Drilling down on: San Jose Earthquakes 1, at LA Galaxy 0

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The LA Galaxy were left stunned Sunday night after a 94th minute free kick from Victor Bernardez gave San Jose a 1-0 victory, leaving the defending Major League Soccer champions on the edge of elimination ahead of the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal.

An often cagey match in front of 27,000 at Home Depot Center was brought to life late when Robbie Keane nearly put the home team in front, his the 86th minute shot from 22 yards nailing Jon Busch’s crossbar.

Eight minutes later, when Marcelo Sarvas fouled Simon Dawkins 30 yards from LA’s goal, Bernardez put San Jose in front, his free kick skidding beneath a jumping Omar Gonzalez and under a diving Josh Saunders to give the Supporters’ Shield winners their 10th extra time goal of the season.

Man of the Match: Before his goal, Victor Bernardez was close to leaving the game, the Honduran international having injured his right leg late in the match. With San Jose out of substitutions, the defender had little choice but to continue, a decision that almost came back to haunt the Earthquakes when he appeared to aggravate the injury in the 92nd minute.

Two minutes later, Bernardez was the man behind the ball, set for a 15-yard run up on what looked like it would be more of a prayer than a shot. But thanks to a hop from Gonzalez and a slow reaction from Saunders, Bernardez snagged San Jose’s match winner.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Sometimes they feel like first legs.

Friday (Seattle-Real Salt Lake) and Sunday afternoon (Houston-Sporting Kansas City) debunked the notion that the first game of a two-legged series has to be a conservative affair. Unfortunately, tonight’s game gave us more of what we saw between D.C. United and New York – two teams taking a wait-and-see approach over the first half of a 180-minute game.

Over the first 45 minutes, with the teams combined for one shot on goal. Most of the game was played in the middle third between two sides more concerned with avoiding big mistakes than making something happen. The league’s two best attacks were waiting for the other guy to mess up.

When the second half started, it was more of the same, though at the hour mark, LA started pushing for a goal. In the 65th minute, Jon Busch was called on to make his first save of the match, with Keane nearly stealing a lead for the Galaxy in the 86th.

For San Jose, a conservative approach made sense. They were on the road against the defending champions. If somebody offered them a 0-0 before the game, they would have snatched it, said thank you, and spent three hours at the beach before their flight home.

LA’s tactics were a little more confusing, though when you think back on the team’s last week of action, you see why Bruce Arena’s team looked so flat.

LA was either out of gas, conserving energy, or just off.

Arena played a full team last Sunday in their meaningless season finale against Seattle. On Thursday, he team spent near-70 minutes chasing the game against Vancouver, who took a shock third minute lead in the teams’ knockout round match. Even though they were all at home, Los Angeles was playing their third game in eight ways, not an ideal schedule for a team built around David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Robbie Keane.

So if Los Angeles wanted to slow down Sunday’s game and try to steal it late, you couldn’t blame them. If Keane’s late blast was two or three inches lower, the plan would have worked. Bruce Arena would have been hailed as a magician.

But for whatever reason – fatigue, tactics, or just a flat performance – LA did not look themselves tonight, and when they take the field at Buck Shaw on Wednesday, the Galaxy’s aging core will be playing their fourth game in 11 days.

San Jose did it again, but don’t read too much into it.

The Earthquakes are up to 23 goals after the 75th minute. Chivas USA only scored 24 goals all season. As much as we’ve marveled at it throughout the year, San Jose’s late-match exploits remain an amazing (and probably under-appreciated) part of their success.

Tonight, however, they were outplayed over the last quarter hour. Los Angeles looked far more likely to score, and although you can explain the end result as San Jose’s ability to win against all odds, Bernardez’s goal was less their doing than the result of three Galaxy mistakes (Sarvas’s foul, Gonzalez’s hop, Saunders’ whiff).

San Jose’s results long ago established their end-game bonafides, and with their depth and tactics, you can see why they score so many late goals. Sunday, however, was less about never say die than being the beneficiaries of a gift from their opponents.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Bruce Arena shuffled his team, starting Marcelo Sarvas, pushing David Beckham out right, and having Landon Donovan partner Robbie Keane up top. Add the return of right back Sean Franklin and four of LA’s 11 starting positions changed from Thursday night.
  • Beckham’s night was quiet or ineffective, depending on how hard you want to be on him. While he put in a few dangerous crosses, most of his service was lacking, and he was often seen walking back to his defensive position. He failed to connect on any of his 11 crosses and was subbed off in the 78th minute, Bruce Arena’s only change of the match.
  • San Jose elected to go with Ramiro Corrales in midfield, with Simon Dawkins starting on the bench. The Tottenham loanee was listed as probable on the injury report and eventually came on for Martín Chavez in the last half hour.
  • Up until his stoppage time gaff, Saunders had quietly put in a strong night, making three or four nice reads to kill attacks before they became dangerous.

Barcelona sign Neto in goalkeeper swap with Valencia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Brazilian goalkeeper Neto will sign a four-year contract with the Spanish champions.

The transfer completes a swap a day after Barcelona sold Jasper Cillessen to Valencia.

Barcelona says it is paying 26 million euros ($29.5 million) plus possibly another 9 million euros ($10.2 million) in variables for Neto. Valencia paid Barcelona 35 million euros ($40 million) for Cillessen.

Neto will replace Cillessen, who played as a backup for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Champions League and the Spanish league and only regularly started in the Copa del Rey.

