2012 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy

PST MLS Cup 2012 Man of the Match: Omar Gonzalez

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CARSON, Calif. – Completing a season where his absence left no question how valuable he was to a team defined by it’s top-line stars, defender Omar Gonzalez was ever-present for the LA Galaxy on Saturday. Kept out of the team until summer while recovering from an offseason knee injury, the 2011 MLS Defender of the Year transcended his position, scoring the Galaxy’s first goal before providing a vital contribution toward the game-winner. Dominant in the air at the back while providing a series of late, crucial clearances that protected his keeper, Gonzalez completed his 2012 comeback with a Man of the Match performance in Saturday’s MLS Cup final.

MORE: What we learned from LA’s 3-1 win over Houston

That it was Gonzalez – not goalscorers Landon Donovan or Robbie Keane, or the retiring megastar David Beckham – who stole the stage should surprise nobody. That he did it in the opponent’s penalty area as opposed to his own was the shock.

In the 60th minute, with his team having conceded an opener just before halftime, Gonzalez found himself unmarked at the left post eight yards from goal, Juninho having taken a touch before lining up a cross to LA’s most dangerous aerial threat. As he elevated for the outswinging ball, right back Kofie Sarkodie tried to backpedal out an contest the cros. The second-year right back proved out of his league against the 6’5″ center half. Gonzalez hammered the ball back across goal, just inside Tally Hall’s far post to make it 1-1.

Though LA’s second came from the spot, it was another Gonzalez header that started the penalty-drawing play. On a chipped in ball from David Beckham, Gonzalez cut in front of Hall to win the ball, knocking it down to start a series of events ending in a Ricardo Clark hand ball. When Landon Donovan slotted home the ensuing kick, LA had the lead they’d never relinquish.

In defense, Gonzalez’s brilliance existed in persistence, not highlights. Though he was the man that kept Calen Carr onside ahead of Houston’s only goal, the rest of his game was impeccable. In the first half, he helped LA withstand Houston’s early change with perfect positioning ahead of the crosses he would eventually defuse. In the second, his early aggression stepping into midfield set an the intense tone that spurred LA to three-goal half. At match’s end, his recovery on balls played behind the line kept Josh Saunders’ save total at a modest five.

Fifteen clearances. Eleven interceptions. Six headers won. They’re numbers that will be overshadowed by his opening goal, but ultimately, the defensive contributions were worth more.

In the process, Gonzalez reaffirmed his place as the league’s best defender nine months after his knee injury temporarily relinquished the title. No other player in the league is as capable of such a dominating, all-around performance from defense. For it, Gonzalez was rightly recognized as the 2012 MLS Cup Man of the Match.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.