Eddie Johnson knows the chemistry will come as DC United looks for first points

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EXCLUSIVE – DC United have picked up where they left off last season – at the bottom of Major League Soccer.

One of just two MLS clubs without a point thus far, the 2013 basement-dwellers were looking for goals, goals, and more goals when they signed Eddie Johnson to a Designated Player contract this offseason.

While he – or anyone else – has yet to score for DC, Johnson is adamant that early improvement from their first match to their second is promising enough to ease the players, even if it has yet to ease the fans.

“It’s hard to say ‘oh there’s positives things out of two losses,'” Johnson admitted, “but there’s actually some spells in the games where we got some good possession within the team and in the final third, and it’s just that final pass or two that’s not there right now.  But we know with due time that’s going to come, so that’s why we’re not panicking.”

In a vacuum, the two losses mean little in the big picture of a very long MLS season.  However, following the dreadful nature of last season, it’s hard for fans not to panic after the pair of disappointments: a 3-0 loss to Columbus at home to open the season followed by a narrow 1-0 defeat to Toronto.

(MORE: MLS Preview: Chicago Fire at DC United)

Johnson admitted building chemistry with his new teammates at the head of the DC attack has been harder than expected, especially with fellow newcomer Fabian Espindola, but not for the reasons one may think.

The Argentinian is a talented player in his own right, with MLS Cup experience as well as time with one of the biggest South American clubs in Boca Juniors.  For Johnson, working with a player who has many quality facets to his game has been tough to adjust to.

“It’s been a bit challenging because he’s a very good footballer and someone I very much admire, and I want to make the most of my opportunity in playing with him.  It’s been too bad in two games where things haven’t been clicking for us.

“For me, it’s about trying to figure out how I be effective when he drifts wide when it’s too congested in the final third up top when they really squeeze in and make the field small for us.  It’s how can I still be effective, and develop a communication with him and stay connected with him to give ourselves some real chances to be dangerous in front of the goal.  But we worked on that this week and we’re looking forward to seeing all the hard work we put in training this week trying to play that tomorrow against Chicago.”

Cutting off that connection between the two has been a point of emphasis for DC’s early-season opposition, and so far it’s worked.  Espindola has completed just 65% of his passes throughout his first two games.  While that’s not too uncommon for an attacking player, and it’s not terribly far off his last season percentage of 72%, it’s still not where DC will want his service to Johnson to be.

source: AP
Things haven’t gone swimmingly at DC United in their first two matches, but Johnson and the rest of the squad are putting in the hard work to turn it all around.

But with Chicago coming up at 4pm ET Saturday on NBCSN, it’s a golden opportunity for DC to get off the schneid.   The Fire have just two points through three matches in the young MLS season, and having seen them in preseason twice already earlier in the calendar year, Johnson is well aware of what they bring to the table.

“I’m familiar with their back four and their center backs.  I played with [Chicago defender Jhon Kennedy] Hurtado for two seasons in Seattle and I know what he likes and what he doesn’t like, so I’m going to try and play him and get him into positions he’s not comfortable with, and really going out there and putting them on our terms.”

And most of all, he wants to show the fans that last season is in the past.

“You go two games without scoring a goal or getting shots on goal and everyone starts to panic that the guys aren’t gelling and stuff.  But I feel like every game we’ve gotten better, and it’s just a matter of time that the ball starts bouncing our way.  Really, the focus is more on ourselves than the focus is on Chicago.”

With the focus on themselves, Johnson’s really enjoyed his time working with head coach Ben Olsen.  The pair have history, as teammates on the US National Team from Johnson’s debut in 2004 until Olsen’s retirement in 2007. Now, despite one standing as the boss, the two still share a similar relationship.

“Now playing under him as a coach, nothing has really changed from playing with him and his mentality is still the same.  He’s still a hard worker, he’s a winner at the end of the day, and those are the guys he wants in his team every weekend.  The results haven’t been great, but we know they’re going to come so the more we can stay positive and the more we can stay focused on trying to build and create the identity we’re trying to create here, the more successful we’re going to be.”

In addition to his new MLS venture, Johnson is also staring a chance at making his third World Cup in the face. However, as a more experienced player, he believes the two ventures of club and country to him are completely separate entities in his mind.

