LA Galaxy's David Beckham prepares to take a corner kick against Toronto FC as fans throw confetti at him during their CONCACAF Champions League soccer match in Toronto

Five-a-side: Questions I want answered in MLS today

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1. Can the Galaxy right the ship?

I think it’s fair to say today’s biggie (Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls) is more “biggie” for the home side, the Galaxy.

Hans Backe’s men will get their suspended star (Rafa Marquez) and their injured star (Thierry Henry) back in the rotation soon enough. So it’s really just about holding serve for now. Even if the Jersey Boys can’t do that, there’s no psychological scarring afoot; If they do take an L.A. beat down at the Home Depot Center, well, that’s what everyone more or less expects, right?

But what if L.A. loses? What if all that controversial rest for Robbie Keane and David Beckham (who remained at home while the rest of the side went up to Seattle for a mid-week match) fails to pay dividends? If Dax McCarty bombs around the midfield as he did for New York last week, if goalkeeper Ryan Meara keeps surprising us with un-rookie-like work, if Markus Holgersson’s good day at center back last week gets to be more of a habit, then a point (or three) for the Red Bulls is hardly out of the question (especially given the continued distressed state of the Galaxy defense).

2. Is Eddie Johnson about to go on a run?

The NBC crew is in Seattle for this one, Seattle’s second game in four days. Johnson has found goal in two consecutive matches. Fredy Montero also struck an absolute stunner in Wednesday’s win over L.A.

But we expect Montero to score. Some of us thought he might score in bunches this year. But one missing piece around CenturyLink has always been a reliable second threat. Can if be Johnson, who hit 15 with Kansas City in 2007 in his last pass through MLS? If so, catching San Jose for Western leadership won’t seem nearly such a tall order.

Don’t forget, Peter Nowak is in the stands for this one.

3. Can Portland crack the code?

The Timbers were stale as quick-sale bread on the road last year, gaining just 12 of a possible 51 points. But the expansion side remained stubbornly in the playoff chase most of the way thanks to a reasonable home record. Things aren’t falling their way so far at Jeld-Wen in 2012, with a concerning 2-2 mark. Today’s contest against Columbus, a club near the bottom in the East, is a jim dandy spot for Timber Joey to fire up that crazy chain saw a few more times.

Of course, Kris Boyd could assist the chain saw celebratory cause; three goals in eight matches isn’t awful, but it’s not scoring-table leadership stuff. In general, the Timbers need a leader or two to rise – of this thing could tailspin before anyone knows it.

4. Did Vancouver’s Martin Rennie stumble onto something special?

You remember all the talk about No. 1 draft pick Omar Salgado being a project as a target striker? Well, strike that. All of it.

He’s not a project any more, perhaps. Nor is he a target man. Not for now, at least.

Salgado has played out wide left for manager Rennie lately, and the man is really looking in the mood. Of course, that means leaving someone significant on the bench today against West-leading San Jose. Eric Hassli scored in the midweek Canadian Championship match, so he seems unlikely to take a seat. So is it Camilo? Or Sebastien Le Toux? We’ll see.

5. Will Sporting Kansas City show any rust?

I’ve already expressed some fear for Montreal in their visit to well-rested SKC. But is there another way to look at tonight’s match at Livestrong? Is it possible that Peter Vermes men might be rusty, having last played 14 days previously?

Could be that the time off a momentum buster. Again, we’ll see. By the way, the expansion Impact is 0-5-1 so far on the road while allowing 13 goals.

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Man City v Monaco; Bayer v Atletico Madrid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his sides fourth goal during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on January 6, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clashes get underway on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Manchester City host AS Monaco at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola knowing his shaky defense must stay strong against the leading scorers in France’s top-flight. Monaco have already come to England and beaten Tottenham Hotspur in the UCL group stage and under talented manager Leanardo Jardim the likes of Radamel Falcao looks fired up and ready to go.

That said, City have been much better in recent weeks and have shown their best form this season in the UCL. Remember, Pep has never failed to reach the semifinals of this competition as a manager. Quite the record.

Elsewhere Bayer Leverkusen welcome Atletico Madrid to the BayArena with Mexico’s Javier Hernandez back among the goals and aiming to give the Bundesliga outfit a lead to take with them to Madrid.

