Los Angeles Soccer: Anderlecht
Brad Friedel finished a phenomenal season at Aston Villa with his seventh shutout of the year as the Birmingham-based club wrapped its English Premier League campaign with wins over giants Arsenal and Liverpool.
Friedel, 40, a former UCLA All-American and U.S. national team star, played every minute of the EPL season -- and all but three of 46 games in all competitions -- as the Villans finished ninth in a disappointing 12-14-12 season.
Friedel is out of contract and plans to meet with his agent this week to determine his future. Villa wants him back -- as former Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan waits in the wings -- and Liverpool, West Bromwich Albion and perhaps Tottenham are interested, too.
Friedel began his English career at Liverpool in 1997, seeing action in 25 games over three seasons. He was with Blackburn for eight years before joining Aston Villa in 2008. He previously played in Denmark, Turkey and with the Columbus Crew.
"Taking into consideration the type of season this has been for us, then Brad has been a fantastic pro, and he's also been a very good keeper,” Gary McAllister, who is managing the team during Gerard Houllier's absence through illness, told the Sunday Mirror. "He's proved that throughout his time here, although that isn't new, because I played with him at Liverpool, and maybe he was a wee bit unlucky not to get more games there.
"The offer of a new contract is a reward for what he's done, and we certainly hope this is not his farewell, otherwise we wouldn't be offering it to him. Because of his age, his schedule is different from other keepers, but he's a guy that knows how to manage his training. You put it all together, and he is a top, top player."
Fontana's Maurice Edu is celebrating a championship. Huntington Beach's Sacha Kljestan is ruing what might have been.
Edu and Rangers FC clinched the Scottish Premier League title Sunday, routing Kilmarnock, 5-1, to finish one point ahead of Celtic in one of the most dramatic finishes between the Glaswegian archrivals.
Kljestan and RSC Anderlecht, in control when Belgium's playoff round began in early April, was eliminated from the Jupiler League title chase with another loss to Standard Liege.
Both teams were defending champions and title favorites this season, but Rangers (30-5-3) put together a far stronger finish to claim its 54th Scottish top-tier championship.
“It's been a long season for the club. We've had a lot to deal with, but we've dug deep and got some great results in difficult circumstances,” Edu, a U.S. national-teamer who played a prominent role in Rangers' midfield, told the club's website. “Now we have the chance to celebrate the success that we worked so hard for. … We're enjoying it now because it's three in a row [for the club], and we're not going to get too ahead of ourselves, but we definitely want to come back and make it four in a row.”
Rangers finished with a 10-game unbeaten streak -- nine wins and a scoreless draw with Celtic -- to nudge out their hated rival in an emotional race that saw a return of Sectarian violence in the form of mail bombs, a mailed bullet and other death threats to Celtic manager Neil Lennon.
The teams battled all season, meeting seven times -- including the League Cup final (won by Rangers) and in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup (Celtic) -- and the campaign swung on Celtic's shock loss almost two weeks ago to Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
That gave Rangers the tools, and the Blues wrapped with emphatic victories over Hearts, Dundee United and Kilmarnock.
Rangers FC was supposed to be sniffing after archrival Celtic FC by now, two points off the pace with two games to go and virtually no hope of claiming their 54th Scottish title this year.
Now the Blues, with Fontana's Maurice Edu a midfield fixture, are a week away from claiming a third successive championship.
Celtic's shock midweek loss at Inverness Caledonian Thistle gave control of the Scottish Premier League race to its Glasgow rival, and Rangers responded with an emphatic 4-0 rout Saturday of third-place Hearts. The Blues are 28-5-3, one point ahead of Celtic (27-4-5), and huge favorites Tuesday against Dundee United and in Sunday's league finale at Kilmarnock.
“Points can still be dropped, and we knew that possibility still existed, so it was an extra boost when [Celtic's] result came through on Wednesday,” Edu told Rangers' website. “It was an extra incentive, of course, but, regardless, we would approach all the games in the same manner, because if we don't win our games, then what happened elsewhere would be irrelevant.
“Them dropping points has given us the edge and put us back on top, so now it's up to us to go out there and secure another title. It's in our hands again, and we want to make sure that it's after the last game that we're celebrating.”