“If I was younger with no World Cup experience and never having been in this situation before, it would probably be eating me up through these two games not really having opportunities on goal to win games for my teams. But for me, with my experience and being in this situation for the third time now, it’s about taking it one game at a time and staying true to myself, what I believe in, and my abilities.  And if I’m honest with myself at the end of the day putting the work in week in and week out and I can look myself in the mirror and say hey, I’ve been doing all the right things, at the end of the day it’s up to the manager to pick whatever players he wants to see.”

So with the 29-year-old on the squad to take on Mexico next Wednesday, he knows not only is this a chance to earn a trip to Brazil this summer, but it’s also a chance to play Mexico – something that these players never take lightly.

source: Getty Images
Johnson is hoping to make his third World Cup, and has a chance to make yet another impression against Mexico in next week’s friendly.

“It’s not a friendly.  National team call-ups don’t come easy these days, and this is a very important game.  I think a lot of players are going to come into the camp fully focused, committed, and on top of their game, and they’re gonna leave it all out on the field and give themselves a real, real good chance at making the team.  And on top of that it’s our rivals, so any time we play against our rivals it’s about bragging rights and about showing who’s on top of CONCACAF.  [Mexico] are going to have a lot of hunger for revenge, and we’re looking forward to it.”

With making the national team a dream for just about every American-born player, Johnson got nostalgic for a moment when a former club of his was brought up.  As Fulham struggle in the bottom of the Premier League, Johnson hoped the team that gave him the opportunity to play in one of the biggest leagues in the world manages to stay up, just as he did with the Whites six years ago.

“I remember when I first went over in 2008, we were in the same situation at the bottom, and we survived,” said Johnson. “One thing I can say about everyone in that dressing room and organization is they’re fighters at the end of the day, and they’re going to do everything they can to stay up.  So I’m praying for them, I wish them all the best, and they gave me the opportunity to go over and make my dreams of playing in the Premiership come true and I’m forever grateful for that.”

So as DC United look to pick themselves up in the midst of a 14-match winless streak dating back to last year, one thing is for certain: their newly signed forward has the experience and work ethic to get them out of it.  If anyone can scrape DC United off the bottom of the standings, it’s Eddie Johnson.  He just needs a little help from his friends.

Three things learned: Real Madrid v. Liverpool

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Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev on Saturday, with Zinedine Zidane’s side winning a third-straight European cup.

A game packed full of drama saw Mohamed Salah leave the pitch in tears early on after picking up a shoulder injury, while Real took the lead via Karim Benzema’s quick thinking after a horror moment for Loris Karius.

Liverpool reacted well to those blows as Sadio Mane equalized but then Gareth Bale jumped off the bench to score a stunning overhead kick goal, then Karius made another howler to allow Bale to score another and seal a record 13th European title for Real.

Below is a look at what we learned from an encapsulating game as the curtain came down on the European season in style.


BALE’S BRILLIANCE WORTHY OF WINNING ANY FINAL

This is the stuff of dreams for Gareth Bale.

The Welshman was left out of the starting lineup in Zidane’s only big decision of the game as Isco and Karim Benzema were favored to partner Cristiano Ronaldo in attack ahead of him.

Bale made Zidane question his call after jumping off the bench to change the game.

He not only scored that stunning goal but he also sent in a fabulous cross with the outside of his foot to pick out Benzema who nearly scored another late on. Then scored another from distance as his dipping shot caught out Karius who had a nightmare to spoon it into his net. Bale than raced clear late on but a fine tackle from Dejan Lovren denied him a hat trick with Ronaldo wide open.

Bale has scored in one previous Champions League final (2013/14) and last season he came off the bench late on after recovering from injury to play a bit-part. On Saturday he stole the show.

All of the talk will be about Bale this summer and if he will remain at the Santiago Bernabeu or head to the Premier League.

If he does end his five-year stay in Madrid this summer, Bale went out in style as he’s collected four Champions League winners medals and this will be the sweetest of the bunch.


SALAH’S INJURY; KARIUS HOWLERS HIT LIVERPOOL HARD

Mohamed Salah left the field in Kiev in tears in the first half and most of the soccer world was crying with him.

