Vancouver Whitecaps v Los Angeles Galaxy - Knockout Round

Drilling down on: at L.A. Galaxy 2 , Vancouver 1

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Four mad minutes turned this game – and prevented the Western Conference playoffs from being turned on its head.

Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks stunned the home crowd with an early goal and the Galaxy chase was on.

But Mike Magee’s 69th minute equalizer set off a wild, rapid series of events. Vancouver’s heroic center back Jay DeMerit soon hobbled off, his replacement tripped up Landon Donovan and the ensuing penalty kick sent the heavily favored Galaxy through to a California clash with San Jose.

Final score from the Home Depot Center on Thursday: 2-1.

Man of the Match: It was looking like one of those matches, with the huffing and puffing of dominant possession, plus many crosses and shots – but ultimately no goals for the Galaxy. Then Mike Magee happened. His late, smartly timed runs into the penalty area have always been difficult for defenses to deal with. So it was in the 68th minute Thursday as Magee’s equalizer turned the match for the heavily favored home team.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

The Galaxy advanced, but let’s call this one “something less than convincing.”

Mattocks’ early goal was perfect for Vancouver, which came to defend and really never bothered with attacking. (Designated Player striker Kenny Miller was on the bench to start this one.)

Content to defend after the early goal – perhaps not the right choice, but probably the only hope for Vancouver – the visitors dropped so deep that that it did effectively remove the Galaxy’s top creative element. David Beckham’s ability to play-make from those deep areas in midfield was stripped away. Minus someone to create chances with defense-opening stuff near goal – L.A. just doesn’t have that guy – the Galaxy created a series of half-chances but way too few really good ones.

The Galaxy was thusly reduced to a series of crosses, which Whitecaps center backs DeMerit and Andy O’Brien gobbled up like hungry young pups.

Part of the issue was top talent not at its best. Edson Buddle wasn’t effective, generally no match for DeMerit and O’Brien. Landon Donovan was muted, although he did create the spot shot and then finish it with the usual cool aplomb we see from Donovan at 12 yards. And Beckham, still dealing with an ankle injury, was less mobile than he needed to be.

Can we talk about about last Sunday …

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is surely ruing the choice to deploy his starters (and keep some important ones, like the recovering Donovan, out there for all 90 minutes) in Sunday’s meaningless regular season finale against Seattle.

Because it’s not just a performance on Thursday that asked more questions than it answered; beating Vancouver in the opening, elimination match was never the Galaxy’s ultimate ambition.

For the champs, it’s obviously about doing more in the MLS playoffs. And that starts in Sunday’s first leg of a home-and-away death struggle against Supporters Shield winners San Jose. Just two full days of rest now before that one.

Was it hubris? As in, did Arena figure his team wouldn’t need to push itself to trot past Vancouver in a laugher? Or was it just a bad choice? Either way, the Galaxy missed some pop in the attack. A little extra rest for Donovan, Beckham, Keane, Buddle and others sure would not have hurt.

The Whitecaps have so much to do in the offseason. It starts with some serious soul searching on Miller and whatever chain of decisions brought him to BC Place. And probably Barry Robson, too.

DeMerit is the team’s top player; it’s no shock that L.A.’s game-winner came just after he left, injured. Meanwhile, the midfield isn’t good enough and the money men simply are not delivering.

Mattocks, the rookie, started over Miller. So, that’s already a “loss” for the franchise in the big picture. Vancouver tore down the team’s attack to bring in Robson and Miller – and one of them doesn’t even start in the franchise’s biggest MLS match yet? Unthinkable.

Here was the Whitecaps’ season in miniature:

Just before Magee’s 68th minute leveler, Matt Watson hit a shot that was saved but spilled by Galaxy ‘keeper Josh Saunders. Miller, just on for Mattocks, badly flubbed his effort at the rebound. Robson got hold of the wobbly shot and, from a tantalizing 10 yards … somehow didn’t even get off a shot.

That was pretty much it for the Whitecaps’ chances. And their season.

