Thursday Kicks: Galaxy’s Keane under fire for shooting blanks for Ireland & more

*Let’s welcome the Irish to the world of Galaxy fans. Striker Robbie Keane, part of a misfiring Galaxy attack, is now being criticised by Irish fans for a lack of goal production ahead of today’s crucial, daunting second group game against Spain (live at 11:45 a.m. on ESPN2). Ireland are on the brink of elimination after losing to Croatia, who are down 1-0 to Italy as I write this on ESPN2.

*It’s worth noting that the train wreck that was Peter Nowak’s tenure with the Philadelphia Union has come to a close, but not before gutting a promising team sending ther likes of popular defender Danny Califf to Chivas USA and allowing former UCLA midfielder Kyle Nakazawa of Palos Verdes Estates to return to Southern California with the Galaxy.

*Meanwhile, a struggling Galaxy meet a struggling Portland Timbers club Sunday at Home Depot Center in what could be an ugly Father’s Day clash. What are the odds dad will get a tie (and a scoreless one at that) after all on his special day?

*Three Southern Californians were named to the U.S. Under-15 team that will begin play Monday against Spain in the Copa Mexico de Naciones tournament in Mexico City.

They are goalkeeper Abraham Romero (Galaxy Academy; Altadena); defender Malcolm Jones (Chivas USA Academy; Chino Hills); and Alejandro Vergara (Galaxy Academy; Long Beach).

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Mexican champions Santos Laguna to play July 8 at Home Depot Center*

*Post updated


Tickets go on sale Thursday at 10 a.m. Saturday starting at $25 for the clash between Santos Laguna, led by supersub and Los Angeles native Herculez Gomez, and Club Lon, Orange County-based USL Pro team the Los Angeles Blues announced today.

The club is sponsoring the 5 p.m. July 8 game. Tickets are available at the HDC box office or by calling 888-9-AXS-TIX or 714-738-8011.

Gomez, who has scored two goals in his last two appearances for the U.S. National Team, stars in a team that also includes former Mexican international goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez and current Mexican national team players Aaron Galindo and Oribe Peralta.

Newly promoted Lon boasts Mexican international midfielder Jonny Magalln and former FC Dallas defender Duilio Davino in their squad.

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Video Wednesday Kicks: USMNT & Galaxy

Most of us didn’t see last night’s 1-1 draw with Guatamala on pay per view and by most Tweets I saw didn’t miss much.

Here are the highlights:

The same is true of the Galaxy reserve team victory over the Whitecaps in Vancouver Tuesday that saw South Bay Force product Jose Villarreal snatch two goals and Newport Beach teenagaer Jack McBean produce the winner.

Check out the highlights:

Incidentally, this was a more important reserve game than usual given the numerous absences Galaxy coach Bruce Arena must deal with ahead of the weekend game against the Portland Timbers.

And with that Denmark and Portugal are up next at Euro 2012 on ESPN, while the Dutch face the Germans in a delicious lunch hour game.


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Weekly Column: Euro 2012 Kings of Soccer Coverage


The Galaxy and MLS want to sell you tickets to watch an EPL club train — yes, train — for $50 to $99 and the second U.S. World Cup qualifier today against a Guatemala team that hasn’t beaten the U.S. in a generation is available only on pay per view at $25 a crack (although I notice a couple of additional Southern California bars have been added to this where to watch list).

The best soccer on TV, meanwhile, the Euro 2012 tournament, is free and much easier to find.

Those of you not paying attention for whatever reason can get caught up with this week’s column.

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Southern California’s biggest game of Euro 2012 so far on Sunday: Ireland-Croatia


It’s Galaxy striker Robbie Keane and Ireland verses Croatia Sunday (live 11:30 a.m. ESPN) and San Pedro’s massive enclave of Croats who will gather at Alpine Village near Torrance for the game.

Irish fans are making the most of it at the tournament, too.

A match preview is here, while the weakness of the Croatians is explored here.

But some are questioning whether this is a make or break game for Keane and his international career given his recent form (he hasn’t been great at club level either, irish fans).

Italy-Spain begins the day’s Euro 2012 action at 8:45 a.m. on ESPN.

