U.S. vs. Mexico Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson

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After a memorable match like tonight where a number of players put in such tremendous shifts, selecting a Man of the Match can be a bit troublesome.

For example, how can someone argue that Tim Howard doesn’t deserve the recognition?

The U.S. goalkeeper proved his worth tonight in a big way. Entering the pitch with his typical chrome-dome and a beard that would make James Harden proud, Howard exuded confidence.

From the early corner-kicks, to Giovani Dos Santos’ menacing runs, to the long-range efforts of Christian ‘El Chaco’ Giménez, Howard had every angle covered. The Everton netminder’s save of the night came in the 43rd minute when Dos Santos slipped behind Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones and stabbed a vicious shot towards the top corner. With a cat-like leap, Howard sprung left and sucked in the shot with both gloves, preventing the rebound.

But as good as Howard was, who could deny Omar Gonzalez the MOTM award?

Tonight we witnessed the coming-of-age story that was Gonzalez morphing from a boy with talent into a center-back worthy of international recognition. From the opening whistle he bossed the U.S. defense with thoughtful organization and intelligent positioning.

Dos Santos may have been active but Gonzo had him in his back pocket. Utilizing his robust 6’5″ frame, the center-back forced Gio off the ball on numerous occasions leaving the diminutive playmaker with nothing to do but foul. Gonzo’s best sequence of the night came in the 18th minute where his sliding interception ruined Dos Santos’ through-ball to Javier Hernandez. The play continued, however, with Omar then popping up and blocking Gio’s shot before Giménez forced a fine save by Howard.

And yet, incredibly, other guys were equally as impressive as Howard and Gonzo.

Alejandro Bedoya was a nightmare for El Tri, especially Andres Guardado. Landon Donovan overcame what had to be one of the gnarliest forms of pink-eye ever seen to put in a shift that screamed one word: desire. Heck, one could even argue that Jurgen Klinsmann, for all the depth and belief he has provided the Stars & Stripes, deserved the recognition.

But for me, tonight was all about Eddie Johnson.

One of the biggest narratives going into the match was whether the U.S. had the depth to defeat Mexico, and more specifically, whether the U.S. attack could inflict danger without Jozy Altidore.

Eddie Johnson more than answered that question in the affirmative. He caused problems for Mexico’s defense right away, working his way into channels where the U.S. midfield could work off him. In the 22nd minute he found one of these pockets on top of Mexico’s box and provided a cheeky back heel that sprung Clint Dempsey free only for his shot to be blocked.

Nine minutes later, it was Johnson’s trump card – his athleticism – that frustrated El Tri as he skied over the defense and unleashed a thunderous header that was right at Jose de Jesus Corona. The effort was a sign of things to come, however, as Johnson sensed Mexico’s timidity in the air and latched on to Donovan’s 49th minute corner to pound home the opening goal.

Johnson’s goal celebration at the corner flag was emphatic and justifiably so – he was a man on a mission. And tonight, he arrived in a very big way.

Brazil, baby! Brazil!

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.

[ RECAP: Late Doherty strike wins it for Wolves ]

“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.

Newcastle 1-2 Wolves: Doherty wins it late

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  • Perez cancelled out Jota before the break
  • Yedlin sent off in 57′ for last-man foul
  • Doherty heads home deep into stoppage time

Newcastle looked strong at home as they worked to move further from the relegation zone, but a critical second-half call proved deadly as DeAndre Yedlin was sent off with 33 minutes to go, and while Newcastle nearly held on in front of a strong Martin Dubravka, Matthew Doherty struck four minutes into stoppage time to seal the Wolves win. Diogo Jota was vicious all match, proving the difference in the attack.

Wolves picked up where they left off against Chelsea midweek, and it was the hero then who opened the scoring on Sunday. Jota was on the receiving end of a cross from Helder Costa, who delivered a perfect ball into the box that somehow sailed over the head of Jamaal Lascelles in no man’s land. Jota was there on the doorstep, and he chested down and touched past Martin Dubravka with ease for the opener.

That lead, however, was short-lived. Off a set-piece, Salomon Rondon hit the bar with his free-kick, and while fans all looked to the referee to see if the ball had crossed the line, Rondon sent the ball back in from the other side and Ayoze Perez cleaned things up with a fabulous header to level the match.

That sprung Newcastle to life, and Rondon forced a Rui Patricio save moments later. The Magpies were strong headed into the break, and came out of halftime in the ascendency as well. Newcastle was forced into a change at the break, as an injured Federico Fernandez came off, replaced by Javier Manquillo.

The game changed just before the hour mark when U.S. international Yedlin was sent off for a tackle on Jota. it was an incredibly controversial call, as Yedlin brought Jota down just outside the top-left corner of the box, and while referee Mike Dean judged it to be a last-man foul, Jota was cutting in front the left flank at an angle, and Newcastle had two defenders closing from the other side of the box.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Jota was lucky to stay on the pitch himself with 17 minutes to go as he stomped hard and brought down Perez at the top of the Newcastle box after a heavy touch got away. Replays showed Jota stepped sideways into an oncoming Perez to send him tumbling.

Wolves got its best chance since gaining a man advantage in the 76th minute as substitute Raul Jimenez smacked the bar with a vicious strike from near the same spot Rondon did the previous half. They forced a fabulous Dubravka save with 10 minutes to go as Wolves hit on the break and a Jota cutback went through a Morgan Gibbs-White dummy to the feet of Doherty who rifled a curling effort that the Newcastle shot-stopper lept to parry.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

It appeared Newcastle had rode out the disadvantage, but Wolves struck with one final counter-attack. Jota marauded forward over the midway line and into the penalty area, and his initial shot was saved athletically by Dubravka, but the rebound fell right to Doherty at the far post who headed into the empty net on the doorstep.

The win moved Wolves into the top half of the table, sitting 10th with 22 points, level with Leicester City but behind on goal difference. Newcastle remains in 15th with 13 points on the season, just five points above the relegation zone.