The runners up late season, Atleti are currently fourth in La Liga but Diego Simeone’s side have looked stellar in Europe this season once again as they finished above Bayern Munich to win their group. Expect a tense, tough game in Germany.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Tuesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Manchester City vs. AS Monaco – 2:45 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid – 2:45 p.m. ET

Bayern defends Ancelotti for middle-finger gesture to fans

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich has defended coach Carlo Ancelotti for raising his middle finger to Hertha Berlin fans after supposedly being spit at following a dramatic 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga.

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Bayern says “basically we find the human reaction of Carlo Ancelotti with the gesture to be emotionally understandable after the nasty spitting attack.”

Robert Lewandowski’s injury-time equalizer for Bayern on Saturday prompted altercations between Bayern and Hertha players in a heated atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium.

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The German soccer federation ended its investigation into the matter after Ancelotti agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,300) to its foundation for social work.

In 2014, Norbert Duewel, then-coach of second-division club Union Berlin, was fined 3,500 euros for raising his middle finger in a 4-1 loss at home against 1860 Munich.

Sacha Kljestan ready to take reigns as Red Bulls captain

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 6:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls dribbles past Steven Beitashour #33 of Toronto FC  during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 6, 2016 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When news began to spread of a trade regarding one of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable faces, Sacha Kljestan was with his New York Red Bulls teammate at the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The clarity over Dax McCarty’s move to Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire is very much uncertain — even a month after the fact — but the veteran midfielder’s absence left an opening for the Red Bulls captaincy.

[ MORE: PST talks with Atlanta president Darren Eales ahead of 2017 ]

And that was an opportunity that Kljestan was honored to be named.

“I was just proud. My first feeling was that I’m thankful for Jesse [Marsch] having that trust in me and my teammates having that trust in me as well, which is very important,” Kljestan said. “But I just feel very proud to represent Jesse and the coaching staff and represent every member of the club that works with the New York Red Bulls. Most importantly I want to represent the fans in a way that they are proud of.”

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, what they have had over the past two seasons in Kljestan is a player that not only provides flash and brilliance on the pitch but also stability off the field and in the locker room.

Since making his return to MLS in 2015, Kljestan has notched an astounding 34 assists — the most of any player during that span — to go along with his 14 goals.

Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch has been impressed with Kljestan’s work ethic since bringing in the Designated Player, and he says little thought needed to be put into naming the U.S. international his squad’s next captain.

“It almost wasn’t even a choice at all,” Marsch said in regards to naming Kljestan his primary captain. “He had served as basically a vice-captain for two years and it was an natural fit. There were discussions with the staff but I think it was pretty clear that this is a guy that is a top leader. That being said, we’ve said all along that the captain isn’t a one man job.

“It’s about a community of people and certainly the two guys that will support Sacha the most will be Luis [Robles] and Brad [Wright-Phillips]. I think the three of them will take on big leadership roles and there’s room for young guys to blossom into bigger leadership positions as well.”

The Red Bulls have undoubtedly proven their success in the regular season since rebranding to the aforementioned name in 2006 when the Global giant, Red Bull, acquired the franchise.

The last 11 seasons have provided the club with plenty to cheer about, including two Supporters’ Shield crowns and only missing out on the postseason once, but the Red Bulls have struggled to get past one major hurdle.

Winning an MLS Cup is challenging.

It’s only something that 11 teams have accomplished in the league’s history. Of those 11 teams, only five of them have won two or more titles since MLS’ inception in 1996.

Marsch’s approach since day one has been very clear to both his team and the opponents that the Red Bulls face. The goal has been to play an attacking-minded press, similar to that of Barcelona in the club’s hay day.

While that pressing style likely won’t change, the team is prepared to add another dimension to its attack by switching to a two-forward setup starting in 2017.

“With our little tweak in formation that we’re doing now, we’re trying to be less susceptible to opening ourselves up and creating too much space between our lines,” Kljestan said. “We’re working on ways now to become more connected and become harder to break down and really make teams earn their chances against us. We might go through some growing pains with the formation but I think it’ll make us stronger in the long run.”

The Red Bulls begin their 2017 journey on Wednesday when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The two sides will meet a second time on March 2 in Vancouver.