United States national team player ratings vs. Panama

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GK Tim Howard (7): Just a night at the office for Jurgen Klinsmann’s first choice in goal, with only some routine catches and one punch to manage until stoppage time. Howard was quick off his line to stuff Luis Tejada, who sneaked in behind the U.S. in the 92nd minute.

RB Brad Evans (4): If Panama wasn’t so punchless in attack, this whole thing could look quite different. Because the Sounders man’s early defending went from splotchy in the first 15 minutes to downright exposed later in the half. Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron rushed over to help several times. Not much of a factor on the U.S. attack.

CB Omar Gonzalez (7): As mentioned, he provided lots of help for Evans and was solid and well-positioned. The Galaxy man did get caught unawares late on Tejada’s sneaky run behind the back line. Otherwise, confident and mistake-free in the tackles and aerial challenges.

CB Matt Besler (6): Usually the better passer of the U.S. center backs Tuesday. The Sporting KC defender was pushed a little once Panama brought on its second striker, and the communication with Gonzalez remains a work in progress. A little smaller than Gonzalez, he probably benefitted more from Blas Perez’s absence along Panama’s front line.

LB DaMarcus Beasley (6): Two inviting crosses early warned Panama that it would need to be alert, and that opened up space for Fabian Johnson and Dempsey.  All the defensive trouble came down the opposite side as Panama clearly had Evans targeted. His 70th minute dash was a lung buster, and Beasley was very nearly rewarded for it (but hit the post on Jozy Altidore’s nifty pass). One demerit for Beasley, whose late yellow card was silly; now he’ll miss next week’s match in Salt Lake City.

MF Geoff Cameron (8): Who saw this coming? What a breakout night from the guy who had such a tough night two weeks ago as a right back against Belgium. His tracking, tackling, defensive position and ability to cover plenty of ground were superb. How many times did he stretch those long legs in to nick something away? The communication with Michael Bradley appeared spotless as Cameron worked just in behind the U.S. midfield leader. Cameron’s early passing was way too loose, although he made up for some much of it with that awesome ball into Eddie Johnson for a second U.S. goal. Like Gonzalez, he was diligent in offering assistance for Evans. (Almost forgot: Cameron won the second ball and immediately pushed it to Bradley for the first U.S. goal.)

MF Michael Bradley (8): Is there a time when Michael Bradley is not in the right spot, on offense or defense? Probably … but it sure doesn’t happen very often. He is always an available outlet and almost always moves the ball along with a clarity of choice. (Someone check the stats, because he may not have given away a possession all night!). Bradley’s 22nd minute shot looked goal-bound, but hit Clint Dempsey, and the timing on runs into the 18 carried its usual effectiveness.

RW Eddie Johnson (7): The hometown hero looked surprising comfortable in his wide role as a winger or midfielder or something in between. There was a good variety to his game, one that mixed short passing with timely dribbling, a couple of crosses and mostly good choices. And the goal, of course! Johnson was not always in the best spots to help Evans, but what do we expect? The guy is a forward, after all.

MF Clint Dempsey (7): Worked his usual spots behind Jozy Altidore, combining wonderfully through the night with the U.S. striker and with Fabian Johnson on the left, too.  Panama never seemed to find the U.S. captain, who got on the ball in different spots and didn’t ever hit his “default,” which is to try doing too much on his own. Dempsey’s near-post run was critical in that first-half goal, by the way.

LW Fabian Johnson (6): Responded critically to a challenge from Klinsmann, who asked him to find more ways to get involved. That’s always like a Klinsmann “yellow card,” meaning the young midfielder was close to fumbling away his starting spot. Sure enough, Johnson crushed an early shot, but went high with it. His crossing wasn’t always the best, but he got into position with varied runs and was certainly laser-targeted with than left-footed cross to Altidore. His relationship and chemistry with Beasley happened fast, and it’s quite something.

FW Jozy Altidore (8): If the young U.S. striker can nail the balance he found Tuesday, with wonderful technical work, parlayed with smart decisions and lots of hard work, he’ll be an automatic choice for the United States for a long, long time. Altidore found a variety of ways to get involved, running at defenders here and there, working the combos in the 20- to 30-yard range and popping out wide just enough to be difficult to track. Other than scoring in his third consecutive match, the AZ striker probably should have won a 34th minute penalty kick, too.

Subs:

Brad Davis … late sub for Fabian Johnson

Joe Corona … late sub for Eddie Johnson

Stuart Holden … late sub for Altidore.

Extra-time golazo lifts River over Boca in Copa Libertadores final

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For all of the negativity surrounding the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final between River Plate and Boca Juniors — from the bus attack, to postponing the game, to moving it to Madrid — the 90 120 minutes of actual soccer delivered on the pre-final hype of a first-ever Superclasico to crown a South American champion.

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Tied 2-2 after the first leg nearly a month ago now, Sunday’s second leg — played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu — saw River Plate top their bitter Buenos Aires rivals 3-1 (5-3 on aggregate) in extra time.

Dario Benedetto put Boca ahead with the game’s opening goal just before halftime. While the finish was certainly clinical, it’s the through ball from Nahitan Nandez that stole the show, and rightly so. Nandez split two defenders with his inch-perfect pass into space, sending Benedetto in for a straightforward one-on-one chance which he slotted away with ease.