The 29-year-old Neto helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-place finish for the past two seasons in Spain. He also played in Italy at Juventus as a backup to Gianluigi Buffon and at Fiorentina after starting at Brazilian club Paranaense.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

USMNT v. Panama: Three things we learned

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It wasn’t always pretty, but the U.S. Men’s National Team eked out a 1-0 win over Panama in Kansas City, Kan. on Wednesday night to win its group. Jozy Altidore scored the game’s only goal in stunning fashion, finishing an overhead kick to put Panama away and set up a quarterfinal bout with Curacao on Sunday evening.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s win:

[READ: All the latest USMNT news here]


Jozy Altidore is still the best we’ve got

Many U.S. Men’s National Team fans have called for the forced retirements of Altidore and Michael Bradley, among many others, after the debacle that was the last World Cup cycle.

Until tonight, Altidore wasn’t in the USMNT picture, in part due to Dave Sarachan using younger players and Altidore continuing to suffer a series of muscle injuries since October 2017. And yet, if tonight’s game showed anything in Altidore’s 83 minutes on the pitch, it’s that he’s still the best option for the USMNT up top. While Gregg Berhalter clearly prefers Gyasi Zardes right now based on their previous work history together in Columbus, Zardes doesn’t have the strength or skill that Altidore does. It’s hard to imagine Zardes executing an overhead kick and it going in as sweetly as Altidore did.

What does this mean going forward? Regardless of if Zardes starts the rest of the way, Berhalter knows that he has Altidore always around who can give the U.S. a goal, especially on home soil and when fit. But it also lays the marker down for Zardes, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent and the other up and coming strikers that this is the level they need to meet, and beat, if they want to break into the starting lineup under Berhalter.

There’s speed to burn on the wings

It may not have had a huge impact on Wednesday, but in bringing Tyler Boyd and Christian Pulisic off the bench, Berhalter showed exactly why he’s brought so many speedy skill players along the wings.

While Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis couldn’t figure out the final pass or final touch in the box to score a goal, just their presence for 65-70 minutes tired out the backline, and the introductions of Pulisic and Boyd could have really unlocked the Panama defense. While it didn’t totally work on Wednesday, it could in the later stages of the tournament, especially in a potential rematch with either Panama or Jamaica in the semifinals and Mexico in the finals.

With Lewis and Morris likely available off the bench, that adds a new piece opponents have to worry about, both in terms of speed and dribbling ability.

Few impressed in a chance to earn a starting spot

It’s been nearly two years since the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet aside from maybe Matt Miazga or Nick Lima, there have been very few players who have done much to impress and prove they’re better than the previous cycle’s players. That continued on Wednesday with an MLS-heavy lineup. Wil Trapp, a midfielder with so much promise a few years ago, appears to have stalled. He had multiple turnovers and certainly didn’t look as sharp as Michael Bradley.

While Lewis and Morris have plenty of pace, their final pass was woeful and they didn’t do themselves any favors. Djordje Mihailovic was never going to push Pulisic out of the starting lineup, but Mihailovic didn’t exactly do enough to say that he should be the first man off the bench either, or to push Pulisic into a wing role with Mihailovic in the middle.

Aside from Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez in the middle, along with Altidore up top, no one in the lineup really did enough through the first 65 minutes to warrant another start in the tournament. It’s yet another disappointment as young players get chance after chance to prove they belong as starters, only to waste the opportunity, enabling the veterans to keep their role. More players need to keep pushing for those spots, whether through club form or national team performances. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the same situation as before.

 

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Coming off two wins to open the Gold Cup, Berhalter decided to use a completely changed starting lineup, featuring ten players from MLS teams along with Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga. Although there was some familiarity of the players on the field, it was at times a very poor match, with the USMNT struggling badly in the final third and even turning the ball over at midfield or leading the attack.

Despite winning the possession battle, 62-38, the USMNT didn’t do much with it. Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis, both of whom were subbed out, struggled on their crosses after beating a defender. The pair provided energy and hard running defensively but it didn’t lead to many chances. Altidore had the best of the first half when he was played into the box, but his strike from the right just went wide of the net.

In the 65th minute, Berhalter tried to inject some life in the game with the introduction of Christian Pulisic. It turned out a goal could come just after, but without the intervention of Pulisic.

Djordje Mihailovic drilled the corner kick to the far post where it was met by the head of Matt Miazga who sent it back towards goal. A missed clearance from Panama popped the ball up in the air above the back post, allowing Altidore the time he needed to lift off the ground and bicycle kick it in for the game’s only goal.

Berhalter later brought on both Tyler Boyd and Gyasi Zardes off the bench to try and score an insurance goal, but Panama’s defense held strong and the U.S. failed to threaten the rest of the way. However, the U.S. backline kept a third-consecutive clean sheet and key players such as Michael Bradley got the entire game off to rest before likely returning to the lineup this weekend.

 

 

Must-See Goal: Jozy Altidore puts USMNT in front with Bicycle Kick

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Jozy Altidore put his stamp on the game and gave U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter more to speak about with one fell swing.

Altidore finished off a corner kick in spectacular fashion, executing a perfect bicycle kick to put the USMNT up 1-0 in the 66th minute. The goal came one minute after the entrance of Christian Pulisic, which perhaps was on the mind of the Panama defense.

It was Altidore’s second-straight game vs. Panama with a goal. His last two were in October 2017, when the U.S. pummeled Panama, 4-0. Of course, a few days later, a tired USMNT failed to win at Trinidad and Tobago.