Skip to content

On fire Keane a cruel test for burned Opara, Earthquakes

Nov 8, 2012, 2:09 PM EDT

Robbie Keane AP

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – “All I remember is a miscommunication along the back line,” San Jose defender Ike Opara offered Wednesday night, asked to describe what transpired on the second goal of a 3-1 loss. The result saw the defending champions, LA Galaxy, eliminate the Supporters’ Shield-winners 3-2 (aggregate) in the Western Conference semifinals.

“(San Jose right back) Steven (Bietashour) wanted me to follow the runner even though I couldn’t hear him. He thought I could hear him. The miscommunication was there. (Galaxy forward Robbie) Keane floated in behind us and got a goal.”

Given the circumstances that forced Opara into the game, miscommunication was no surprise. The third overall selection in the 2010 draft had only started seven games all year, Victor Bernardez and Jason Hernandez serving as head coach Frank Yallop’s first choice central defenders.

But when Bernardez had to leave with a right knee injury, Opara was pressed into action. Not only was an inexperienced defender (22 career starts) being inserted into an elimination game against Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, he was replacing a Defender of the Year candidate.

“It was very tough losing [Bernardez] early in the match,” Yallop admitted, “… when you lose arguably your best defender, it’s very tough. When you lose someone of that stature, it doesn’t help.”

Early sub. Best defender. One of the league’s elite. Bernardez’s absence was a harsh blow. It only took nine minute to feel its effects.

In the 21st minute, Keane, attacking above LA’s penalty area, cut across the defense onto his right foot, pulling up for a shot near the arc. Opara failed to react. Keane’s shot went off Jon Busch’s right post and in, unstoppable. The series was tied at one.

MORE: Highlights from last night’s semifinal deciders

Thirteen minutes later, Bernardez’s absence was made more apparent. A long ball from LA defender Tommy Meyer found Donovan on the right, near the center line. The Galaxy captain carried the ball toward the penalty area, hesitating as Keane made his run behind Opara from the edge of the area. A perfect pass from left Keane one touch to round Busch and finish into an empty goal.

“We tried to get our shape defensively right because we know they’re good on the counter,” Opara said, asked to recall how the goal developed. “We were actually setup decently, but then they sprung pretty quickly.

“All I remember is a miscommunication along the back line.”

Break down the second goal, and you’ll see little the defenders could have done to stop it. Once Landon Donovan had the ball near the penalty area (with Keane and Edson Buddle drawing defenders’ attention), LA’s execution was going to win out. Likewise, on the first goal, although Opara could have reacted to close down Keane, how many times each game do we see shots like that never test a keeper, let alone beat him?

San Jose’s problems in defense were about more than a substitute, a lost star, their talented opposition, an eliminator’s stakes, an ill-timed bad night or a great game from one of the league’s best players. It was the confluence of all those factors that handed San Jose their first home loss since March.

MORE: Analysis of that rare defeat at Buck Shaw for San Jose

“After Victor went out, Ike comes in, not playing on a regular basis, and is asked to adjust in the biggest game of his career,” Earthquakes captain Chris Wondolowski said, empathetically, after the match. “I can’t even explain how difficult that is to do.”

“Their attacking play is arguably best in the league in terms of how they move off the ball,” Opara offered. “Getting thrown into the fire that way is never easy.”

As the game went on, the magnitude of the task became clear. Whereas Opara’s part on Keane’s first goal raised eyebrows, the rest of Keane’s night made it clear his success was more his doing than San Jose’s failings. Left disappointed in leg one after a potential 86th minute opener found Busch’s crossbar, Keane made up for Wednesday’s lost time with a Man of the Match performance, his two goals complementing relentless effort to pressure San Jose’s defenders.

“Since he has come back (from international duty), he has been the best player in the league,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said, standing outside the Santa Clara Broncos’ locker room the Galaxy had co-opted for the night. “He is a great leader on this team and when the whistle blows he is ready to play.”

Those qualities helped Keane score 16 goals in his first full Major League Soccer season, results that were lost in the shadow of Wondolowski’s record-tying 27 goals. This year, if you were going to talk about goalscorers, Wondolowski was the beginning and end of the conversation, one which also saw great seasons from New York’s Kenny Cooper (18 goals) and Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio (17) overlooked.

That Keane is so much more than a goalscorer makes his place in the shadow particularly unfair. Elite work rate and creativity distinguish Keane from players with similar striker rates, as evidenced by his nine assists. As the MLS playoffs start reducing the number of players vying for the spotlight, Keane’s getting his chance to show he’s one of the league’s best players.

MORE: San Jose not the only number one seed to go home early

“We knew that if we scored a goal that we would have good chances,” Keane said, explaining LA’s three-goal first half. “That was the case, we got that first goal and they sat back a little bit and let us play the game we like to play. That was the difference tonight.”

The sentiment is unnecessarily humble. LA’s first half efficiency was one of the stories of the match, as were the performances of Landon Donovan, Mike Magee, and Josh Saunders. But Wednesday’s difference-maker wasn’t the first goal, the style of play, or San Jose’s inexperienced substitute at the back. The difference was Robbie Keane.

“The guy never stops running,” Opara said, asked to describe the difficulties in dealing with Keane. “He doesn’t necessarily waste [his energy on] runs he won’t get. He’s very smart in how he moves and tactically one the best, probably the best forward in terms of his movement off the ball.”

