James Rodríguez Helps Lead Colombia to Victory Over Panama in Copa America Quarterfinals

James Rodríguez has helped lead Colombia to the Copa America semifinals…

The 32-year-old Colombian professional footballer has continued his renaissance at the tournament with his one-goal, two-assist performance on Saturday, which catapulted his country past Panama 5-0 and into the semifinals.

James Rodriguez

He was already sitting on three assists in this tournament when he got to work against the Canaleros, delivering an inch-perfect delivery from a corner for defender Jhon Córdoba to nod home in the eighth minute.

Rodriguez found the net himself from a 15th-minute penalty after Colombia midfielder Jhon Arias was upended by Panama keeper Orlando Mosquera.

Rodriguez’s most inspired moment came just four minutes before halftime. Noticing that the Panamanian defense was standing flat-footed, he took a quick free kick over the top of the defense that found Luis Díaz in the clear, and the Liverpool man then delivered a superb lofted finish four yards outside the penalty area to extend Colombia’s lead.

When Rodriguez exited the match in the 73rd minute, it was to a standing ovation, with the midfielder applauding the fans back.

“I always try to help my teammates so that they can play well and I congratulate them for playing well,” Rodriguez said via a translator. He added, “We’re all going through a good moment. We’re doing goals from set pieces, from penalties and planned plays which is a good thing.”

When asked if he’s been the best player at the Copa América, Rodriguez said, “There’s still a lot of time. There’s two games left with what we want to achieve and all I want to do is win, so there’s a lot left.”

There is a temptation to simply write off Rodriguez’s performance as coming against an overmatched opponent. It was after all Colombia’s biggest margin of victory ever in a Copa América match. But try telling that to the U.S. men’s national team, who fell to Panama in the group stage. While the talent gap between the two teams on this day was clear, a team with that edge is still obligated to use it to its full advantage, and that’s what Rodriguez and the rest of his teammates did.

For Colombia manager Nestor Lorenzo, there’s no mystery as to why Rodriguez is hitting top form in this tournament.

“He’s a good player,” Lorenzo said simply about Rodriguez. “He’s a player that is happy inside the field. The coach just sees how to put him [on the field so he can] enjoy.”

Regardless of how or why, Rodriguez finding joy on the field again is clear, and his performance on Saturday put him in some select company. He’s now tied with Lionel Messi for the most assists in a single Copa América since 2011 (a period that spans five tournaments) with five.

His eight assists over that period are second only to Messi’s 17. Rodríguez’s 11 goal contributions (three goals, eight assists) over the last five Copa América tournaments put him in third place behind Eduardo Vargas‘ 14 and Messi’s 25.

Now Colombia finds itself in the semifinals of the Copa América for the third time in the last four editions. But it is at this stage that the Cafeteros usually stumble. Two early goals conceded in the semifinals against Chile eliminated Colombia back in 2016, when Lorenzo just so happened to be an assistant coach on Colombia’s staff. A penalty shootout defeat to Argentina five years later caused even more angst. It has also been 23 long years since Colombia claimed its only Copa América, a tournament that it hosted.

It is that history, which explains why Rodriguez is taking nothing for granted. “We’re doing all our best so we can win. We have the hardest matches left,” said.

If Rodriguez can keep up his current form, those challenges will become a lot easier.

Portland Timbers Finalize Transfer of Brian Fernandez from Necaxa

Brian Fernandezwill be playing Major League Soccer soon…

The Portland Timbers have completed the transfer of the 24-year-old Argentine footballer from Necaxa, according to ESPN FC.

Brian Fernandez

While multiple outlets reported in recent weeks have reported that the terms of the deal had been finalized, the Athletic was first to report that the transfer is complete, with Fernandez securing his work visa in the last few days.

No word on the precise fee, but it reportedly dwarfs the previous club record of close to $5 million the Timbers paid for Lucas Melano back in 2017, though it’s not as high as the $12 million previously reported.

Fernandez can play either as a central striker or on the wing, and is expected to arrive in Portland as early as Monday. The signing also concludes the Timbers’ lengthy and at times public search for a new attacking piece, which saw them linked with the likes of the Tigresduo of Julian Quinones and Eduardo Vargas, as well as AEK Athens‘ on-loan attacker Ezequiel Ponce.

It is also believed that Fernandez won’t have to serve out the remaining two games of a three-game suspension he recently was handed following a red card and then a subsequent altercation with a fan as he left the field, though MLS will ultimately have the final say.

While it was an ignominious end to his Necaxa career, Fernandez’s stint with Los Rayos resurrected his career. While on the books of Racing Club, Fernandez was suspended for a year by CONMEBOLfollowing a failed drug test in which he tested positive for cocaine.

A series of loan stints followed with the likes of Sarmiento, Metz and Union La Calera, but his time with Necaxa proved highly productive, with the Argentine scoring 12 goals in 15 games during the current Clausura. Overall, Fernandez scored 18 goals in 32 league and cup appearances.

Fernandez joins the Timbers with three games remaining in Portland’s season opening 12-game road swing due to renovations at its home venue, Providence Park. The Timbers have so far gone 3-5-1 and sit in ninth place in the 12-team Western Conference.

César Stops Two Penalty Shootout Kicks to Help Brazil Defeat Chile

World Cup 2014

Júlio César is being heralded as Brazil’s saving grace…

The 34-year-old Brazilian footballer, the national team’s goalkeeper, emerged as Brazil’s hero on Saturday after Brazil squeaked past Chile 3-2 in a penalty shootout to advance to the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals.

Julio Cesarorld

After the teams played to a 1-1 draw over 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time at Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, César – a goalkeeper for Major League Soccer (MLS) club Toronto FC – stopped penalty kicks by Mauricio Pinilla and Alexis Sanchez. The match then ended when Gonzalo Jara’s blast clanked off the post.

Brazil’s shootout goals came from David Luiz, Marcelo and finally Neymar, who calmly fired a strike into the left part of the goal after first trying to gauge where Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo would be moving.

The match was played on even terms until the 18th minute, when David Luiz scored from just a few feet away from the goal line after Thiago Silva headed the ball his way following a corner kick.

It initially appeared that the ball had gone in the net off Jara’s foot.

Chile got the equalizer in the 32nd minute when Eduardo Vargas took advantage of a Brazilian defensive blunder and centered the ball to Alexis Sanchez, who fired a perfectly placed strike past a diving César.

Brazil then had a couple of chances before halftime, but a header by Neymar was deflected away by Jara and then a blast off the foot of Fred sailed over the crossbar.

In the 54th minute, Hulk appeared to score the go-ahead goal when he received a cross and fired a shot past Bravo. But English referee Howard Webb waived it off and gave the forward a yellow card, ruling that he had lowered the ball with his arm.

Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari then sent on Jo and Ramires to replace Fred and Fernandinho, respectively, but they were unable to provide the creative spark needed to break down Chile’s resistance.

Bravo’s heroics also were key to keeping the match tied, as he stopped a header from Neymar and a powerful strike from Hulk before the end of the second half.

In extra time, Brazil dominated ball possession but had no answer for Chile’s all-out defensive tactics.

La Roja also proved dangerous with the few chances it had, with Pinilla blasting a shot off the crossbar shortly before the end of extra time.

With the win, the Brazilians, who are seeking their sixth World Cup title, advance to a quarterfinal match on July 4 against Colombia, which defeated Uruguay 2-0.