New York Red Bulls v DC United - Eastern Conference Semifinals

The terrible toxin around Red Bull Arena: Rafa Marquez

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All credit to D.C. United for Thursday’s accomplishment. Ben Olsen’s team was tactically disciplined, collectively committed and ultimately dug out the decisive goal – surely the club’s most significant goal in at least five years.

But there is a less lovely story from the other side last night in Harrison, N.J., where the New York Red Bulls collapsed beneath the weight of their own destructive choices. They paid a handsome price, yet again, for the utterly unjustifiable choices around Rafa Marquez.

I’ve said before, but it was never more true: At this point, anything Marquez does to damage and tear down the team is no longer his fault. It’s the club’s fault for its stubborn desire to keep the former Mexican international around.

Marquez is an anchor strapped to the ankle of this franchise and last night he sank the whole thing. (Believe it – no matter how many ways his former Barcelona teammate Thierry Henry tries to defend the guy.)

The Red Bulls were in good shape last night. Hans Backe’s side was more or less in control of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal second leg. Sloppy or imprecise finishing aside, they were in charge of a 0-0 match.

United went a man down with 20 minutes remaining. Surely, you would think, with a man advantage while playing at home, Backe’s pricey assembly of stars could come shining through. To have that man advantage, even if the night needed another 30 minutes to declare a winner, meant everything.

Then Marquez did what he’s been doing since his arrival into Harrison: he thoughtlessly and selfishly brought it all down.

Marquez probably should have been ejected for his awful elbow into Chris Pontius’ head in the 61st minute. Granted reprieve, and fully aware that referee Mark Geiger would presumably not hesitate to even up the match, Marquez then brutally chopped down Pontius just six minutes after Bill Hamid’s ejection for D.C. United.

Series over. And probably Backe’s time at Red Bull Arena, too.

(MORE: Highlights and analysis from last night’s contest)

By all appearances, Marquez is always in it for himself. There was always an injury (some of the mysterious variety), or a costly moment of inattention or rank indifference on game day. There were nasty shots at teammates. There were moments of utter madness, like his post-game antics that led to suspension in last year’s playoffs.

And there was no value in a $4.6 million salary, that for a man who started just 32 of 68 games over the last two years. (Some of his absences were due to international call-ups or because Backe just chose not to use him, which is indicting on its own.)

Either way, he wasn’t available enough. And when he was, all the smooth passing in the world could not possibly balance his toxic tendencies.

No matter how many Red Bulls-branded shirts this guy sells in Mexico, the organization simply must cut its losses. If not, the Red Bulls will continue to deserve every damaging and deadly deed this disaster of a signing reaps.

Robbie Keane still entertaining offers ahead of return

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12:  Soccer Player Robbie Keane arrives at the Premiere of IFC Films' "Pele: Birth Of A Legend" at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
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Robbie Keane is still sorting out his future, and it seems unlikely he’s heading back to the past.

Keane is training in Dublin ahead of a return to the pitch. The 36-year-old striker left the LA Galaxy this offseason, and says he’s had several offers from Championship squads in England as well as a few clubs abroad.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Although he’s starred for Wolverhampton and Leeds, destinations where fans would welcome his arrival, Keane says not to hold your breath.

From TalkSport.com:

“I’ve had a lot of people asking me about coming back to Leeds and Wolves, and they’re great clubs I’ve played for, but you can’t go somewhere if people actually don’t offer you anything.

“Until it’s actually in writing to me I can’t comment much on it, but I definitely haven’t heard from Leeds or Wolves.”

Whether Stateside or in England, Keane can still have an impact on a team’s fortunes. We look forward to seeing him back on the field, and to hear some more quips as well.

Consider his answer to whether he’d entertain an offer from China:

“If they gave the money Diego Costa was offered, I’d walk there now,” Keane said.

Galaxy adds center mid from Portuguese top flight

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LA Galaxy’s roster reformation continues with the addition of Joao Pedro, a day after formalizing a deal with USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones.

The 23-year-old center midfielder was with Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal’s top flight, and comes to the club as a “Special Discovery Player” with Targeted Allocation Money.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Pedro has a goal in 17 appearances this season, as Vitoria Guimaraes sits fifth in the Primeira Liga.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“Joao is an extremely talented midfielder who has experience playing at a high level in Portugal,” said Galaxy general manager Peter Vagenas in a written statement released by the club.

“He is only 23 years old and has the best years of his career front of him. We identified him as a top target this offseason and we think he can immediately help strengthen our midfield. We look forward to welcoming Joao to Los Angeles as we continue to prepare for the upcoming season.”

Pedro was a regular for Vitoria Guimaraes but is far from a certainty to star for the Galaxy. We do know that Vagenas has probably done his research as to whether Pedro fits with Jermaine Jones.

AFCON wrap: Senegal clinches first knockout round slot

Senegal's, Sadio Mane, right, is challenged by Zimbabwe's, Willard Katsande, left, during the African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match between Senegal and Zimbabwe at, Stade de Franceville Stadium, in Franceville, Gabon Thursday Jan. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Senegal has advanced to the knockout rounds of the Africa Cup of Nations, leaving three teams to work for the second Group B slot come the final day.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Senegal 2-0 Zimbabwe

Sadio Mane (Liverpool) and Henri Saivet (Saint-Etienne) scored within the first 13 minutes as Senegal clinched Group B with a win over Zimbabwe. There were 48 shots between the two teams, 24 for Senegal, in a fairly open affair. As for the Warriors, they’ll need to beat Tunisia on Monday.

Algeria 1-2 Tunisia

Tunisia rebounded from a loss to Senegal without scoring from the run of play. Lille mid Naim Sliti scored a penalty after an Algeria own goal made it 1-0. Anderlecht midfielder Sofiane Hanni scored for Algeria.

Friday’s matches
Ivory Coast vs. DR Congo — 11 a.m. ET
Morocco vs. Togo — 11 a.m. ET

Wenger concerned Chinese wages become benchmark for players

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 15:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during an Arsenal press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Barcelona at Camp Nou on March 15, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is hoping the high quality of competition in Europe will keep players from leaving for the financial gain in China.

Wenger is facing regular questions about the future of both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and the big money on offer in the Chinese league can complicate negotiations.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Argentine striker Carlos Tevez joined Shanghai Shenhua last month in a deal worth $40 million over two years.

“The danger (is) that the Chinese offers become the benchmark for Europe,” Wenger said Thursday. “You cannot compete with that, but I still think that, when you’re a footballer, the first thing is that you want to play against the best players in the best teams.”

Wenger said players that want the best compensation for playing in the best quality league need not look to Asia.

“I think that combination is the best in England at the moment, so I don’t see why the players should leave the English Premier League,” Wenger said.

Wenger, whose team is fourth in the standings, has made only one signing in the January transfer window, picking up defender Cohen Bramall from non-league club Hednesford.

Arsenal has also decided to keep captain Per Mertesacker for another season. Wenger announced Thursday that the club has taken up a one-year option to extend the contract of the 32-year-old German, who has not played this season because of a knee injury sustained during a friendly in July.

Mertesacker faces a fight to get back into the team because Shkodran Mustafi, an offseason signing from Valencia, has built a strong partrnership with vice captain Laurent Koscielny at the heart of Wenger’s defense.