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.

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.

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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.