MORE: On the five minutes that defined Vancouver’s season

Packaged for take-away

  • Watson badly burned L.A. right back Hector Jimenez along the flank to create the early goal. San Jose was watching.
  • Sean Franklin or A.J. DeLaGarza would be L.A.’s preferred right back, but both are injured.
  • Houston nearly beat the Galaxy out in Los Angeles in 2009 playoffs – the infamous “power outage” outcome. Dallas upended the Galaxy in 2010 at the Home Depot Center. So an upset wouldn’t exactly have been unprecedented.
  • Donovan’s penalty kick? He did have position on Martin Bonjour (DeMerit’s just-into-the-game replacement), but it wasn’t a vicious foul. Frankly, you have to be amazed that referee Silviu Petruscu, who hates to call fouls, makes that call.

 

Leicester fan will win $50,000 from $10 bet if Foxes win Premier League

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring against Manchester United, his eleventh consecutive goal in the Premier League, during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Vardy becomes the first man to score in 11 consecutive English Premier League soccer matches after finding the back of the net against Manchester United today.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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As their odds of winning the Premier League title continue to be slashed, tales of Leicester City fans set to win an incredible amount of cash continue.

The latest story is a beauty.

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On the eve of the 2015-16 Premier League season one Leicester City fan, Chloe Cope, decided to put $10 on her side to win the title. The odds were 5,000 -1. So, with the Foxes five points clear at the top of the table with just 13 games to go, the first league title in Leicester’s 132 year history would not only bring unbeliavable amounts of jubilation to the East Midlands city but also plenty of cash for its fans. $50,000 for this Miss Cope, in fact.

The story gets even better. Check this out.

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Miss Cope’s flutter on her beloved Foxes was actually her first-ever bet. She opened up an online betting account last summer in the UK with Sky Bet and was rewarded a free $30 bet which she used to make a bet that Leicester would finish in the top six this season. That’s virtually assured so she will win another $637.

The two bets she made back on August 7 2015 are shown in the Tweet below via Jacqui Oatley.

A few other Leicester fans are also in line to win plenty of cash, but this one seems to have the most riding on it.

Will big changes in Europe threaten UEFA Champions League’s future?

FC Barcelona, 2014-15 UEFA Champions League winners
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With talk of the UEFA Champions League being threatened by a “super league” of some sort, that notion has been undermined by some of Europe’s top teams.

For now.

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On Wednesday in Paris the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) met at its 16th annual congress and confirmed it will seek to change the way the UEFA Champions League and Europa League is run when the current term of agreement cycle expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.

With over 200 member clubs the ECA represents many of the biggest teams on the planet with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Chelsea all included.

In the past there has been a growing notion for a European “super league” to replace the Champions League and that perennial European giants should not have to rely on qualifying for Europe via their domestic competitions.

That is one of the factors currently being discussed by the ECA, as they released the following statement after the congress in France this week.

“In light of the upcoming 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle, the clubs are currently discussing the future of UEFA’s main club competitions, namely the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. As in the past, the clubs are in constant dialogue with UEFA to further develop and improve both competitions. All ECA Member Clubs have gathered in informal working groups to exchange initial thoughts and ideas.”

[ MORE: Reports claim Mourinho to United is “done deal”

The current ECA chairman and chairman of Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, also spoke about the need to revamp both club competitions.

“I believe both ECA and UEFA are interested in an evolution of the competitions. Stagnation means regression,” Rummenigge said. “We have always jointly looked into ways to further develop and improve the competitions. It is important to find a good and balanced solution for everyone involved.”

So, overall, it seems that for now both ECA and UEFA is willing to work together to improve the current format of the UCL rather than go their separate ways and the ECA member clubs beginning their own competition, as had been mooted by Rummenigge and other high-ranking officials in the past.

What changes could be discussed for the 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle?

