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.

 

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.

Three battles that could determine the Champions League final

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 14:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF is tackled by Koke of Atletico Madrid and Mario Suarez of Atletico Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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We’re just two days away from the Champions League final, as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid prepare to face each other in Milan on Saturday.

The tie is a rematch of the 2014 final when Real Madrid won 4-1 to claim a record tenth Champions League title. Atletico led that match 1-0 in stoppage time, only to concede a late equalizer before collapsing in extra time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

With Real one of Europe’s best attacking teams and Atleti the best defensive side, two completely different styles of play will clash at the San Siro this weekend. Below, we take a look at a few key matchups that could determine who leaves Milan as champions.

Keylor Navas vs. Jan Oblak

In the Champions League this season, Navas has kept nine clean sheets in ten appearances (tied for the most-ever in a single campaign), while Oblak has kept eight in 12 appearances. Oblak was named to the La Liga Team of the Year after a stellar season for Atleti, and his massive double-save on Thomas Muller’s penalty kick in the semifinals helped Simeone’s men reach Milan. For Navas, the keeper’s strong play is often overshadowed by Real’s attack, but the Costa Rican international has proved massive for the club all season long. In what will surely be an extremely tight match, one big save could prove the difference.

[ MORE: Ranking the Copa America Centenario contenders ]

Luka Modric vs. Gabi 

These may not be two “superstar” names in the sides, but Luka Modric and Gabi may be the most important men on the pitch for Real and Atletico, respectively. When Real goes forward, it starts with Modric in the midfield. The Croatian playmaker is confident in possession and spreads the ball all over the pitch, seemingly always in the right place at the right time. On the other side, Gabi epitomizes what Diego Simeone wants in his Atletico squad. The hard-nosed midfielder sits right in front of the back-line, in charge of clogging up and holes and making sure the rest of his midfield tracks back and keeps shape, which will be vitally important against Real. A product of the Atleti youth system, red and white runs through Gabi’s veins, and having already experienced a loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final back in 2014, Simeone’s leader on the pitch will want to turn the tides this time around.

(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Atleti back-line vs. BBC

When all is said and done, the biggest battle will be between the stout Atleti defense and Real’s potent attack. Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez have become the best center-back pairing in Europe, while Real’s BBC trio of Bale, Benzema, and Cristiano combined for 119 goals in all competitions this season. Atleti have already kept clean sheets in the Champions League against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but both of those matches were in front of a home crowd at the Vicente Calderon. Expect a few heavy challenges to come in early, as the Atletico defense will look to keep Ronaldo & Co. honest.