Here’s more from Robbie Keane:

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Video highlights: Galaxy’s Donovan, LA’s Gomez start for U.S. in WCQ opener

U.S. 3 Antigua & Barbuda 1

Apologies for the problem with the previous video.

Here’s the PK Landon Donovan drew for the second U.S. goal:

And here’s the third goal by Herculez Gomez:


“We discussed that prior to the game that it would be difficult to break them down,” said U.S coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “Antigua did a very good job defending and made it very tight. I think we created quite a few chances and we could have scored a few more goals. Those games are tricky. At the end of the day, I think the three points is the starting point that we wanted to have. We know that we have to step it up a lot going into Guatemala, which we will do. Overall, we give a complement to Antigua and a complement to the crowd of over 23,000 coming to the game. It was amazing. Now we’ve got to look toward Tuesday and we’ve got to give Guatemala a real fight.”

Random observations:

*Oguchi Onyewu’s international days are over.

*Could Jose Torres, in his second left back appearance for the U.S., be a solution at the troublesome position.

*Good to see Los Angeles native Herculez Gomez score his fourth career U.S. goal., one of two current or former Galaxy players in the starting lineup.

Amazing support from fans in that torrential rain that forced a slight delay in the game.

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U.S. World Cup Qualifying begins today

The U.S. kicks off against minnow Antigua & Barbuda at 4 p.m. on ESPN, while Mexico faces Guyana an hour later on KMEX.

The full list of World Cup qualifiers around the world is here.

Associated Press Sports Writer Ronald Blum profiles suddenly prolific U.S. striker Jozy Altidore ahead of the game:

NEW YORK (AP) — Jozy Altidore had the best scoring season by an American that wasn’t seen back home in the United States.

The 22-year-old had team highs of 15 league goals and 19 overall in his first season with AZ Alkmaar, which led the Dutch Eredivisie for much of the season before fading to fourth.

While Clint Dempsey could be seen on television nearly every weekend scoring 23 goals for Fulham in England, Altidore’s TV appearances in the U.S. were limited to Europa League matches on Thursday afternoons.

“That’s not important to me,” Altidore said ahead of the Americans’ opening World Cup qualifier, against Antigua and Barbuda on Friday night in Tampa, Florida. “For me, it’s just to try to keep improving and try to keep getting better. I know this is just the beginning and I want to keep going.”

With 13 goals in 46 international appearances, including a hat trick against Trinidad and Tobago in an April 2009 qualifier, Altidore is considered by many to be the top young American attacker. However, he wasn’t allowed to report for training with the national team until May 28 because of a dispute between AZ and the U.S. Soccer Federation — even though his final game of the season was May 6.


It’s not a stretch to say Jozy Altidore, seen here fending off a Colombian defender in this file photo, is having a career best season for his club. The U.S. could see how that translates to the international stage later today (AP Photo).

He spent about two weeks at home in Florida and fell behind other Americans in conditioning, missing friendlies against Scotland and Brazil. He entered as a 62nd-minute substitute Sunday in a 0-0 tie in Canada.

“It put Jozy in a very difficult position,” American coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “It makes it very difficult for him now to catch up.”

Selected by New York in the 2006 Major League Soccer draft, Altidore was just 16 when he scored his first goal that September. He was sold to Spain’s Villarreal in June 2008 but was hardly used and was loaned to second-division Xerez for the second half of the 2008-9 season, to England’s Hull for 2009-10 and to Turkey’s Bursaspor for the second half of the 2010-11 season. Altidore scored just five goals over 55 matches during the three loans.

“When you’re an American and you come from MLS and you’re a big fish — you kind of hit a wall,” he said.

Villarreal sold him to AZ last July, and he played 55 games in his first season with the Dutch club. His arms look to be more muscular, and his all-around improvement was noticed when he reported to training with the U.S. team last week.

“That’s what the best players in the world do. They play every week for their team and they come in and play for their national team,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “We’ve got to get used to that as Americans, and that’s what Jurgen keeps preaching to us. We see the sharpness. But a lot of it is confidence, as well.”