Salah (Liverpool’s leading goalscorer this season with 44 goals in all competitions) tangled with Sergio Ramos and Real Madrid’s captain locked his right arm in to the Egyptian forward who slammed into the pitch.

Take a look at the incident below.

Liverpool’s main man tried to carry on but as his adoring fans sung his chant which had dominated the Premier League this season, the magician couldn’t carry on.

Salah’s absence made a huge difference and helped swing the game in Real Madrid’s favor with, the Reds having just seven touches in Real’s half in the 14 first half minutes after Salah went off compared to 111 before that.

Obviously you cannot legislate for the kind of mistakes Karius made and Jurgen Klopp will have to answer questions about losing all six of the major finals he has now reached in his managerial career.

Karius may never get over the two huge mistakes he made but Liverpool did have chances as Mane hit the post as well as scoring, but losing Salah so early obviously had a huge impact on their chances.

Liverpool have had a stunning season in the Champions League and nobody thought they could get to the final. They’ve come up short but they can hold their head high and start to build for next season.


ZIDANE, REAL ARE TRUE LEGENDS

Zidane looked like he had just popped down the shops for a newspaper and a pint of milk at the final whistle.

The legendary player is now a legendary manager as he has led his star-studded team to a third-straight European title.

Zidane watched on with a smile on his face in the closing stages as his team turned on the style and in truth they could’ve won by five or six. Even though they struggled in La Liga this season, Real turned it on when it mattered time and time again in the Champions League.

Let’s take a look at the records Real have now extended as they are truly the Kings of Europe

  • Real Madrid have now won a record 13 European titles
  • Real made their 16th appearance in a European Cup final, more than any other team in history
  • They are the first team since Bayern Munich (1974-1976) to win three-straight European titles
  • Zinedine Zidane is just the third manager to win the European Cup/Champions League three times (after Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti), but the first to win it in three consecutive seasons

Player ratings: Bale the hero, Karius the zero in Madrid’s UCL triumph

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Real Madrid were crowned champions of Europe (again, for the third straight season) on Saturday, spearheaded by an all-time great goal scored by Gareth Bale and an all-time shocking performance from Loris Karius.

[ MORE: Benzema’s opener | Mane’s equalizer | Bale’s winner ]

Liverpool

GK – Loris Karius – 0/10: A goalkeeper has never committed a worse, more egregious, more senseless error in the history of soccer. Just watch it (unless you’re a Liverpool fan). Then he did this, in the same game. He can’t go back to Liverpool.

RB – Trent Alexander-Arnold – 6/10

CB – Dejan Lovren – 6.5/10

CB – Virgil Van Dijk – 6.5/10

LB – Andrew Robertson – 6.5/10: Robertson’s heroic sliding block to snuff out Cristiano Ronaldo’s breakaway in the 75th minute kept Liverpool’s hopes and dreams alive.

CM – Jordan Henderson – 7/10

CM – James Milner (83′) – 6/10

CM – Georginio Wijnaldum – 6/10

RW – Mohamed Salah (31′) – 5/10: Injured by a highly questionable “challenge” from Sergio Ramos (WATCH HERE) inside the opening half-hour, the Premier League’s Golden Boot winner was unable to find his footing (through little fault of his own) during a cagey opening 25 minutes.

CF – Roberto Firmino – 5.5/10: A brilliant season for the Brazilian ends with one of his least impactful, quietest outings of the campaign. To Madrid’s credit, they put him on an island up top and denied any and all service to the frontman.

LW – Sadio Mane – 7/10: Scored Liverpool’s only goal (WATCH HERE), but was rendered largely ineffective following Salah’s departure, as Madrid were able to shift their defensive focus to the other side of the field.

Sub – Adam Lallana (31′) – 5.5/10

Sub – Emre Can (83′) – N/A

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

Real Madrid

GK – Keylor Navas – 7.5/10: Navas made a pair of truly world-class saves in the first half to keep the game scoreless, at a time when the Reds were beginning to find their way and build up a head of steam.

RB – Dani Carvajal (37′) – 5/10

CB – Raphael Varane – 8/10: Kept Firmino in his hip pocket all game long.