For me, it seems like it would be a good idea to somehow reduce the number of UCL teams who enter the group stage. That would help it preserve its elite status and potential shave two matchdays off the schedule to lessen the pressure on teams. Currently 32 teams qualify in eight groups of four teams and a total of 78 teams from across UEFA’s 54 member nations qualify for the UCL each season. 46 fall by the wayside in the qualifying rounds and many of those teams are too small to ever dream about getting anywhere near the group stages.

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Perhaps just having one playoff round to make the UCL and limiting the number of spots for nations with lower UEFA coefficients is the way to go. That way those nations would back their teams competing in the Europa League and that competition will gain more prestige as a direct correlation between teams performing well in the Europa League will lead to certain nations being granted places in the UEFA Champions League. That’s the case now, but adding extra emphasis to the Europa League should be a big part of the next cycle.

The biggest situation the ECA seem to want to sort out here is how some of Europe’s biggest teams did not qualify for the UCL. The overriding notion seems to be that the ECA wants them to qualify each year. Even though the likes of past UCL winners Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund weren’t involved in Europe’s elite competition this season, did the tournament really suffer because of it? In terms of gate revenue, perhaps, but it seems that the ECA is conflicted about the best way to get as many of its member teams involved in the elite competition as possible.

Another idea I’m just throwing out there could be to hand teams a spot in the UCL based on their current coefficient which takes into account their previous performances in UEFA Club Competitions. Perhaps four spots per season could be reserved for teams who don’t qualify for the UCL domestically, but have the highest coefficient of the non qualifiers. Just a thought.

There’s clearly plenty to sort out but it seems like — for now, at least — we haven’t seen the end of the UEFA Champions League. But tweaks will need to be made to stop it regressing.

VIDEO: Will Ferrell is feeling guilty – “I got Jose Mourinho fired”

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Sometimes there’s just something you have to admit.

[ MORE: Mourinho to United “done deal”

It sounds better if you say it out loud and get it off your chest. This is one of those moments for comedian, actor and now part-owner of a Major League Soccer franchise, Los Angeles FC, Will Ferrell.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Joining the Men In Blazers this week the self-proclaimed soccer nut joked that he was the one who actually got Jose Mourinho fired by Chelsea.

For real. Watch the video above to see Ferrell’s admission as he explains exactly what happened.

[ MORE: Arsenal, Spurs to fight for the PL title? ]

Just seven months after leading Chelsea to the Premier League title, Mourinho was dismissed by the west London club in December.

NOTE: Severe tongue-in-cheek mode activated.

WATCH: NBC to stream USWNT, every CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying game

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The CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championships kick off on Wednesday and NBC Sports will be streaming all 15 games of the tournament over the next 11 days.

Every single game will be streamed live online or on the app via NBC Sports Live Extra, in addition to up to four matches airing on NBCSN with the U.S women’s national team — aiming for a fourth-straight Olympic gold — featuring heavily in live broadcasts.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The eight-team tournament takes place from Feb. 10-21 in Houston and Frisco, Texas, with the top two teams advancing to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Below is a full schedule of the games.

2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Schedule

Frisco, Texas – Toyota Stadium
Houston, Texas – BBVA Compass Stadium
Times U.S. Central (U.S. Eastern in parentheses)

FIRST ROUND
Group A: USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica
Group B: Canada, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana

Wednesday, Feb. 10 (Frisco)
Puerto Rico vs. Mexico                                   5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Costa Rica                                    7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 11 (Houston)
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago                  5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guyana                                           7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Frisco)
Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico                              12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
USA vs. Mexico                                                 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Houston)
Guyana vs. Guatemala                                     12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
Trinidad vs. Canada                                          3 p.m. (4 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 15 (Frisco)
Mexico vs. Costa Rica                                       5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Puerto Rico                                          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) LIVE on NBCSN

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Houston)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guyana                         5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guatemala                                      7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Feb. 19 (Houston)
Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up          4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) ***
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) ***

FINAL

Sunday, Feb. 21 (Houston)
Semifinal winners                                            4 p.m. (5 p.m.) NBCSN at 11 p.m.

***USA’s semifinal, should the USA advance, will air LIVE on NBCSN