Altidore appeared in all four U.S. matches at the 2010 World Cup, where the Americans were knocked out by Ghana in the second round. Offense is usually a problem for the U.S., which hasn’t gotten a goal by a forward at the World Cup since Brian McBride in 2002.

For Altidore, getting on the field has given him a different attitude.

“I just got a chance to play,” he said. “I got a chance to play consistently. I didn’t just get
one game, I got a few games in a row. And when you do that, you start to get confidence.”

He lost his starting job for a period in the winter under coach Gertjan Verbeek. But by spring, Altidore was playing regularly again and AZ advanced to the Europa League quarterfinals before losing to Spain’s Valencia.

“After the break he felt that he was going to give somebody else a chance,” Altidore said. “That was a great feeling, to come back and to also stay in the team and score some goals for your team down the stretch, which was important. It was a long year. I think I was presented with different challenges, and kind of came away on top of it.”

With Klinsmann electing to use an attack-minded 4-3-3 formation at times against relatively weaker opponents, Altidore could be paired in the attack with Dempsey and Herculez Gomez. Or Dempsey could be deeper in the midfield, along with Landon Donovan.

And in about two weeks, he’ll return to AZ for preseason training ahead of the 2012-13 opener on the weekend of Aug. 10. For the first time since 2008, his club situation appears settled.

“He’s looking good. His movement off the ball. His first touch. His fitness levels are better,
as well,” Dempsey said. “I think he’s just going to continue to improve.”

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Video Euro 2012 Preview: Tournament kicks off Friday on ESPN


As I’ve said before, the European Championship is my favorite soccer tournament given the quality of the teams across the board.

I’ll be relaxed going in mindful that conventional wisdom has it my native England has no chance with the absence of the likes of Wayne Rooney, racial controversy swirling and the inexplicable exclusion of hopefully not to be former Norwich City forward Grant Holt (says the biased Canaries fan).

But this year local fans have an extra chance to cheer with the Galaxy’s Robbie Keane starring for long-shot Ireland.

I’ve no doubt San Pedro Croatians will take over Alpine Village near Torrance as usual.

And the Brits will keep the pubs in Santa Monica running.

Random Factoid: 73 percent of EPL managers believe Spain will retain their title, according to a survey conducted by Barclays, title sponsor of the League Managers Association (LMA).

ESPN has 22 matches and ESPN2 nine. Full schedule is at top right.

The opening game: Poland versus Greece at 9 a.m. on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

Full disclosure: the following videos are not mine (I don’t have that kind of time), but were embedded from YouTube.

Here’s the Associated Press Preview:

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The World Cup may be the best-known soccer tournament on the planet. It may not be the best.

To many fans, the European Championship ranks as the top competition.

This year’s continental championship, generally called Euro 2012, kicks off Friday in Warsaw when co-host Poland plays Greece at the National Stadium. Ukraine also will be hosting games.

With only 16 teams instead of 32, many believe the caliber of play at the European Championship exceeds that of the World Cup, which gets diluted by some of the slots apportioned to areas of the globe without strong soccer traditions.

If that sounds arrogant, consider that only one non-European country (Uruguay) has been among the semifinalists at the last two World Cups.

Both tournaments take place every four years, but in alternate even-numbered years. That puts the European Championship, which started in 1960 but became a full-fledged tournament in 1980 when eight teams competed, in the same summer as the Olympics.

For Euro 2012, defending champion Spain — which also won the 2010 World Cup — is the favorite, especially with Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta controlling play.

But the Netherlands and Germany are also contenders with their own game-changing players, notably the Dutch trio of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder.

Others, like England with Wayne Rooney and Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo, will also be in the mix.

Hooliganism is always an issue at major soccer tournaments; this year’s competition has already been marred by racism concerns and political turmoil in Ukraine.

The 16 teams in the championship — the two co-hosts and 14 other nations that made it through a two-year qualifying tournament — have been split into four groups of four. The top two in each group reach the quarterfinals.

The final will be played on July 1 in Kiev.

Here’s a look at the stars, top teams, and a few players who could surprise at Euro 2012, again from the Associated Press.


