Cruz Azul dips into MLS, signs Baca, Farfan, Villarreal

2 Comments

Cruz Azul, with what the club itself called a surprise set of signings, has turned to Major League Soccer for three new players, a shock triple swoop la Machina hopes will help them compete for the upcoming Clausura’s crown. In San Jose’s Rafael Baca, Philadelphia’s Michael Farfan, and Los Angeles’s Jose Villarreal, the Mexico City club are getting three players capable of starting in Major League Soccer, signings  that will raise a number of eyebrows north of the border.

As of Sunday, none of the players’ Major League Soccer teams had confirmed the news, with San Jose going so far as to tell multiple outlets that Baca remains under contract for 2014. Adam Serrano, who covers the LA Galaxy for LAGalaxy.com, reports that Villarreal’s move iss a year-long loan with an option to buy, raising the possibility that all three players could be on similar deals. But with (bizarrely) the league’s official web site unable to get its clubs’ representatives to confirm the moves, we’re still in the dark as to if, how, and why three Major League Soccer players landed with Cruz Azul.

On Sunday, the trio were unveiled along with Marco Fabian, Fausto Pinto, Xavi Báez – Cruz Azul’s other additions to a team that finished fourth in the Apertura’s qualification stage. In the Liguilla, the team was seen out of the tournament by fifth seeded Toluca, with the club website acknowledging they need to “reinforce many parts of the team” if they’re to improve on their fall result.

Baca just completed his third season with the Earthquakes, starting 28 games and recording two assists. A linchpin along side Sam Cronin in San Jose’s midfield, Baca had made 79 appearances since debuting for the team in 2011, scoring twice while assisting on nine goals.

Michael Farfan broke out as Philadelphia’s playmaker in 2012 and was selected to the All-Star Team but never found a groove in his first full last year under John Hackworth. The 25-year-old, also having completed his third season in Major League Soccer, had four goals and nine assists  in 82 games.

Villarreal is a homegrown player for Los Angeles who has also appeared for the United States’ U-18, U-20, and U-23 national teams. The 20-year-old debuted for the Galaxy in 2012 and has made 13 appearances, scoring two career goals.

 

The trio’s debut with their new club could come as early as Jan. 4, with Cruz Azul opening the 2015 Clausura at CONCACAF champions Monterrey. By then, we should know something about how the players ended up in Mexico. Still, with their new team having unveiled the players at a Sunday press conference, it’s truly bizarre that the league’s own machinery can’t get somebody to confirm the moves.

Rumors about Cruz Azul’s potential swoop have been circulating since last week, but without announcements from the league, the whys and hows of La Machina’s signings remain a mystery, even though the club unveiled their new players on Sunday. Whether these are outright sales or temporary loans remain to be seen.

Perhaps the only certainty beyond the trio having signed contracts in Mexico: Cruz Azul have certainly “surprised” MLS followers with their triple swoop.

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Southampton

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON — Chelsea beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday, with the Blues setting up an FA Cup final clash with Manchester United on May 19.

Antonio Conte‘s side scored twice in the second half with Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata on the scoresheet against a sorry Saints outfit.

Here’s what we learned as Chelsea have set up a tasty clash with Jose Mourinho next month.


GIROUD AN ELEGANT ASSASSIN

Olivier Giroud is quickly becoming a cult hero at Chelsea. The Frenchman dribbled delicately around three Southampton defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy before prodding home to put his side ahead.

It was a elegant, yet clumsy, goal and summed up Giroud’s penchant for delivering goals of the highest difficulty.

Giroud has now been involved in 22 goals in 26 FA Cup appearances (15 goals, 7 assists), more than any other player in the completion since his debut in 2013.

The Frenchman is now pushing hard to be Chelsea’s first-choice central striker ahead of Alvaro Morata, although the Spaniard did grab a goal late on to wrap up the win.

Giroud has scored four goals in 13 appearances in all competitions since arriving from Arsenal in January but the way he holds the ball up and links with Eden Hazard is a huge plus for Conte. Giroud could also start up top with Morata if Chelsea tweak their system and at the age of 31 there is still plenty of life left in him and not just as a late sub, the role Conte earmarked for him.


COULD CONTE STAY…

Antonio Conte will likely still leave Chelsea at the end of the season but the Italian coach seems to badly want his time at Chelsea to end with a trophy.

But here’s a thought: if Chelsea beat Man United and somehow make it into the top four at Tottenham’s expense (they are five points back with four games to go), will he remain in charge for the final year of his three-year contract?

