Drilling down on: Los Angeles 5, at Portland 3

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Man of the Match: Two goals, one assist, and a night that will be remembered in the legend of David Beckham. The two goals were ones for the highlight reel, even if they’ll be hard to distinguish from his other memorable goals. Still, years from now people you’ll hear the refrain: “I once saw Beckham hit two bombs, back-to-back in Portland. Two goals in the first 25 minutes.”

Beckham opened his account in the 19th minute, when confusion between Portland midfielders left him an uncontested chance from 26 yards. It was too easy to curl an equalizer into the left-side netting.

Five minutes later, a dead ball at 24 yards out proved just as easy to convert, with teammates crowded into Portland’s porous wall helping Beckham give LA the lead.

In the 64th minute, another display of distinctly Beckham skill created LA’s final goal. A ball played back to him was hit first time from the center line past Portland left back Steven Smith, Beckham curling it onto the foot of the streaking Sean Franklin. Three touches later, Robbie Keane gave Los Angeles their final goal.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Portland came out in a new-look 4-2-3-1 with Lovel Palmer and Jack Jewsbury teaming in deep midfield behind Darlington Nagbe. It didn’t work:
    • Lovel Palmer’s positioning was poor throughout the half he played. On Beckham’s first goal, he was seen pointing to the spot he wanted Jewsbury to be in (while Jewsbury was marking another man). It wasn’t the first time Palmer disagreed with a teammate on his positioning. By the 46th minute, Palmer’s night was done.
    • Darlington Nagbe played too high in that playmaker’s role and didn’t do enough to show for the ball. As a result, Jewsbury was the player on the ball the most for the Timbers, and although he performed well, the formation is designed to play to Nagbe’s strengths. It didn’t.
  • Los Angeles’s midfield, by contrast, performed well despite potentially being outnumbered. Beckham had the luxury of being allowed to sit in defense and play deep in attack. Marcelo Sarvas put in admirable work picking up runners from midfield as well as playing to the edge of the box in the attacking phase.
  • All of which explains why Los Angeles was able to take control of the game after Portland’s opening goal, a clever finish by Kris Boyd off a Kalif Alhassan cross. From then on, Beckham was able to orchestrate from deep while Landon Donovan applied pressure in the final third.
  • After a Kosuke Kimura foul gave Donovan a penalty to convert for the third goal, pressure from the Galaxy captain created LA’s last goal of the half in the 28th minute – their fourth goal in 10 minutes. Donovan continued Steven Smith’s MLS struggles by beating him on the right flank before playing a ball across the six. Robbie Keane’s easy finish gave Donovan his 100th career MLS assist.
  • Kimura made up for his error with a goal, bringing his new team within one before half. The former Rapid took advantage of a ball spilled Josh Saunders, making it 4-2. Kris Boyd’s direct kick skidded to Saunders from 23 yards out. LA’s `keeper holds that most nights, but in Portland, it gave the Timbers hope 11 minutes before intermission.
  • Portland started the second half strong, but with the Timbers unable to get what would have been a crucial early goal, the match quickly evened out. Soon LA had restored their three-goal lead, Beckham starting the attack that culminated in Keane’s second goal.
  • To their credit, the Timbers maintained their intensity throughout the second half, though aside from Boyd’s second goal – a direct kick that beat Saunders along the ground, inside his left post – there weren’t many signs Los Angeles would give this game up. Long passes beating Portland’s high line make it more likely the Galaxy would score again, with Landon Donovan missing one breakaway chance on Troy Perkins.
  • After the game, new Portland coach Gavin Wilkinson said his team “gets a pass,” alluding to a week that saw the dismissal of John Spencer. Individual errors, he said, were responsible for Portland’s terrible first half, though he declined to name names. Lovel Palmer, however, was singled out by his substitution, and Steven Smith lost a crucial battle with Landon Donovan on the fourth goal.
  • It was a resounding victory for Los Angeles in a place few teams have won. Within 28 minutes, LA had posted four in a venue that’s played as a fortress throughout much of Portland’s MLS existence. Although it remains to be seen where this Timbers team will land, the win was as convincing a sign of LA’s resurgence as we’ve seen since the defending champions shook off their opening season slump.
  • For Portland, it was a terrible way to move out of the Spencer era. The one thing the Timbers had was Jeld-Wen, where they were coming off back-to-back wins over the Sounders and Earthquakes. Within 30 minutes, LA hinted Portland’s home field may not be so special anymore. Without it, what leg does Portland have to stand on?

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.