Cristiano Ronaldo

If it wasn’t for Lionel Messi … Ronaldo has been engaged in a hotly disputed fight with Messi for consideration as the best player on the planet, but the Argentine, a three-time World Player of the Year, always seems to get the upper hand. The flashy Portugal forward has all the tricks in the book, but has been accused of never producing his best on the international stage. He can change all that here.

Xavi Hernandez
With his sublime first touch, vision and passing range, the Barcelona star keeps the beat for the indomitable Spanish team. Voted player of the tournament at Euro 2008, he placed third in the last three World Player of the Year awards. But Xavi’s performances in what is likely his final international tournament may be hampered by fitness problems that have dogged his end to the season.

Andres Iniesta
Xavi’s partner in Spain’s and Barcelona’s midfield and the scorer of the winning goal in the
2010 World Cup final, which shot the balding Iniesta into football immortality. Iniesta’s quick feet and effortless dribbling ability makes him stand out, with Xavi describing him as the “complete player.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Moody and temperamental, Ibrahimovic is often left frustrated by the limitations of his Sweden teammates. But it’s a different story at club level, where he has played for the top clubs in Spain and Italy. Outrageously skillful and a great scorer, he has a distinctive languid style that his critics attack when things aren’t going right. Sweden’s only world-class player.

Mesut Oezil
After two stunning seasons with Real Madrid, comparisons are starting to be drawn between Oezil and French great Zinedine Zidane. Rising to prominence at the 2010 World Cup, the graceful playmaker has the rare ability to make the perfect pass and will be the central component of Germany’s attacking play at Euros.

Robin van Persie
His goal-scoring exploits for Arsenal this season have made Van Persie one of the most sought-after players in world football. He has a wand of a left foot to rival even the great Messi and will lead the Netherlands as they look to shake off their “underachievers” tag.

Karim Benzema
France finally has a striker to take over from Thierry Henry. The barrel-chested Benzema’s
explosive pace and unforgiving finishing saw him emerge as Real Madrid’s No. 1 striker by the end of the season. He has been France’s leader up front in its sensational recent run of 21 unbeaten games.

Gianluigi Buffon
Buffon comes into the tournament under a cloud of betting-scam allegations as part of the
fallout of the Italian match-fixing scandal, but his reputation as the world’s premier
goalkeeper remains intact. Tall and athletic, there are no weaknesses in the 34-year-old 2006 World Cup winner’s armor. A key member of an Italian backline that had the best defensive record in qualifying.

Mario Balotelli
Whether it’s exploding fireworks in his bathroom or ripping off his jersey to display messages on T-shirts, the enigmatic Balotelli always provides a story. The striker has all the talent in the world and unbelievable coolness under pressure, but has too many off days and could easily implode for Italy this month.

Wayne Rooney
For Balotelli, read Rooney. His crazy kick-out at a Montenegro defender leaves him suspended for England’s first two games at Euros, but there was never a doubt he’d be picked on the squad. The Manchester United striker can be the best player in the world when he’s on and is one of England’s few world-class stars.


By transforming international football with its tika-taka passing style, top-ranked Spain has
been the team to beat for the past four years. The defending world and European champions are classy and stylish, but aren’t unbeatable. The Spanish are without leading striker David Villa and defender Carles Puyol because of injury, and there also are fears their Barcelona and Real Madrid stars are tired. Spain is looking to become the first country to retain its European title.

A young team which lit up the 2010 World Cup with its fearless attacking play has blossomed into a force set to be Spain’s biggest threat at Euro 2012. The Germans score goals for fun and cruised through their qualifying run with 10 straight wins. Question marks remain, however, over whether Germany’s eight-strong Bayern Munich contingent recovered from losing the Champions League final in dramatic style to Chelsea.

The Dutch challenge England for the tag as Europe’s biggest underachievers, but also rival Spain and Germany as the most talented team at Euros. Defensively, they look suspect, but they seem unstoppable going forward, led by the lethal Van Persie. Staying true to their expansive, offensive style will be key; they retreated into their shell in the 2010 World Cup final in 2010 and deservedly lost.

