Second half heroics from Jaime Penedo give LA Galaxy 1-0 lead ahead of leg two in Tijuana

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The mechanics were different, but the broad strokes were nearly identical. On the heals of Sporting Kansas City’s 1-0 win over Cruz Azul, the LA Galaxy, at home Wednesday night in CONCACAF Champions League, took a 1-0 lead into halftime against their Mexican opposition: Club Tijuana. Despite their Liga MX visitors gaining the advantage in the second half, the Major League Soccer side still held on for a 1-0 victory – an edge they’ll take to Mexico for next week’s second leg.

The Galaxy even needed to match Sporting’s second half defensive heroics, but whereas it was Ike Opara and Seth Sinovic saving balls from open nets in Kansas, it was Jaime Penedo making a series of saves near the hour mark to keep his team in front. After nearly giving away the match, Penedo’s teammates regained enough of their footing to hold serve in Carson.

The final gives Bruce Arena’s side a slight edge ahead of the return leg at Estadio Caliente, one that looks fortunate considering the numerous good chances the team gave up in the second half. Given who was responsible for preserving that result, however, the final looks less like luck and more a result of a commitment LA made last season. In one 10-minute stretch of the second half, the Penedo reminded Galaxy fans of the difference between a goalkeeping weakness and a player who can steal results.

The Panamaian international helped preserve the late provided by Samuel, with the former Fluminense striker converting from near the spot in the 11th minute. On a ball lobbed over the defense by midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, Robbie Keane’s poor control was redeemed when his trap fell for his recently-acquired strike partner. A first-time finish into the left of goal gave LA a 1-0 lead.

Throughout the rest of the half, Arena’s was the better team, though control failed to translate into clear-cut chances. Though Landon Donovan was finding room behind Juan Nuñez down the left, LA was unable to replicate the type of opportunity that put them in front. When intermission was called, the Galaxy had to content themselves with their one-goal lead.

When their defense failed them early in the second half, LA’s lead looked destined to be short-lived. But Penedo, in the first exhibit of his imperious form, got a right palm to a short-range shot that was heading for the near post, even if the play would be called offside. Five minutes later, Penedo got no help from the whistles and needed an athletic save on Hernan Pellerano to keep his team in front.

Minutes later, Penedo was forced into a sprawling save as his poor read on a cross left his goal temporarily abandoned. A slow rolling ball toward his goal was swept away just before it crossed the line.

When Sarvas was called upon at the right post to save a potential 68th minutes equalizer, LA was finally getting help from more than their keeper. But they were still giving up good chances, with the onslaught Tijuana had conducted since 10 minutes into the period giving the impression an equalizer was inevitable. Seemingly losing every battle in the middle of the park, the Galaxy were being severely outplayed despite holding a one-goal edge.

As the 70th minute approached, however, the game began to level off. LA started winning balls in midfield, converting them into corner kicks as they headed toward Cirilo Saucedo’s goal. Come full-time, Tijuana’s strong stretch in the middle of the half looked more like a bad Galaxy run than a period that would define the match. The final whistle ensured the home team would take a 1-0 lead into next week’s leg in Tijuana.

It was an identical result to the one put up by their MLS brethren in Kansas City, but although the broad strokes were the same, the details ended up far different. And because Jaime Penedo’s night ended up more eventful than Eric Kronberg’s, the conclusions differed, too.

Whereas Sporting recent history and Wednesday performance hint they might be able to limit Cruz Azul in Mexico City, the Galaxy can’t rely on another set of Penedo heroics in Baja. LA  needs to be better next Tuesday if they’re to make the Champions League semifinals.

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.

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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.

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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.