But River fought back with an exceptionally worked equalizer in the 68th minute. Ignacio Fernandez cut the ball back for Lucas Pratto who swept it home from near the penalty spot.

Juan Quintero hammered home the winning goal from outside the penalty area after 109 minutes. Quintero’s left-footed strike departed his foot like a missile and crashed off the underside of the crossbar.

River put the exclamation point on, and added insult to heartbreak, with a stoppage-time, empty-netter to make it 3-1. Gonzalo Martinez raced toward the end of the stadium full of blue and yellow-clad supporters and rolled the ball home with the last meaningful kick of the game.

 

La Liga: Bale scores as Real Madrid get by tiny Huesca

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MADRID (AP) Gareth Bale scored early in the first half and Real Madrid held on for a harder-than-expected 1-0 win at last-placed Huesca on Sunday to move closer to the top of the Spanish league.

Bale found the net in the eighth minute and Madrid withstood pressure from the league newcomer to move to fourth in the standings after 15 matches, behind Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and leader Barcelona.

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid won their games on Saturday, while Sevilla was held by Valencia to a draw.

The match in Huesca happened only a few hours before fierce Argentine rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors played in Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in the final of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of the Champions League. The second leg of the final was moved to the Spanish capital after the match in Argentina was marred by fan violence.

Madrid struggled against a Huesca team that hasn’t won in 16 straight matches. Huesca has only won once in the league this season – in the first round at Eibar.

Huesca is making its first-division debut and had never played against Real Madrid.

Santiago Solari’s team needed a solid performance by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to hold on to the win, the team’s fourth consecutive victory in all competitions after a humiliating 3-0 defeat at Eibar in the league.

“We couldn’t do much in the second half,” Courtois said. “We know we have to improve, but it’s difficult to play these types of matches.”

Courtois and other Madrid players said strong winds in the second half made it harder for the team to control the game.

Marco Asensio and Isco, who had led the team to a 6-1 rout of third-division club Melilla in the Copa del Rey on Thursday, entered Sunday’s match in the second half but made no significant contribution.

Bale scored with a neat volley from inside the area, side-footing a cross by Alvaro Odriozola.

The Wales forward, jeered by some fans in the team’s league win against Valencia last weekend, hadn’t scored in 10 league matches.

Real Madrid was ninth in the standings after losing 5-1 at Barcelona in a match that led to the firing of coach Julen Lopetegui.

Benitez crushes refs for Yedlin red after loss to Wolves

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DeAndre Yedlin‘s controversial red card near the hour mark of Newcastle’s eventual home loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers proved deadly, and left Magpies boss Rafa Benitez fuming.

Benitez was so mad, he let the officials hear it on the field, and then after the match didn’t hold back, calling for VAR to be instituted immediately.

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“We need the VAR, now. I think we need the VAR,” Benitez told Sky Sports. “You can guarantee to me that the player in the corner of the box can score in the top corner every time? It cannot be a red card [on Yedlin]. We have lost three points today and we deserve to win.”

Yedlin was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity, but the controversial decision was made by referee Mike Dean despite the presence of a pair of Newcastle defenders in the area and charging, with Jamaal Lascelles the closest. “The ball was far away and he [Lascelles] was close, close enough at least to see that it was not a clear chance.”

Benitez was also furious about an incident where Ayoze Perez took an elbow from Willy Boly in the penalty area with 10 minutes to go. “It’s so obvious. You see the red card [on Yedlin] and you see the elbow in the face of Ayoze. We need the VAR, right now.”

“I think the team was doing well in the game, but it is very difficult in these situations,” Benitez said. “I don’t need to talk too much because you talk well about the referees, and their decisions that are wrong. Just watch the images, that’s it. It is so clear.”

VAR has recently been confirmed for use in the Premier League starting next season. The league voted this summer on instituting the technology for this season, but instead voted to postpone the system’s installment.

Watch Live: Boca Juniors and River Plate in Copa Libertadores final

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The match is finally here.

After many twists and turns that saw the final’s second leg postponed and scheduled two weeks later thousands of miles away, Boca Juniors and River Plate will meet with 90 minutes to decide the Copa Libertadores winner. The game kicks at 2:30 p.m. ET from the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, Spain.

WATCH COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL LIVE, ONLINE

With the fan violence aside, the focus can return to the match on the field. The aggregate is 2-2 after the first leg hosted by Boca Juniors, with the visitors fighting back from a goal deficit twice. The level aggregate score gives this match the feel of a one-off final rather than a second leg, punctuated even more by the delay between start and finish.

The delay also means Cristian Pavon is healthy and ready to go for Boca Juniors after leaving the first leg in tears after just 27 minutes. Carlos Tevez begins on the bench for Boca. River manager Marcello Gallardo is still suspended for the second leg as he was for the first, but this time he can at least be in attendance, unlike the first leg when he was not allowed in the stadium.

LINEUPS

River Plate: Armani, Montiel, Maidana, Pinola, Casco, Ponzio, Perez, Palacios, Fernandez, Martinez, Pratto.
Bench: Luz, Martinez Quarta, Mayada, Zuculini, Quintero, Alvarez, Mora.

Boca Juniors: Andrada, Buffarini, Magallan, Izquierdoz, Olaza, Nandez, Barrios, Perez, Pavon, Benedetto, Villa.
Bench: Rossi; Goltz, Jara, Gago, Tevez, Abila, Zarate.