The French head into Euro 2012 on the back of an unbeaten run of 21 games and coach Laurent Blanc looks to have unified the squad after its infamous mutiny at the World Cup in South Africa. Much will depend on the influence forwards Franck Ribery and Benzema can have and, like the Dutch, France’s defense appears to be its weak link.

The Azzurri won the World Cup in 2006 amid the fallout from a match-fixing scandal back home. Could history repeat itself six years later at these Euros? Whether the Italian league crisis unites the squad remains to be seen. Italy has arguably the best defense in the competition and in strikers Antonio Cassano and Balotelli, the Italians have two mercurial players who could light up the tournament.


Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
The one wild-card pick in an otherwise formulaic England squad, Oxlade-Chamberlain could be the “super sub” that coach Roy Hodgson turns to at Euros. The 18-year-old attacking midfielder has impressed when given an opportunity in his first season at Arsenal with his pace and penetration and is set to be a regular for club and country for years to come.

Christian Eriksen
Euro 2012 could be the tournament where the 20-year-old Eriksen shines on the international stage, despite Denmark’s devilishly difficult group. The stylish Ajax playmaker has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe and this summer could be his shop window to secure that move.

Robert Lewandowski
An expectant Poland will be relying on its most recent player of the year to reproduce the
goal-scoring exploits that fired Borussia Dortmund to a second straight German title this
season. Given the co-host’s relatively straightforward group, the 23-year-old striker is being tipped by some as a potential winner of the Golden Boot, given to the tournament’s top scorer.

Ibrahim Afellay
The Netherlands have had high expectations for this winger for years and after recently
returning to action following an injury-plagued season, he could finally deliver at Euros. With his lightning speed and sweet dribbling skills, Afellay provides a touch of Barcelona play in orange, and his smooth link-up play with Van Persie should earn him a starting berth this tournament.

Andre Scheurrle
Reportedly high on the shopping list of mega-rich Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, the
21-year-old Scheurrle is a versatile forward who will be a backup to Lukas Podolski for Germany, but could easily end up taking his spot in the coming years. The emerging star of German club Bayer Leverkusen has the technique and selfless work rate to make himself a star.

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Galaxy audition new center back, goalkeeper Saunders returns to training


The latest center back candidate to get a look in the position that remains the club’s biggest question mark is UCSB product Andy Iro, right, a native Liverpudlian who played for Columbus and Toronto, who was on the Home Depot Center practice field today as the club resumed training after the international break.

Iro was cut loose by the Canadian club in preseason when he failed to agree contract terms.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said the club was merely “taking a look at him, whatever you want to call it,” but whatever you want to call it the club needs help at the position so I’ll call it a trial.

Here’s more from Josh Saunders et al:

More details on Iro and the return of Saunders are here.

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Galaxy-Real Madrid ticket update

The Galaxy don’t return to domestic action until June 17, but more than 13,500 tickets for the Real Madrid exhibition Aug. 2 at Home Depot Center have been sold, the MLS club has announced.

The team reported May 30 that the upper deck at the Carson stadium is sold out and inventory in the general admission sections behind the goals are “extremely limited.”

Still, the stadium seats up to 27,000 when the grass berms are sold out and held more than 30,000 when temporary stands were erected for last year’s MLS Cup.

Tickets start at $85 for GA seating and rise to $220 for a “preferred” sideline seat. Call 1-877-3GALAXY.

In related ticket news, the San Jose Earthquakes today announced they have sold over 35,000 tickets for their June 30 game at Stanford Stadium against the Galaxy.

The Earthquakes are aiming to set a new club record for single-game attendance at a non-doubleheader match,” the club announced. San Jose drew 41,028 last July for a 2-2 tie against the New York Red Bulls at the same venue.

Lower bowl sideline seats and director’s level seats are already sold out, but tickets remain in the upper deck and end zones.

“There are so many intriguing storylines with this match,” Earthquakes President Dave Kaval said. “You have one of the best rivalries in the league in the California Clasico, the fireworks extravaganza, an amazing halftime show and we’re honoring the United State Armed Forces. This game is the sporting event of the summer in the Bay Area.”

Which also reminds me that the Galaxy and Dodgers have teamed up to offer fans ticket offers for games involving both teams. More here.

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