The Blues cruised into the FA Cup final and looked fired up from the start as Eden Hazard pulled the strings and Giroud made a nuisance of himself.

Conte’s comments all season long suggest he will depart Chelsea this summer and seek a new project, but if he does so after winning the FA Cup (after being runners up last season) to go along with the PL title he won last season, and then finishing fifth, that’s not a bad two years in the PL.

The Italian will depart with his pride and reputation intact even if he doesn’t defeat his old foe Mourinho in the final next month.


SOUTHAMPTON’S STRUGGLES

Saints are in the Premier League’s relegation zone for a reason and their total lack of confidence was clear for all to see at Wembley.

Mark Hughes‘ men have five games left to save themselves but it almost seems as if Saints’ players have resigned themselves to relegation from the Premier League despite sitting just four points from safety. One win in their last 21 PL games (that came against West Brom) tells the story of a side crumbling before our eyes.

After they shipped 12 goals in four Premier League, all of them defeats, Hughes has set Saints up in a 5-3-1-1 formation to try and make them tougher to break down.

It is working, at least defensively, with a 0-0 draw at Leicester on Thursday, but going forward they totally lack any cohesion and only created three real chances on Sunday as Shane Long made a hash of a great opportunity, Charlie Austin hit the post and Nathan Redmond tested Willy Caballero.

Saints are in a really bad place as they now have to find a way to stop themselves hurtling towards relegation. Their game at home against Bournemouth next weekend is a must win. Simple.

Chelsea joins Man Utd in FA Cup Final

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Leave a comment

Chelsea will meet old pal Jose Mourinho in the FA Cup Final after beating Southampton 2-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata scored the goals for Antonio Conte‘s men, whose date with Manchester United comes at the same venue on May 19.

Southampton will turn its attention back to the relegation battle, four points behind 17th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Willian hit the cross bar with an early effort as Chelsea looked very much up for the semifinal.

Olivier Giroud had a 39th minute chance zip wide of the frame, as Chelsea posted nine of the first half’s 11 shot attempts while holding 60 percent possession.

Saints would have been happy to get to the locker room at nil-nil.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Twenty-eight seconds into the second half: That’s when Giroud scored, with Chelsea’s first long ball knocked down by Eden Hazard on the edge of the 18 and played to the Frenchman.

Giroud cut between two Saints defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with his right foot.

Hazard curled an effort of his own wide in the 48th minute.

Saints snapped to life, and Shane Long touched around Wily Caballero but too strong to equalize at Wembley.

Nathan Redmond forced a wild save out of Caballero in the 72nd minute, and nearly claimed the corner.

McCarthy tipped a Hazard shot over the bar minutes later.

Morata put it to bed on a cross from his in-tune assist man Cesar Azpilicueta.

The finish was thrilling nevertheless, with Charlie Austin hitting the far post and Saints getting a goal line clearance at the other end.

Wenger: Praise after exit announcement “more than I deserve”

Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem like the type to go on a victory lap, but the Arsenal boss is handling his resignation and the accompanying praise with pure class.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

Wenger announced the end of his long Arsenal tenure earlier this week, and has been met by heaps of praise from ex-players, fans, current Gunners, and even rivals.

The Frenchman addressed the plaudits following a 4-1 win over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“I would like to thank everyone who has been very nice and kind and praised me more than I deserved it. I would like to say thank you everyone. It’s been a great period for me and I’m thankful for that.”

Arsenal punished West Ham after the Irons equalized through Marko Arnautovic, getting a lucky goal from Aaron Ramsey and two fine finishes from Alexandre Lacazette in the win.

“I was focused on winning the game. We just tried to be professional and do our job even when the circumstances are different. It was a good team spirit and good preparation for Thursday.

“I think we constructed patiently. We didn’t make big mistakes. First of all before winning a trophy, you need to get through the semi-finals. This is a good way to prepare – scoring goals against a strong West Ham team who have done well recently.”

Next up: A huge test in the UEFA Europa League semifinals, with Atletico Madrid visiting for Thursday’s first leg. Wenger rested several big names, and Atleti has just one win from its last four matches (including a Madrid Derby draw at the Bernabeu).

WATCH: Chelsea’s Giroud scores 27 seconds after halftime

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Leave a comment

Southampton held firm against Chelsea’s challenge for 45 minutes of Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium.

Well, 45 minutes and 27 seconds.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

The first long ball of the second half saw Chelsea’s Eden Hazard leap to trap, and the Belgian played a quick ball forward to his striker.

That’s Olivier Giroud, who dribbled between two defenders and Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with the outside of his right foot.