MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 1-0 San Jose Earthquakes

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One game, 100 words or less: Without Chris Wondolowski in the team, San Jose couldn’t afford to give up an opening goal to a TFC that relishes the opportunity to revert to it shell. While that’s not exactly what happened in the wake of Jermain Defoe’s opening goal, the Earthquakes were still made to pay for Alan Gordon’s early foul, one that struck Nick Hagglund and drew the attention of Fatis Bazakos. Defoe’s 26th minute conversation into the left of goal was all TFC needed to win its third in four.

Three moments that mattered:

1. 23′ – Are we sure he isn’t a right back? – In his first season out of Xavier, Hagglund has impressed in the middle when called up to replace Steven Caldwell or Doneil Henry. He’s made casual fans forget Toronto has Gale Agbossoumonde. On Saturday, however, the 21-year-old was called on to play right back. Twenty-three minutes in, he almost came good with his first Major League Soccer goal, trapping a ball swung to his side before volleying a 17-yard shot toward Jon Busch. The San Jose keeper kept the ball out, but very early on, Hagglung showed he wasn’t miscast in his new role.

2. 26′ – Gordon gives Toronto its shot – TFC’s corner from the left would have been innocuous enough had Gordon kept Hagglund on his back. Or not flailed his right arm toward the rookie’s face. Or just stood there and did nothing while the ball floated over this head. Instead, the forward’s arm gave Bazakos no reasonable choice. Ultimately, it cost his team the game.

source: AP
Toronto FC’s Jermain Defoe scores from the penalty spot against San Jose Earthquakes during first half in Toronto. (Source: AP)

3. 66′ – Did Goodson get lucky? – In the 66th minute, a long ball seemingly headed over the San Jose defense was batted down by the recovering Clarence Goodson, who received a yellow card for his troubles. The question is, with nobody but the goalkeeper behind him, whether the San Jose center back prevented an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Ryan Nelsen argued the point to the fourth official, but the counter point: The foul seemed to play into the “last man” fallacy rather than reflect an actual chance. To the extent it was an opportunity, it wasn’t an obvious one.

Three lessons going forward:

1. Toronto can get points without Bradley – This lesson didn’t start tonight. It started when Michael Bradley left for U.S. men’s national team camp. Since his departure, Toronto has 10 points in four games. The team had nine point in its previous seven.

2. The Reds may not need Gilberto – TFC fans are split. Some espouse the Brazilian Designated Players’ all-around virtues. Others focus on that goals column: 0. Today the 25-year-old injured his left thigh in warm ups and had to be pulled from the starting lineup. To the extent that TFC’s attack has beats, it didn’t miss one.

3. Sam Cronin still doesn’t fit in San Jose’s midfield – It’s sad to say this about a player who’s been so influential int eh past, but Sam Cronin just doesn’t fit with this year’s team. The hypothesis was played out after Khari Stephenson and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi became the team’s regular starters, and it was verified when Cronin looked redundant to the Frenchman for much of Saturday’s game. The sooner Stephenson returns to health, the better for Mark Watson.

Where that leaves them

  • Toronto: 6-4-1, fourth the the East, unbeaten in four
  • San Jose: 4-5-4, two points our of fifth in the West, 3-2-0 in its last five

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.