Beckham of the L.A. Galaxy celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps with Donovan during their MLS soccer match in Vancouver

MLS playoff preview: Vancouver Whitecaps at L.A. Galaxy

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The Galaxy are in Major League Soccer’s playoff doghouse – Thursday’s 90-minute mid-week eliminator contest before the “real” post-season series begin – based on that limping dog of a spring.

The star-strewn Galaxy was shockingly awful to start its 2012 MLS Cup title defense, a pitiful excuse for a reigning champ that slogged out of May with a frown and a 3-8-2 record (and having been eliminated from U.S. Open Cup play by the … Carolina Red Hawks?). But Bruce Arena and the boys got their stuff together, and now …

This does not look a thing like some fourth-place outfit – and no one will be surprised if the Western Conference’s most high-profile assembly of known names “upsets” its way right into a second consecutive MLS Cup.

Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday, Home Depot Center, NBC Sports Network

(L.A. Galaxy club-created video preview is here)

(Vancouver Whitecaps club-created preview is here)

On the L.A. Galaxy:

  • In one of those cases of the universe spinning on reverse axis, big center back Omar Gonzalez did wonders in establishing his immeasurable value to the Galaxy by missing more than half the season. That came after he had established high value in last year’s MLS Defender of the Year season, although not as high as it would rise. Everybody understood the off-season knee injury would dent the Galaxy defense in 2012 pending his healthy return – but nobody quite figured on 100 percent Galaxy “D” collapse!
  • In 19 games without Gonzalez, the Galaxy conceded 34 goals, or almost two a game. In 14 games with their steady and heady center back the defense allowed just 13 goals, or fewer than one per match.
  • Galaxy captain and U.S. all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan got back on the field for the Galaxy’s season finale after missing almost a month due to a knee injury. He had a team-high 14 assists.

(MORE: Landon Donovan goes all 90 for Los Angeles)

(MORE: Where Donovan landed on the all-time goals, assist chase)

  • David Beckham – Perhaps you’ve heard of him? – remains the league’s top passer over long distance and still has the best free kick strikes in the game. That makes any set piece in the Galaxy’s final third a moment to scoot up on the seat and pay special attention. If Beckham isn’t feeling the shot, he’ll aim for the 6-5 Gonzalez.
  • Mike Magee should make most people’s All-Underrated Best XI. He’ll appear out of the Galaxy midfield, his smart runs helping to create chances, especially when parlayed with Robbie Keane’s sophisticated, active movement in and around the opposition penalty area. Keane, the longtime Irish international, was team MVP with 16 goals and 9 assists.
  • The Galaxy’s weak link? Rookie center back Tommy Meyer, filling in for the injured A.J. De La Garza, will be playing in his biggest match to date.

On the Vancouver Whitecaps:

  • The Whitecaps slid into the playoffs, essentially, because Dallas was too far behind and then failed to pick up points in two late matches over Chivas USA. So, fifth place to the ‘Caps!
  • Martin Rennie’s men beat Real Salt Lake back on Aug. 11 – and pretty much stunk up the place from there. They won once over the last 10 regular season matches, and that came courtesy of the West’s worst side, poor ol’ Chivas USA.  The Whitecaps were shut out in seven of those contests.
  • The club’s pair of pricey Scottish internationals, Barry Robson and Kenny Miller, have largely failed to deliver. Robson, the team’s attacking midfielder, does continue to look threatening, at least, and seems to have something to offer if only in drive through the center of the park and emotion. Miller? Not so much. There’s even a question of whether he will start. (Robson and Miller both spent most of the season finale on the bench.) Rookie dynamo Darren Mattocks and speedy Dane Richards, who is usually stationed out wide, gives Rennie that option.
  • Vancouver’s road form will not do much to inspire confidence. The Whitecaps have just one victory away from BC Place since April, than against Colorado, which finished 7th in the West. The ‘Caps are 1-9-3 away since that early, short burst of road success.
  • Scoring goals has mostly been the issue. In the back, former U.S. international Jay DeMerit has been terrific. So has right back Young-Pyo Lee. Whitecaps fans (they call him “Y.P. Lee”) voted him 2012 Player of the Year.

Bottom line:

The Galaxy is heavy favorite, with good reason. The current champs, holder of a huge edge in big-game experience and comfy at home, would win this contest seven times out of eight.

Of course, there’s always the one. Otherwise, why even bother to play the darn thing?

Man City: Guardiola updates De Bruyne, Kompany injury status

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20:  Vincent Kompany and Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City talk during a training session at the City Football Academy on October 20, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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Kevin De Bruyne has been as valuable an attacker as any in the Premier League season, so his injury suffered this weekend is quite a big deal.

There were fears that Manchester City’s Belgian attacker would be gone for more than a month, but manager Pep Guardiola has quelled those concerns to an extent.