Edu has had his ups and downs this season, with form and injury, but has played in integral role in Rangers' campaign. He said that the team seemed to be “peaking at the right time.”
“The run in is so crucial, and now we're definitely showing a good level of confidence and consistency,” he said. “That's so important during this stretch of the season … We know what's at stake, having been in this position in the last two years, too. We have that little bit of experience, and I think that's helping us.”
TAYLOR TO THE RESCUE: Irvine's Matt Taylor netted his fourth multigoal game of the season to lead Rot Weiss Ahlen to a critical 4-3 triumph Saturday over Rot Weiss Erfurt that pulled it out of the German third division's relegation zone with one game to go.
Will all of Matt Taylor's goals have been for naught?
The Irvine-bred striker has been huge this season for Rot Weiss Ahlen in Germany's third division, scoring 15 goals in 28 games, but a late-season skid -- and a costly administrative violation -- could force the Muensterland club to one of the fourth-tier Regionalliga.
Saturday's 3-0 defeat at VfR Aalen dropped Rot Weiss (10-17-9) -- or “red/white” -- to 18th among 20 clubs in the 3.Bundesliga, in one of three relegation slots, one point behind SV Wacker Burghausen (9-17-10) with two games to play.
Rot Weiss has been blown out in its last two matches and lost six of its last eight league games, but it would be two points above Burghausen -- above relegation -- if not for the three points subtracted from its total last week for violating a league financial regulation. The climb to 17th or higher won't be easy.
Rot Weiss, which is 7-3-2 when Taylor scores, closes with games Friday against fourth-place Rot Weiss Erfurt (17-12-7) and May 14 at second-place Hansa Rostock (23-8-5). Both clubs scored shutout victories in the first meetings this season.
MINOR-LEAGUE FINALS: Jay Denny's Hednesford Town fell just short, but Dallas Moore's St. Neots Town added another trophy to its collection in competitions well below England's top tiers.
It's a fluke of scheduling more than anything else, but Rangers FC, with Fontana's Maurice Edu making big contributions, is back atop the Scottish Premier League standings.
The Blues toppled Aberdeen and St. Mirren last week to go to 25-5-2 for 77 points, one more than their hated Old Firm rival Celtic FC (24-3-4).
Celtic won its league game last week, beating St. Johnstone in a midweek clash, then routing Aberdeen on Sunday in a Scottish F.A. Cup semifinal. So the Bhoys have a game in hand, so if they win out, they claim their 43rd Scottish crown and first in three years.
Same holds for Rangers, which is seeking its 54th league title. The crown probably will be determined when the clubs face off Sunday, their seventh meeting this season, at Ibrox, the Blues' home ground. A draw favors Celtic.
Edu, who has had a fine season with the Glasgow power, capped a 1-0 midweek victory over Aberdeen with a blast that was just tipped over the crossbar. He set up Nikica Jelavic and Steven Davis for superb chances that weren't finished in Saturday's 2-1 win over St. Mirren.
BACK ON TOP: Huntington Beach's Sacha Kljestan returned to RSC Anderlecht's lineup and set up a goal in a 2-0 Belgian victory over Racing Genk in a showdown for the Jupiler League lead.
Manager Ariel Jacobs had omitted Kljestan, who left Chivas USA last summer to join the 30-time Belgian champion, from Les Mauves' first two games in the six-team, 10-game playoff round to determine the champion.
Former U.S. national team goalkeeper Brad Friedel, having sufficiently convinced Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier that he remains atop his game at 39, is said to be on the verge of renewing his contract with the English Premier League club.
Friedel, who starred at UCLA, has played every minute of the season save for two games last August in the UEFA Europa Cup and English League Cup clashes in September and October, when former Chivas USA keeper Brad Guzan got the call.
Friedel, who was part of the U.S.'s 1994 and 1998 World Cup teams and a key contributor to the Americans' quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup, has played in England -- with Liverpool, Blackburn and the past three seasons for Aston Villa -- since 1997.
