MLS playoff preview: LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes

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Something about these teams brings out the controversial and the chaotic.

Earlier this year a match between the California rivals ended with David Beckham kicking balls are the referee and a near donnybrook, where even the Earthquakes lovable mascot got pushed around. Seriously.

Another one finished with Galaxy center back taking a paring knife to San Jose’s playing style.

And the opening leg in this series finished with a foul that may or may not have been a foul – leading to a goal that probably shouldn’t have been a goal.

Trust us: it won’t be dull when the teams match up at teeny-tiny Buck Shaw Stadium. Even if there’s no tomfoolery afoot, a very good team will fall Wednesday.

Reigning MLS champion Los Angeles, looking tired and not quite up for the job lately, could be 90 minutes from going on vacation with precious little to show for 2012. Otherwise, the Supporters Shield winning  Earthquakes will finish a lot earlier than a lot of us expected.

Kickoff: 11 p.m. ET, Buck Shaw Stadium, ESPN2

San Jose leads the series on total goals, 1-0

On the San Jose Earthquakes

  • Chris Wondolowski is slumping; his shutout streak has reached one match. Of course, he does have memories of a 27-goal season to fall back on (one that matched an all-time league record for goals in a season).
  • San Jose has 10 goals this year in added time. If I had not seen so many of them, I’d swear that was a completely made-up stat.
  • Barring something unforeseen, big, commanding San Jose center back Victor Bernardez soon add “MLS Defender of the Year” to his resume. Ahead of him in San Jose’s 4-4-2, Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca have been quietly, consistently strong in the center of Buck Shaw’s field.
  • The Earthquakes will host MLS Cup (most likely at Stanford Stadium) if they get through Wednesday and survive the next round.
  • The Earthquakes were 3-0-1 against the Galaxy in 2012, including Sunday’s victory at the Home Depot Center. In a year of memorable Earthquakes rallies, tops among them was overcome two-goal deficit back against Los Angeles back in May, prevailing 3-2 at the Home Depot Center.
  • If you’re picking a goal scorer, Alan Gordon might not be a bad way to go. He has three in four matches against his former club.
  • The Earthquakes’ 72 goals was easily a club record, easily most in MLS this year and No. 3 in league history.
  • San Jose went undefeated (9-0-6) are at Buck Shaw this season.

On the Los Angeles Galaxy

  • Fair question: Given the Galaxy’s uphill climb, and given the recent injuries to 37-year-old David Beckham, are we about to see soccer’s most iconic figure over the last 15 years play his last match in MLS?
  • Beckham over the last couple of matches? Meh. Ditto for Landon Donovan. (In fairness, both are coming off injuries or currently fighting one.)
  • No matter what happens, you have to admire the Galaxy pluck for rallying past that gawd-awful two months to open 2012.
  • Center back Omar Gonzalez may not have been at his tip-top best Sunday, and that boo-boo in the wall in the critical moment is one he’ll want to forget about. On the other hand, he’s doing a lot of extra covering in the middle of the Galaxy back line for rookie Tommy Meyer.
  • If the Galaxy can come up with something special, surely Robbie Keane will have something to do with it. The league’s fourth leading scorer (16 goals) really put on a clinic of off-the-ball movement over the regular season’s final two months.
  • Galaxy midfielder Mike Magee (courtesy of the L.A. Galaxy’s official blog): “When you look at the big picture, you realize that it’s just one game and we have to win and if we win the game then our season is not over. If you told us that ten games into the season, I think we would have taken it, which is all that really matters. We’ve played well [at Buck Shaw], we haven’t gotten the results that we wanted to, but we’ve played well there and like I said, all we got to do is win the game, which is something that we’re more than capable of doing.”

Bottom line:

Bernardez’s implausible goal in the dying minutes of Sunday’s series opener really was massive.

Given the deficit and the Galaxy’s deflated attack over the last two matches, not to mention the additional rest for San Jose lately, it’s hard to see a way through here for the Galaxy.

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.

Espanyol fires former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Espanyol says it has fired manager Quique Sanchez Flores with the club slumping in the Spanish league and in danger of facing a relegation fight to end the season.

Espanyol announced the decision on Friday, adding sports director Jordi Lardin has also been let go.

Sanchez Flores, a former manager of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Watford, among other clubs, coached the Barcelona-based club for the past two seasons.

Reserve team coach David Gallego will take over for the remaining five rounds of the season, starting with a visit to Girona on Sunday.

Espanyol hasn’t scored a goal in five matches, and has only two wins in the last 15 rounds. It is in 16th place, nine points from the drop.

Brooks yanked after 29 minutes on return from injury

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USMNT defender John Brooks, whose season has been largely ruined by injuries, made his first start since mid-December after finally returning from a knee injury. It didn’t last long – just 29 minutes.

It doesn’t appear to be injury related, however.

After earning a yellow card just 13 minutes in, Brooks was yanked by new Wolfsburg manager Bruno Labbadia in the 29th minute with the club down 1-0 on the road at Borussia Monchengladbach. Brooks was furious as he came off the pitch, and reports from Germany seem to suggest that his substitution was a tactical decision rather than injury-related.

Brooks has made just eight Bundesliga appearances this season, starting the campaign on the shelf with a thigh injury before his knee problem kept him off the field almost four months through the winter and into the spring.

After his withdrawal, Wolfsburg conceded two more goals before halftime as Monchengladbach grabbed a 3-0 lead via goals from Raffael and Christoph Kramer, with Lars Stindl having already given them a lead eight minutes in.

It’s understandable why Labbadia would be cautious with his more aggressive players. Wolfsburg is in danger of the drop, level with Mainz and Freiburg on 30 points with one of them almost assuredly to finish in the relegation playoff position. Still, it’s an unfortunate turn of events for Brooks after finally making his way back to the field, and he was visibly angry as he came off the pitch.

FA Cup semifinal preview: Can Mourinho win Man United another title?

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It’s been a season of highs and lows for Jose Mourinho, but he could put Manchester United on the precipice of another title this Saturday.

The FA Cup semifinals resume this weekend at Wembley Stadium, with Manchester United facing off against Tottenham and Chelsea battling Swansea. It’s a pair of great matchups with plenty of enticing storylines to watch ahead of and during the games.

[MORE: All our coverage of Arsene Wenger’s decision to step down]

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Jose Mourinho lost a lot of the good-will earned after Man United’s win over Manchester City as his side capitulated in a 1-0 defeat to last-place West Bromwich Albion.

Now, with a week to stew on that result, Mourinho is just two games away from raising another piece of silverware for Man United, though it won’t exactly be the trophy the fans were hoping for. At the same time, Tottenham, a team on the up and up, would love to win the FA Cup and take control fully of North London from rivals Arsenal. A trip to the final for Tottenham would be the next step in the club’s climb to greatness.

Chelsea vs. Southampton— 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday

It’s been a disappointing season for both clubs, but on different levels. Chelsea, the defending league champions, has struggled most of the season to consistently score goals and will likely finish outside of Europe – unless they make the final of the FA Cup. So there’s a lot riding on the line for Chelsea heading into Sunday’s match.

For Southampton, with Mark Hughes now in charge, it’s almost a throw-away game. If they win, they could be the first team since Wigan to be relegated and qualify for European football the next season, but it could also be a game in which the beleaguered squad could gain some confidence, beating one of the big clubs in England.