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.
Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.
Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.
[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]
However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.
Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.
They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.
The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.
Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.
[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]
Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.
The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.
[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]
Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.
Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0
Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.
[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]
Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw
Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.
In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.
Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.
[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]
Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.
Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.
Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.