San Jose Earthquakes v Colorado Rapids

PST’s Most Intriguing Team of 2012 – San Jose Earthquakes

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For most of 2012, we couldn’t explain why a team that was picked to merely contend for a playoff spot was on track for the Supporters’ Shield, eventually cruising to the honor awarded for Major League Soccer’s best record.

Match after match, the San Jose Earthquakes would spend 60 minutes flirting with mortality before proving the  regular season’s best team. Frank Yallop’s squad scored 20 goals in the last 15 minutes of games. Eight times, the Earthquakes trailed heading into the last quarter hour before emerging with points. By season’s end, the surprise was gone. “Of course they came back” became the typical response when San Jose eventually performed wonders.

And they were done by Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon – good players, but not a duo you’d expect to combine for 23 goals. Similarly, Rafael Baca and Sam Cronin looked like a serviceable midfield, not one that would prove one of the league’s sturdiest tandems. Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour became all-star full backs. Add in Marvin Chavez, Simon Dawkins, and Jason Hernandez, and San Jose was improbably getting a collection simultaneous of career years. Perhaps the names on paper still didn’t scream top seed, but the Earthquakes had forged something that transcended their players’ pasts.

But of course, there were the stars. Honduran import Victor Bernardez was one of the league’s best defenders, giving Yallop an anchor as the Quakes pursued all their last gasp results. Captain Chris Wondolowski, eschewing any doubts to his place among Major League Soccer’s elite, scored 27 goals, tying a record that had stood alone since the league’s first season.

That San Jose eventually lost in the playoffs made their regular season all the more intriguing. Were the eight months that led up to November the aberration? Or had San Jose finally convinced us of their rightful place only to have their season undermined at the place they’d come to call the Goon Docks?

How you answer likely says how much you bought into the San Jose mystique – a band of Goonies brought together for a cinematic 2012. Regardless of whether you think 2013 will be a sequel, the Earthquakes success made them the most intriguing team of 2012.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.