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.”

U.S. U-20 midfield star leaves FC Dallas for a role with Schalke

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Another Yank youngster has landed in Germany.

Weston McKinnie, 18, has starred for the United States U-20 team as well as FC Dallas’ Academy, and has been in demand.

[ MORE: Americans Abroad news ]

The club is Schalke, a Bundesliga outfit which has had an exceptional offseason. McKinnie joins the U-19 side, and is billed by Schalke as a midfielder who “can be deployed as part of a two-man central midfield or in the number 10 role.”

From Schalkeo4.de/en:

“He’s a player who convinced us with his robustness and game awareness,” said academy director Oliver Ruhnert. “In the US he is one of the best footballers for his age. He is also a youth national team player and has also captained his team. He brings a lot of qualities with him, especially to the mental side of his game. We are therefore convinced that Weston is capable of becoming a professional footballer. The transfer therefore makes a lot of sense.”

McKinnie, if you haven’t read his name before, is absolutely one to remember. The Schalke man joins a club with a good track record for Americans. Chad Deering, Thomas Dooley, and David Wagner have also represented the United States for the Miners.

WATCH and LISTEN: Our Deadline Day show, and the 2 Robbies talk transfers

Robbie Earle & Robbie Mustoe, The 2 Robbies
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Deadline Day was kinda nuts, am I right?

There’s a lot to digest, and we’ve covered a lot of it in this space.

But in case you need more — and who doesn’t want a bit more Premier League? — we’ve got a stream of Wednesday’s TV show covering the deadline, and the 2 Robbies talking transfers.

LISTEN: The 2 Robbies Transfer Deadline Day podcast

REWATCH: Wednesday’s Deadline Day show

Now onto the business of the Premier League’s nascent season. Who was boosted by today’s moves? Who took a hit?

Report: USWNT legend Heather O’Reilly set to retire from soccer

BIRMINGHAM, AL - SEPTEMBER 20:  Heather O'Reilly #9 of the United States of America reacts after scoring a goal against Haiti during the US Women's 2015 World Cup victory tour match at Legion Field on September 20, 2015 in Birmingham, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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She has the seventh-most caps and the sixth-most assists in United States women’s national team history, and she’s also calling it a day.

Excelle Sports is reporting that Heather O’Reilly is retiring at the age of 31. The FC Kansas City player will likely play her final match in September, as the 2015 champs have all-but been eliminated from the playoffs.

[ MORE: Five big Deadline Day signings ]

O’Reilly had 230 caps, 46 goals, and 54 assists for the USWNT team. She’s one of only a few players to have more than 45 goals and 50 assists (Julie Foudy, Tiffeny Milbrett, Shannon MacMillan, Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly).

One of many successful products of Anson Dorrance’s UNC program, “HAO” spent her club career with New Jersey Wildcats, Sky Blue FC, and Boston Breakers before joining FCKC.

O’Reilly was left off the Olympic roster this summer, named as an alternate. She could’ve been useful — of course hindsight is 20/20 — and it’ll be odd watching more USWNT matches without HAO.

International roundup: Schweinsteiger, Keane say goodbye; Denmark bags five

Germany's national team throws their captain Bastian Schweinsteiger into the air after he played his last match for the national team in Moenchengladbach, Germany, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Germany won the friendly soccer match against Finland with 2-0. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Two mainstays of the international game are done with that part of their career following shutout wins on Wednesday, just two of several friendlies early in this international break.

[ MORE: Five big Deadline Day signings ]

Germany 2-0 Finland

Max Meyer picked up from his remarkable Olympics by firing home, and Mesut Ozil also scored for the Germans in a match that was not about the winner. Bastian Schweinsteiger called it a day on his international career in the win, his 121st cap. The Manchester United man finishes his career with 24 goals, a World Cup title and a EURO runner-up finish. Not too shabby.

Ireland 4-0 Oman

ROI all-time leading scorer Robbie Keane fittingly ended his tenure as an international player with yet another goal, bringing his career tally to 68 goals in 146 caps. Stoke City’s Jon Walters scored twice for the Boys in Green, and Robbie Brady (Norwich) also netted in the win.

Denmark 5-0 Liechtenstein

It took the hosts a half-hour to break down the visitors, but a pair from Feyenoord striker Nicolai Jorgensen opened the floodgates and Andreas Cornelius, Viktor Fischer and Jens Stryger Larsen finished the scoring in a blowout at the CASA Arena in Horsens. It was Larsen’s first cap.

Elsewhere
Turkey 0-0 Russia
Albania 0-0 Morocco
Estonia 1-1 Malta
Norway 0-1 Belarus
Lebanon 1-1 Jordan