[ MORE: NCAA star’s fastest hat trick ]

De Bruyne will miss Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League match against Celtic, which shouldn’t bother the club too much, though his absence Sunday against Tottenham Hotspur could be felt more keenly.

Guardiola said that both De Bruyne and his Belgian teammate, Vincent Kompany, should be back in two to three weeks time. In De Bruyne’s case, Guardiola’s specifically mentioned after the international break. That puts him in line for an Oct. 15 trip to Everton.

The manager also related that he’s excited for his first trip to Celtic Park, as he’s not been to Glasgow to face Celtic in his career.

From ManCity.com:

“Everyone talks to me about the atmosphere, I’m looking forward to playing here. I know how strong they are here. I spoke with my old players, and they have said this is a special environment.”

Kickoff from Scotland is 2:45 p.m. ET.

Champions League preview: Arsenal match sees Xhaka vs. Xhaka; Man City hosts Celtic

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27:  Manager Arsene Wenger of Arsenal talks to Granit Xhaka during an Arsenal training session ahead of the Champions League Group A match between Arsenal and Basel at London Colney on September 27, 2016 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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There are some absolute beauties on tap for Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League, with two Premier League clubs in play and a pair of matches pitting top teams from Germany and Spain.

[ MORE: UCL Tuesday roundup ]

All Wednesday matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET.

Celtic vs. Manchester City

Having been hammered 7-0 at home by Barcelona, Celtic’s “reprieve” is a trip to face Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. Brendan Rodgers will need to pull every trick out of his hat to avoid another blowout, as City had little trouble in dispatching a solid Borussia Monchengladbach side 4-0.

Arsenal vs. FC Basel

Both Group A matches were 1-1 draws to open the stage, though few expect draws on day 2. That’s because giants Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain move onto perceived lesser lights in Basel and Ludogorets Razgrad.

The Gunners are flying, having gotten their toughest fixture out of the way in a 1-1 draw at PSG. Arsene Wenger‘s crew is fresh off a 3-0 thumping of Chelsea, and will be aware of Basel’s best: Serey Die, Birkir Bjarnason, and Taulant Xhaka, brother of Arsenal’s Granit. That’s right… all the Xhakas.

Atletico Madrid vs. Bayern Munich

A road goal led Diego Simeone’s Atleti past Bayern in last year’s UCL semifinal, and the Bavarians will hope for a better fate under new boss Carlo Ancelotti.

Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Barcelona

Man, this group. A very good Gladbach side will have to rebound from a 4-0 loss to Man City by hosting Barcelona. The good news for the Germans is that Barcelona will be without Leo Messi, though that mattered little in Barca’s 5-0 win in La Liga play this weekend.

Elsewhere
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Napoli vs. Benfica
Besiktas vs. Dynamo Kyiv
FC Rostov vs. PSV Eindhoven

Albert Ruiz scores fastest hat trick to start game in NCAA history

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After being named the NCAA Soccer Men’s Player of the Week, Spanish junior Albert Ruiz went out and set the base for a repeat.

The Florida Gulf Coast striker scored three goals in three minutes and 19 seconds on Tuesday, and the Eagles needed everyone in what turned out to be a 6-5 thriller.

FGCU was up 5-0 after 16:16, but saw that lead drop to 5-4 by the 55th minute.

[ MORE: Pochettino happy with “must win” defeat of CSKA ]

Back to Ruiz, his three goals all came before the game was 10 minutes old (9:02 to be exact). The team’s Twitter account says that’s a record to start a game, besting the record was set by Indiana’s Steve Burks on Oct. 6, 1973. Burks scored his three goals by the 11:41 mark of the first half.

If you look at the clock, too, we think it’s more like nine minutes on the dot.

Ruiz scored seven times in 11 games as a sophomore, and is battering that impressive mark this year. It’s not even halftime at FGCU, and he’s up to 11 goals in his ninth game of the season. That puts him into a tie with Buffalo’s Russell Cicerone for the most goals in men’s D1 soccer (and Ruiz has more than 45 minutes to play).

The 6-foot-2 forward is going to be attracting a lot of attention, especially considering this is his second hat trick in 10 days.

PST Extra: Breaking down the 1v2 clash between Spurs, Man City

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Manchester City visits White Hart Lane for a match-up of this early season’s first and second place Premier League clubs.

City will have one less day of rest than its Premier League rivals, though both are coming off road matches in Europe.

Spurs beat CSKA Moscow 1-0 on Tuesday, while Man City is battling Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany a day later.

[ MORE: Pochettino happy with “must win” defeat of CSKA ]

A win would pull Spurs to within a point of the leaders, while a City victory would guarantee, at-worst, a five-point table advantage for Pep Guardiola‘s bunch.

Kickoff is at 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday, and our own Joe Prince-Wright has the preview for you with the latest PST Extra (above).