It was the fourth match in 11 days for the 32-year-old, but in a must-win game – against a team the Galaxy had failed to beat in four meetings this season – Keane’s effort was essential.

“This is when it really matters, when it really counts,” according to Keane. “[It's] about winning games when it really matters.”

Latest Posts
  1. DC Brew-nited: Team, keeper among MLS folks in the craft beer game

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT

    http://www.dcbrau.com/ http://www.dcbrau.com/

    Andrew Dykstra wants to brew you a beer, and several teams have specific offerings in mind.

  2. Star-studded lineups unveiled for Real and Bayern; Bale on bench

    Apr 23, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT

    Real Madrid v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Getty Images

    The big guns will be firing for Bayern Munich and Real Madrid at the Bernabéu, and there’s plenty of ammunition on both benches if needed.

  3. Moyes statement on dismissal; Reports say he was recruiting to the end

    Apr 23, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-CHELSEA Getty Images

    Reports say David Moyes was “seething” at what he perceived to be an unprofessional dismissal from Manchester United.

  4. Head coach Marc Wilmots says Adnan Januzaj will play for Belgium

    Apr 23, 2014, 12:52 PM EDT

    Januzaj Getty Images

    Bad news for England, as Januzaj is headed for a brand new Belgium kit.

  5. Who’s in across Europe? Glancing at the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League

    Apr 23, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT

    Portugal Soccer AP

    Some slots are firm, while there’s plenty to be settled in the next few weeks. Let’s take a look at whose guaranteed to make the group stage

  6. Landon Donovan praises David Moyes, says he’d be welcome in MLS

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:41 AM EDT

    Donovan-Moyes

    Speaking with Sports Illustrated’s SI Now, Donovan spent some time lauding David Moyes and lamenting his dismissal from Manchester United.

  7. WATCH: Rafa Marquez’s latest blatant, unnecessary attempt to injure

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT

    Rafa Marquez AP

    He’s simply one of the worst that’s ever played.

  8. Newcastle veteran Ameobi takes shot at club’s transfer failings

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT

    Newcastle United v Southampton - Premier League Getty Images

    Shola Ameobi has played a lot of roles during his time at Newcastle; His latest role is vocal critic of the club’s transfer practices.

  9. Jermaine Jones’ tattoo will have opponents seeing stars (and stripes)

    Apr 23, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT

    Jermaine Jones 2

    The USMNT midfielder posted this shot to his Instagram account on Tuesday, proclaiming his new stars and stripes knee tattoo complete.

  10. Liverpool’s Ayre to spend this summer: “It will cost what it costs”

    Apr 23, 2014, 8:48 AM EDT

    Leaders in Sport Getty Images

    The Champions League will make Liverpool more attractive, says its managing director, and the club will spend money to fortify its team.

  11. Manchester United adds another Class of ’92 member to training pitch

    Apr 23, 2014, 8:04 AM EDT

    Manchester United v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League Getty Images

    Paul Scholes joined former teammates Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt as Manchester United prepared for this week’s match vs Norwich

  12. Barcelona’s transfer ban suspended by FIFA, should allow club to make summer moves

    Apr 23, 2014, 7:32 AM EDT

    Neymar Getty Images

    This is a massive break for the Blaugranas and will no doubt be met with consternation by its rivals.

  13. Champions League preview: Defending champion Bayern Munich looks to end Real Madrid quest for 10th title

    Apr 23, 2014, 6:12 AM EDT

    Czech Republic Soccer Super Cup AP

    Bayern is two steps away from back-to-back titles. Real Madrid’s the same distance from its decima.

  14. Alex Ferguson backed David Moyes’ firing, will help select a successor

    Apr 22, 2014, 10:31 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer League Cup AP

    Ferguson has kept quiet during the club’s latest transition, but according to reporting Tuesday night, he’ll play a part in finding David Moyes’ replacement.

  15. Mourinho ready to turn Chelsea’s back on Premier League

    Apr 22, 2014, 9:14 PM EDT

    jose_mourinho AP

    With injuries forcing his hand, the Blues’ boss wants to concentrate on Champions League.

  16. ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Team of the Week – Week 7

    Apr 22, 2014, 7:51 PM EDT

    2013 MLS Cup - Real Salt Lake v Sporting Kansas City Getty Images

    They only took one point from Vancouver, but LA Galaxy won three spots in this week’s Best XI.

  17. Chelsea suffer season-ending injuries, suspensions as old guard evaporates

    Apr 22, 2014, 6:28 PM EDT

    john_terry AP

    Chelsea boss has a big job on his hands ahead of the second leg:

  18. Five moments that defined Chelsea’s Champions League trip to Atlético Madrid

    Apr 22, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT

    diego AP

    Mourinho’s approach; Lampard’s card; and the Blues’ two big injuries.

  19. Three things we learned from Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea

    Apr 22, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT

    Spain Soccer Champions League AP

    Chelsea do a job on Atleti, as everything’s up for grabs in the second leg:

  20. Champions League: Chelsea plays to type, holds Atlético Madrid to 0-0 draw in leg one

    Apr 22, 2014, 4:47 PM EDT

    juanfran_willian AP

    Evoking memories of their 2012 championship run, the Blues played out a scoreless draw in leg one.

Featured video

FIRED: Where David Moyes went wrong