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?

Beckham on plans for MLS in Miami, stadium talks continue

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David Beckham is hoping for his Major League Soccer franchise to be run just like the club he supports: Manchester United.

[ MORE: Klinsmann sends Johnson home ]

Beckham, 40, is still working on finalizing a stadium for his MLS team to play in, more on that below, but he has been speaking about his dream of becoming an owner and has earmarked the 2018 MLS season as when his franchise will arrive on the scene.

Beckham spoke to the Daily Star in the UK about his vision for the MLS club, and says the team he came up through the ranks with and played for professional for 12-years is the benchmark.

“We want the club to be run professionally — everything needs to be run like a club like Manchester United,” Beckham said. “You have to look at it like that. Luckily, I’ve had a little bit of experience in that and I definitely will be a demanding owner. I want the team to be successful and the club to be successful, so I think I have to be demanding.”

The former United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder also spoke about the lengthy delays with the stadium deal and how “dealing with the political side of things in Miami has been a lot more difficult” than he expected.

[ MORE: Dust settles, questions remain for USMNT future ]

In fact, a source has told ProSoccerTalk that the proposed stadium site for Beckham’s franchise, directly next to Major League Baseball franchise Miami Marlins’ home, Marlins Park, in Little Havana, is still some way from being signed off on as many restrictions will be placed on Beckham and his ownership group before the first shovel hits the ground. Beckham himself said in his latest update that in six weeks time he hopes to name the stadium site.

However the source confirmed that any stadium announcement deal could be someway off as Beckham’s ownership group – which includes PR tycoon and close friend Simon Fuller, plus Bolivian billionaire Marcelo Claure – still haven’t hammered out many of the specifics of a stadium deal with the City of Miami, while negotiations with the Marlins are also expected to take months before any stadium deal can be confirmed. The source added that the Marlins are positive about turning derelict land opposite their current Marlins Park home into an MLS stadium, but there are several conditions which have to be met in order for the stadium to be given the green light by the MLB franchise. These conditions include no MLS games conflicting with Marlins games, sponsorship deals not conflicting with those the Marlins have on the outside of their stadium and various other facets including transportation links and infrastructure.

Beckham's plans for an MLS stadium in downtown Miami had to be shelved.
Beckham’s initial plans for an MLS stadium in downtown Miami had to be shelved.

The source goes on to note that several high-ranking City officials and business operators in and around Miami Dade County still feel unease towards Beckham and the razzmatazz surrounding his initial stadium plan to house his MLS team on a prime waterfront location in Downtown Miami next to the Miami Heat’s American Airlines arena. Beckham has since accepted that his opening stadium plan was “cheeky” but many business leaders had their noses put out of joint and many are making it increasingly difficult for a stadium deal to get over the line for the former LA Galaxy star.

In terms of the specifics surrounding a potential new home for what will now, given the delays, surely become MLS’ 24th franchise in either 2018 or 2019, the location picked is just over two miles from Downtown Miami with good links via public transport and roads. It is in a neighborhood which has a tough past but is on the up as the likes of rap star Pitbull has just built a huge academy (Sports Leaders and Management Charter Middle/High School) offering opportunities for education to underprivileged children in the Little Havana community. Along with Marlins Park, the addition of an MLS franchise would undoubtedly bring plenty of jobs into the area and help boost the economy further.

Beckham’s dream of owning a team in Miami is edging closer to realization but it seems like it’s still some way off having a stadium to call home.

Cisse arrested in sex tape investigation

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Former Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse is embroiled in a bizarre investigation into the extortion of a sex tape.

The 34-year-old French striker has been arrested by French police who have confirmed that are investigating attempts to bribe another international footballer.

[ MORE: Klinsmann sends Johnson home ]

Unconfirmed reports from France claim that the individual in question is France and Lyon midfielder Mathieu Valbuena, a former teammate of Cisse at both Marseille and with the French national team.

According to Reuters news agency, Cisse was questioned because he was familiar with the people involved and in total four individuals were arrested as it is alleged they plotted to ask for money from Valbuena for the sex tape to not be released. It is unclear if the tape is of Valbeuna and his partner Fanny Lafon, or if other individuals are involved.

[ MORE: Dust settles, questions remain for USMNT future ]

Cisse won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool and scored 24 goals in 79 games during his three-year stay at Anfield until 2007. He also had spells with Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League, while he is currently out of contract after being released by Ligue 1 side Bastia following nine goals in 41 appearances. Cisse is due to appear on the French version of “Dancing with the Stars” in the coming months.

Further reports from France say that Cisse is expected to be “exonerated” and that the existence of the video is “not proven” at this point.