San Jose Earthquakes v Los Angeles Galaxy - Western Conference Semifinals

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.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

Christian Hofer / Getty Images Sport
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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.