Spain teach Ireland a lesson, win 2-0 in friendly at Yankee Stadium

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The lesson for the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday night was the same that so many teams before them had learned – you can pack in as many defenders as you like, but eventually, Spain will get you.

That was the case at Yankee Stadium where the patience and illimitable talent of La Furia Roja earned them a comprehensive 2-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland. The Boys in Green fought valiantly, managing a few quality chances, but were undone by a clinical Roberto Soldado volley in the 68th minute and a perfectly carved through-pass by Santi Cazorla that Juan Mata stabbed home in the 88th minute.

The match was fairly tepid for the opening 12 minutes before some Matador-like footwork by Ireland right midfielder Seamus Coleman left Jordi Alba in the dust. The move put the Everton man clear through to the by-line but his shaped cross was overrun by striker Conor Sammon, whose sprawling bicycle sailed over the bar.

The half-chance shocked Spain to life and for the next 15 minutes, Ireland hardly saw the ball. Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Sergio Busquets, Pedro and David Villa wove their runs in and out of each other’s space, painting the field with short one and two-touch passes that left Giovanni Trapattoni’s men clutching their ankles. It was tiki-taka football in its purist form.

Credit to Ireland, though, as they worked hard defensively, tucking the outside midfielders inside and forming a seemingly impenetrable eight man front. When the Irish did manage to recover possession, nerves set in and the typical response was to lump the ball up the park, a temporary reprieve to death by a thousand cuts. And in the 27th minute, the tactic nearly earned them a goal as Spain center-back Gerard Pique was too lax in his touch and Sammon sniped the ball off the Spaniard’s foot.

The Derby County striker tore down the left side of the field and cut into the box uncontested but the Irishman had too much speed and not enough composure to create his angle. Victor Valdes closed the striker down and Sammon’s effort skirted wide of the far post.

Spain responded with another flurry of passes before Xavi ripped a shot from 24 yards out that went right into the arms of David Forde. Vicente del Bosque’s men continued the onslaught with an array of outside shots and scoop-over passes for Pedro and Villa. In the 32nd minute the two looked poised to break the deadlock as Villa cut in from the left side of the box, skirted past Darren O’Dea and Paul McShane, and found Pedro but the 25 year old’s sliding effort went just wide.

Five minutes later Villa found his way through again but Forde made himself big to make the save. In the 41st minute Pedro showed his class yet again, collecting the ball at the penalty spot, touching right and then going behind his body and to the left before cracking a pill that crashed off the bar.

The second half began much like the first half with both sides trading possession at midfield. Ireland’s defending remained staunch and for some time it appeared Trapattoni’s side might be thinking about pulling off something special. Spain continued to enjoy the lion’s share of the possession but lacked the final entry pass to get in free on goal. Almost out of frustration, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa and Pedro all hammered shots from outside that either sailed wide or failed to trouble Forde.

In the 68th minute Spain got their opener as Alvaro Arbeloa danced on the top of the 18 and found Roberto Soldado, on for Villa, to hammer home a first time volley into the bottom corner. Two minutes later Soldado nearly had his brace as Mata, on for Xavi, played a beautiful curling ball between McShane and Sean St. Ledger. Soldado raced onto it, nipping a one-touch finish that beat the Ireland keeper but inched wide of the post.

Ireland continued to fight, however, and their hard work nearly paid off in the 80th minute when James McClean found himself through down the left flank. Like Sammon, the Sunderland man sped into the box on the left side but failed to create an angle, instead opting to smash the ball on goal. And it nearly worked but for a reflexive kick save by Iker Casillas. On the ensuing corner Casillas tipped McClean’s header off the bar and it fell to St. Ledger, who poked home from 5 yards out sending Ireland supporters into hysteria. But the linesman had adjudged Simon Cox to be in an offsides position and replays showed it was the correct call.

Ireland’s dreams of a comeback were dashed in the 88th minute when Cazorla sliced an inch-perfect pass in between St. Ledger and O’Dea that Mata raced on to and hit first time, putting the ball past substitute keeper Darren Randolph. It was a classy link-up between the two Premier League men and their gleeful celebration reflected the difficulty of their work.

With the victory in hand Spain now head down to Brazil for the Confederations Cup while Ireland travel back across the pond for some time off before pre-season training begins.

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”