CB – Sergio Ramos – 6/10: Responsible for the injury to Salah (no matter your feelings his about intent), but Ramos managed to avoid getting sent off over 90 minutes, which is a big win for him.

LB – Marcelo – 6.5/10:

CDM – Casemiro – 6.5/10

CM – Luka Modric – 7/10: Bossed the midfield and marshaled (par for the course) with four tackles and completed 94 percent of his 72 passes attempted. Madrid’s metronome, oftentimes their most important players lying in the shadows.

CM – Toni Kroos – 6/10

CAM – Isco – 7.5/10 (61′): Far and away Madrid’s best player for the entirety of the first half, and was inches from putting Los Blancos ahead in the 48th minute, when he lifted the ball over Karius and was denied by the crossbar.

FW – Karim Benzema (89′) – 7/10: Scored the game’s opening goal, could have scored a second goal late in the second half if not for a great save by Karius, and continues to (somehow) remain underrated when he so consistently shows up in the big games.

FW – Cristiano Ronaldo – 6/10: Little to no impact from minute 1 to 90. All that was missing was an 89th-minute goal to make it 5-1 and a wild shirt-off celebration like he’d scored the winner.

Sub – Nacho (37′) – 6/10

Sub – Gareth Bale (61′) – 10/10: When you score a goal like this, you got a 10/10 every time, no matter anything else you did while on the field (he scored again in the 83rd minute).

Sub – Marco Asensio (89′) – N/A

Bale brace guides Real Madrid to another UCL title

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Los Blancos have been the gold standard in the UEFA Champions League over the last half decade, and Zinedine Zidane and his side are victorious once more.

Real Madrid came away with a 3-1 win over Liverpool in Saturday’s UCL final in Kiev, Ukraine, courtesy of a goal from Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale‘s brace.

Although the first half left a bitter taste due to two key injuries to Mohamed Salah and Dani Carvajal, the second stanza really opened up in a brilliant manner.

Bale was on the pitch less than three minutes when he got his opener, and managed to complete a brace to help guide Real to its fourth UCL crown in five seasons.

The Welshman’s sublime bicycle kick restored Madrid’s lead in the second half, before Bale gave Real a two-goal advantage in the dying minutes with a venomous strike that left Karius stunned again.

Meanwhile, the Reds had responded well to Real’s first gut punch, when Sadio Mane equalized in the 55th minute when a close-range finish off a corner kick.

Goalkeeper Loris Karius granted Real a gift opener four minutes prior, after Karim Benzema blocked his throw from inside his box, and knocked it into the Liverpool net.

Karius had several Reds players open to distribute the ball to, but Benzema’s clever play provided the first goal in a comedic fashion.

The second half presented Real with the best chance of the match, as Isco smacked a shot off the crossbar, but the Madridistas couldn’t put the rebound away.

Cristiano Ronaldo nearly snuck one in for Real on the struck of halftime with a powerful header, but Karius did brilliantly to deny the Portuguese attacker from close range. Karim Benzema’s follow-up attempt was slammed home, however, he was ruled offside.

Liverpool was dealt a massive blow just prior to the half-hour mark, when leading goalscorer Salah was substituted out due to an apparent left shoulder injury.

The Egypt international went down in significant pain before being taken out after a 50-50 challenge with Sergio Ramos.

Several reports have already suggested Salah will miss the World Cup in Russia.

Los Blancos were forced into an early change as well, after Carvajal went down with an injury 10 minutes before halftime. Nacho was introduced into the match.

In the 21st minute, Trent Alexander-Arnold nearly blasted home the opener, but Keylor Navas held strong to prevent the Liverpool right back from scoring.

The Reds came out the dominant side, leaving Madrid with little room to work with in the midfield due to the high press employed by Jurgen Klopp.

Liverpool was the only previous English side to defeat a Spanish opponent in the UCL final, having beaten Real in the 1980/81 season behind a 1-0 victory in Paris.

VIDEO: Gareth Bale scores amazing overhead kick

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Take a bow, Gareth Bale.

The Real Madrid star scored an absolutely incredible goal in the UEFA Champions League final.

Moments after coming off the bench the Welsh wizard connected with a cross from the left as he scored an amazing overhead kick to put Real Madrid 2-1 up against Liverpool.

Check out the video below to see a moment of pure magic.