal in round four.

Two big teams clash in the Championship as Newcastle United host Birmingham City at St James’ Park with Rafael Benitez’s side top of the second-tier as they chase an instant return to the Premier League. Rafa’s massive squad means he can rotate his team, while Birmingham boss Gianfranco Zola is still looking for his first win in charge of the Blues since taking over in December. The winner of this tie will travel to Oxford United in the fourth round.

Hit the link above to follow the scores from all of the FA Cup games on Wednesday, while we will have reaction to the matches right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

Here is the schedule.


Wednesday’s FA Cup third round replays

Newcastle United vs. Birmingham City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Plymouth Argyle vs. Liverpool – 2:45 p.m. ET
Southampton vs. Norwich City – 2:45 p.m. ET

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Morata to Chelsea; Ulloa, Sakho in demand

UDINE, ITALY - MARCH 24:  Alvaro Morata of Spain looks on during the international friendly match between Italy and Spain at Stadio Friuli on March 24, 2016 in Udine, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Diego Costa and Antonio Conte making up for now, the focus is on who could be the long-term striker at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: United need Griezmann

The Daily Telegraph believes that Conte will turn to Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata in the summer as he looks to the Spanish international to be his go-to man up top. With Costa causing problems behind the scenes at Chelsea, it is believed Conte is ready to cash in on the troublesome striker despite his 14 goals and five assists putting Chelsea top of the Premier League with five games to go go.

As for Morata, the 24-year-old is stuck behind the likes of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo once again after returning to Real Madrid in the summer following two years at Juventus. Real exercised the buy-back clause in Morata’s deal in the summer and refused to sell him to Chelsea. Morata has started just six La Liga games this season but has scored five goals and Conte was the man who signed him for Juventus before he moved on to manage the Italian national team.

If Chelsea sell 28-year-old Costa to China for a big profit and then bring in Morata, that would seem like a decent deal. Conte gets rid of a wantaway player and adds a talented and hungry striker who is four years younger and ready to prove himself at the top level. What could go wrong?


The Liverpool Echo is reporting that Liverpool’s central defender Mamadou Sakho is interesting Crystal Palace.

Sakho, 25, hasn’t played for the Reds all season after a fall out with manager Jurgen Klopp in the summer. Sakho rejected a loan move to Stoke City in the summer but has only played for Liverpool’s U-23 side since. The former Paris Saint-Germain defender has also been linked with a move to Southampton in the January window but with Liverpool said to be intent on selling Sakho rather than loaning him, that considerably cuts down his options.

Palace are in need of defensive help with new manager Sam Allardyce gaining just one point from his first four games in charge. Palace also have the third worst defensive record in the PL but it would be interesting to see if the Eagles would splash out nearly $20 million on Sakho and if he would likely take a pay cut to join a team which is outside the relegation zone only on goal difference.

Allardyce is known for building his teams around a solid defense and Sakho could certainly land in worse place than south London if the Eagles manage to stay up.


Leicester City striker Leonardo Ulloa is a man in demand.

Ulloa, 30, has come off the bench time and time again this season for the Foxes but has struggled to hold down a regular spot in the team and the Uruguayan forward reportedly wants a move away from the King Power Stadium. Ulloa played the bit-part superbly last season in Leicester’s title-wining campaign, scoring valuable goals off the bench and often replacing Shinji Okazaki for the final 30 minutes of games to batter opposition defenses.

This season Ulloa has scored just once in 18 appearances in all competitions, starting just two games.

Sky Sports claim that Spanish side Alaves have placed a bid with Leicester but that has reportedly been rejected, while the Daily Express states that a quartet of Premier League clubs are sniffing around the powerful striker with West Brom plus strugglers Hull City, Swansea City and Sunderland all interested.

With Okazaki, Islam Slimani, Ahmed Musa and Jamie Vardy around, it is unlikely Ulloa will get any significant minutes for Leicester for the rest of the season. Will the Foxes really sell him to a potential rival in the battle against PL relegation though?

USMNT snub: No US players in CONCACAF Best XI of 2016

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 01:  John Brooks #6 of United States and teammates Clint Dempsey #8,Michael Bradley #4,Geoff Cameron #20 and Julian Green #16 wait for the corner kick in the second half against Turkey during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on June 1, 2014 in Harrison, New Jersey.The United States defeated Turkey 2-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Well, this is a little surprising.

[ MORE: Griezmann needed at United ]

CONCACAF released its Best XI from 2016 on Wednesday and there were zero U.S. national team players in the list of 11.

Zero.

Players from Mexico and Costa Rica dominate, while Canadian midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, Jamaican defender Wes Morgan and French forward Andre-Pierre Gignac were also included. The top 11 players were selected after either playing for a national team or club team in the CONCACAF region.

Only one player from Major League Soccer made the list, Ronald Mataritta of New York City FC.

Still, the fact that USMNT defenders Geoff Cameron and John Brooks didn’t get in the Best XI of 2016 after their heroics at the Copa America Centenario is quite mind-boggling. No offense against Morgan or Mexico’s Rafael Marquez, but come on. Also, surely Christian Pulisic or Jozy Altidore would have been worthy additions to this team?

Then again, when you see the highlight video below, most of the winners are shown scoring or playing well against the USMNT. That could go a little way to explain why there are no U.S. players on this list…

Below is the team in full. Intrigued to hear your comments in the section below.