How much should Jay DeMerit play for Vancouver?

3 Comments

Vancouver is hurting in its quest to reach Major League Soccer’s playoffs, and manager Martin Rennie’s job may depend on getting past the post-season velvet ropes.

So his decisions down the stretch are critical – and he’s got a big choice to make now with Jay DeMerit.

The former U.S. international got back on the field Saturday in a 0-0 draw in San Jose. Under better circumstances, Rennie probably would have held DeMerit back another week or so; the veteran defender got back into his team’s 18-man game day roster just a week ago.

DeMerit, you may remember, tore his Achilles just barely into the 2013 season, three minutes after kickoff on opening day.

Carlyle Mitchell, Johnny Leveron, Brad Rusin and especially Andy O’Brien have all delivered credibly this year in the central defensive spots. O’Brien has been just this side of sensational in filling the yawning gap this year left by DeMerit’s serious injury.

A central pairing of DeMerit and O’Brien looks at first glance like Rennie’s best option, but it gets more involved than that.

First, Mitchell’s athleticism and quickness could be useful against certain strikers. As DeMerit cannot be fully fit just yet, and since as he may not have gotten all the strength back in the legs, Mitchell’s ability to help cover and chase could be necessary alongside the former U.S. man.

Then there is Leveron, a young Honduran international who seems to have a great future in front on him. Leveron, 23, already has 22 caps for a Honduras side that may well find its way to World Cup 2014. His calm, ever-steady way in the back will only improve and could potentially benefit even more from pairing up with DeMerit.

Given so many other juicy options, it might look like a risk to deploy DeMerit. After all, it took Philadelphia forward Conor Casey, who had a similar injury, months to get his form back after returning to the field (then for Colorado). But DeMerit could be just the kind of inspirational figure Vancouver needs to rally past this summer malaise. The Whitecaps need inspirational figures in the worst way now, just 1-5-3 since mid-July.

Whatever he does, Rennie absolutely cannot afford to get it wrong. The ‘Caps have a tough schedule ahead, and just six matches to make up five points.

UCL wrap: Napoli, Celtic win big; Nwakaeme volleys beauty (video)

Cesare Abbate/ANSA Via AP
Leave a comment

A day after three of five road sides felt good with their work in first legs of the UEFA Champions League playoff round, it was the hosts time to celebrate good results.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s UCL first legs ]

Home sides in Italy, Scotland, Greece, and Israel posted wins. Spanish side Sevilla did manage a road win.

Napoli 2-0 Nice

Chances and even possession was at a premium for the visitors, and Napoli found its breakthrough from one of the more overlooked gems in the world. Dries Mertens scored in the first half, his sixth career UCL goal, and Jorginho converted a second half penalty to give Napoli a foot in the group stage.

Adding insult was a pair of red cards in the 80th minute, the first to Vincent Koziello for a dangerous tackle (it was a harsh call) and Alassane Plea was given a second yellow for protesting the sending off.

Mertens’ goal was smooth as silk:

Celtic 5-0 Astana

A pair of Scott Sinclair goals joined an Astana own goal as the Bhoys went a long way towards avoiding the tight tie that made the last round tricky.

Olympiacos 2-1 Rijeka

Heber gave the visitors a halftime lead in the 42nd minute, but Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe equalized in the 66th minute to minimize the damage for Olympiacos, who would go on to win.

Istanbul Basaksehir 1-2 Sevilla

Remember Eljero Elia? The Dutchman’s on his eighth club and third since leaving Southampton after just a half season, but he’s given his Turkish side hope against mighty Sevilla after Sergio Escudero gave the Spanish side an early lead and Wissam Ben Yedder nabbed the winner.

Hapoel Be’er Sheva 2-1 Maribor

Goals from Anthony Nwakaeme and Shir Tzedek boosted the Israeli hosts to a come-from-behind win.

In the case of the former, it was a beauty:

Brighton breaks transfer record (again) with Izquierdo (video)

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Brighton and Hove Albion have broken its transfer record.

A week after setting a new club standard with the signing of Davy Propper from PSV Eindhoven, the Gulls have signed electric Colombian attacker Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge for over $15 million.

[ MORE: Matuidi medical at Juve ]

Izquierdo averaged a goal every other match for Brugge last season and broke through to the Colombian national team with two caps this summer, scoring in a friendly against Cameroon.

With Propper and Izquierdo, manager Chris Hughton has two more playmakers who can better set the table for a strike corps that has been questioned at the Premier League level.

Brighton lost to Man City 2-0 on Saturday and next faces Leicester City at King Power Stadium.

Matuidi having a medical at Juventus ahead of move from PSG

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

TURIN, Italy (AP) Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi was having a medical at Juventus on Wednesday ahead of a potential move to the Serie A club.

Juventus said that Matuidi arrived at Turin airport in the afternoon and was undergoing tests.

Juventus will reportedly pay PSG 20 million euros ($23 million) plus bonuses for the 30-year-old Matuidi, who had a year left on his contract with the French club.

[ MORE: Wenger issues updates on Alexis, Ox, Wilshere ]

PSG, which is also trying to balance the books after buying Neymar for 222 million euros, could not afford to lose Matuidi on a free transfer.

Matuidi played nearly 300 games for PSG in all competitions after joining from Saint-Etienne in 2011.

After a difficult first season, he quickly became an integral part of the team for successive managers, Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc.

He flourished from a largely defensive midfielder to a robust, tireless runner with an eye for goal and an enormous work-rate.

Overcoming some technical deficiencies in his game, Matuidi gradually earned himself a place in the France lineup and became a key player at the 2014 World Cup and last year’s European Championship.

At the beginning of last season, after Blanc was fired and replaced by Unai Emery, he expressed a desire to leave PSG and already wanted to join Juventus. But the club blocked his move, considering him too important to leave, and he stayed for another season.

Altogether, Matuidi has scored 33 goals for PSG in 295 appearances, becoming a well-respected player among fans and teammates alike, often taking a public stance when others would not and when tensions arose within the club.

In all, Matuidi has won four league titles, three French Cups and four League Cups with PSG.

This story has been corrected to show that Neymar’s fee was 222 million euros, not 220 million euros.

Furious Cristiano Ronaldo responds to five-game ban

Getty Images
4 Comments

Cristiano Ronaldo has hit out at the Spanish soccer federation after his five game ban for pushing a referee in the back was upheld.

Ronaldo, 32, pushed the ref after he was shown a second yellow card in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at Barcelona on Sunday.

It capped an eventful El Clasico for Ronaldo who arrived in the second half as a sub, then scored a stunner to put Real 2-1 up.

He received his first yellow for taking off his shirt and holding it up to the Nou Camp crowd to mock Lionel Messi for doing the same in a goal celebration in April at the Santiago Bernabeu. Ronaldo then received a second yellow for going down in the box under a challenge.

In an Instagram post the Real Madrid forward had the following to say about the decision which sees him banned for the second leg ag the Bernabeu on Wednesday as well as Real’s next four games.

“It seems to me exaggerated and ridiculous, this is called persecution.”