Bid Red poised for big redemption in Olympic soccer

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One year removed from World Cup humiliation, Canada could have its best Olympic showing to date. A semifinal clash with the U.S. awaits.

Canada supplied the shock of the Olympic tournament thus far, knocking out Great Britain in the quarterfinals with a tour de force performance. The shock wasn’t just the result, but the manner in which it was achieved.

Although both goals arrived from set pieces, Canada thoroughly dictated the run of play with crisp passing and incisive movement. Jonelle Filigno became the first player of the tournament to break through Great Britain’s defense with a lovely half-volley. The opening salvo pinned the hosts into a corner. Christine Sinclair’s arching free kick later in the first half proved to be the fatal blow.

It’s not the first time Canada – affectionately known as ‘Big Red’ – has entered a major tournament with hopes of playing a more substantive style of soccer. This is, however, the first time it’s worked. So far, at least.

The origins of Canada’s attack-minded ethos lie with former head coach Carolina Morace. The hard-nosed Italian took charge of a program that seemed to be stagnating – both competitively and stylistically. An all-out overhaul ensued.

Morace’s philosophy looked to catch fire, as Canada won the 2010 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying tournament (a.k.a. the Gold Cup) for the first time in nearly a decade. Her ideas also proved to be combustible. Canada would go on to crash out at the 2011 World Cup in spectacular fashion, losing all three group games while only registering one goal.

The unmitigated failure led to Morace’s exit and a brief period of soul-searching. John Herdman left his post as New Zealand head coach to assume the reins of a program struggling to find an identity and direction.On the back of Friday triumph, it appears he’s discovered both.

(MORE: Herdman draws a circle around “highly illegal” U.S. tactics)

When the Englishman arrived at the helm last year, he vowed to build off the style Morace introduced to her players. He has since added his own personal touch. Physicality – not just possession – has become the name of Canada’s game.

In addition the more pragmatic approach, the team has developed something that was in short supply during the Morace era: self-assurance.

Canada went into the quarterfinal against Great Britain teeming with it. Gone were the nerves that paralyzed the team in its three World Cup group games last summer.

Canada will need to draw upon more of its new-found confidence on Monday when it comes up against three-time gold medalists and regional rivals the United States. For all of England’s Great Britain’s workmanlike merits, they are a team prone to fading down the stretch. Fatigue and panic evidently crept into the side on Friday, particularly after shipping two goals.

The United States, in contrast, is considered the fittest team in the world. The U.S.’s record of dominance over its northern neighbors is daunting: 26 matches without a loss since 2001, with the most recent victory coming in late June.

After years of pretention and frustration, has Herdman truly transformed Canada into medal contenders? His side will be eager to show it has another surprise in store.

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

Yaya Toure talks future, wants to play with Paul Pogba

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There is very little debate: Yaya Toure is his own special case.

The longtime Manchester City midfielder does what he wants, flies his own flag, has the worst agent in the game, and is pleased or dismayed in unusual ways.

[ UCL: What would Real 3-peat mean? ]

Toure, 35, has been linked with a move to NYCFC now that he’s leaving Man City, but the Ivorian still wants to play two more seasons for a Champions League or Europa League club.

And he wants to get together with Paul Pogba. You can see where this is going… (from The Manchester Evening News):

“Pogba is the same size, power – but different in the way he wants to go. Technically as well, the ability to score goals as well. It is a player I want to play with, to be honest, just to teach him some things.”

That must mean both are going to Paris Saint-Germain because… Yaya at Manchester United? No way, right? Right? Even with last year’s reports from his — again — terrible agent that it was an option, that still seems too villainous.

“I don’t rule big teams out. The big teams are very important for me. What they want to achieve, the way they want to go, for me is very important. … I want to go somewhere I can win and achieve. It’s going to be hard one day to play against City, but I have to do that. It is part of my job.”

Toure later said he was “no good in an office,” which had us thinking, well, what if they properly celebrated your birthday, Yaya?

WATCH: Miami United midfielder unleashes Open Cup laser

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Tomas Granitto, have yourself an extra plate at the postgame buffet.

The Miami United midfielder scored a gorgeous goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over fellow NPSL side Jacksonville Armada in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

Complete with aesthetically-pleasing post-ping, the former El Salvador U-20 player laid into a 25-yard shot to open the scoring in Florida.

Granitto, 24, has played for Timbers 2, Swope Park Rangers, FC Edmonton, since leaving NCAA side Florida Gulf Coast.

Rondon wanted by Atleti, Inter Milan, and West Ham

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The big boys are looking to Salomon Rondon as a bargain striker.

Yes, $22 million is a bargain in the striker market these days.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

West Brom’s Venezuelan international, 28, stands 6’2″ and has a relegation release clause that is reportedly interesting Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, and West Ham United.

Atleti and Inter are in the Champions League next season, but Rondon played for new West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga, posting 25 league goals in two seasons.

He’s scored 24 goals in three Premier League seasons at West Brom, almost a quarter of the 104 produced by the Baggies.

He also picked up three assists this season as the target man for Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, and Darren Moore (and was fouled more often than any other Baggie (Baggy?)).

Rondon and Marko Arnautovic next to each other would be a real handful for PL defenses. Then again, maybe he’ll stay loyal to West Brom and set the Championship scoring record next season.