Tony McGill, Friedel's agent, told reporters in Birmingham on Monday that talks had begun with Aston Villa on a new contract. The current deal ends this summer.
“Brad is very happy at Villa. If Brad was not happy, he would not be talking over a new contract,” McGill said. “I have spoken with [Aston Villa] chief executive Paul Faulkner, and talks are going very well indeed.”
Aston Villa, owned by Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner, is trying to stave off relegation to the second-tier Championship. The Villans (8-13-10) are 15th in the 20-team league, just two points above the drop zone. The bottom three clubs are relegated.
RSC Anderlecht grabbed the top spot in Belgium's Jupiler League on Saturday, and now the Brussels-based club aims for something bigger -- and in uncompromising conditions.
The Zebras are in Russia, for Wednesday's UEFA Europa League clash with Zenit St. Petersburg, and a victory will all but assure them a spot in next year's knockout phase.
Huntington Beach's Sacha Kljestan (Huntington Beach HS) was back in the starting lineup for Anderlecht's 4-1 victory over last-place Royal Charleroi, and he's in the 20-man traveling party for Wednesday's game, which will be played in temperatures hovering just above zero.
"It will be a tough match, in exceptional weather conditions that we are not used to," Anderlecht general manager Herman Van Holsbeeck said, according to British website SportingLife.com. "In normal circumstances, Zenit has a very strong team, and that has been seen in this Europa League campaign, when they have not dropped a single point in their games so far. It's also a team which has the qualities that you need to play in the Champions League."
Zenit (4-0-0), which on Sunday completed its title run in Russia's Premier League, already has clinched one of Group G's two slots in the round of 32. Anderlecht (1-2-1), Greece's AEK Athens (1-2-1) and Croatia's Hajduk Split (1-3-0) are battling for the last. The Belgians own the tiebreaker with AEK and can claim a knockout-phase berth with an upset over Zenit.
Fontana's Maurice Edu scored an early goal but trotted off at halftime with a calf injury in Rangers FC's 1-1 draw with Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and he's likely to miss the Scottish champions' UEFA Champions League showdown Tuesday at Valencia.
Edu gave Rangers an 11th-minute lead with a top-corner blast from Steven Davis' long ball, but he was taken down by ICT's Richie Forlan in the 25th, returned following treatment but was clearly bothered, and joined Slovakian World Cup star Vladimir Weiss in a halftime departure. Weiss has a heel injury and also is unlikely for Tuesday's game.
Edu's week began with a tougher than expected 2-0 victory at Kilmarnock in the Scottish League Cup quarterfinals, setting up a Jan. 30 semifinal with Motherwell at Ibrox. Celtic and Aberdeen face off in the other semi.
A victory over ICT would have sent Rangers to 10-0-0 in the Premier League, the club's best start in 112 years, but Eric Odhiambo pulled Invernesss even in the 81st minute. The Blues are just one point ahead of archrival Celtic (9-1-0), which they beat six days earlier.
KLJESTAN ON TARGET: Sacha Kljestan (Huntington Beach HS) has rewarded RSC Anderlecht for his return to the lineup.
Virginie Lefour-Bruno Fahy/AFP/Getty Images
Sacha Kljestan took some time to adjust in Belgium but now appears to be contributing again.
Poor form and injury kept Huntington Beach’s Sacha Kljestan out of RSC Anderlecht’s lineup for two months, but the former Chivas USA midfielder made the most of his return to the field.
Kljestan (Huntington Beach HS), who left Chivas to join the Belgian champion in June, went the full 90 in Les Mauves et Blancs’ 3-0 triumph Thursday over AEK Athens in the UEFA Europa League and 2-0 league victory Sunday against Westerlo. It was his first action for the Brussels-based club since he scored in a 3-0 league win at Lokeren on Aug. 21.
“It took me some time to adapt to Belgium,” Kljestan told Belgian Flemish-language newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. “At the start of the season, I did play, but I didn't do enough. Now I'm no longer afraid to try things.”
Kljestan started three of Anderlecht’s first four games, scoring a goal in his debut, a 3-1 win over Wales’ The New Saints in a UEFA Champions League qualifier, but the appearance against Lokeren was it since -- until Thursday.