Drilling down on: Los Angeles Galaxy 3, San Jose 1

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Where was this from the Galaxy over the last 10 days? Whoever stole all the hop and the pop from the Galaxy attack must have given it back.

Because the champs threw the whole kit and caboodle at the Earthquakes, shredding the Supporters Shield winner’s defense with three goals before the break.

From there, the Galaxy managed things well enough in the back to prevent yet another furious, signature Earthquakes’ rally.

So Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Robbie Keane and the rest move into the conference finals, while the San Jose Earthquakes become the latest in a long line of Supporters Shield winners to fall short of MLS Cup glory.

It was always possible, of course. But who saw a 3-1 win coming?

The Galaxy advance on a 3-2 aggregate.

Man of the Match:

Robbie Keane has been Major League Soccer’s top striker over the last two months.The Irish international had come agonizingly close to scoring over the weekend when the Galaxy put themselves in a series bind in that 1-0 loss at the Home Depot Center. Well, he finished the job Wednesday, driving forward aggressively and banging one off the inside of the post to light the fuse on the Galaxy scoring onslaught. Midway through the second half, he set up Christian Wilhelmsson beautifully.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

San Jose picked a bad time to have a bad night.

This is what the Galaxy did so well last year, ruthlessly exploiting the booboos and the weak links. So it was Wednesday, as the Earthquakes fell for the first time this year at Buck Shaw Stadium.

Steady central midfielder Sam Cronin picked a bad time to have a stinker of a match. Or, at least a stinker of a 30-minute period to open matters, as he and central partner Rafael Baca were no match for David Beckham and Juninho, who had the run of things in the center of the park.

Cronin wasn’t the only one. The league’s 27-goal scorer, Chris Wondolowski missed an absolute sitter from eight yards in the first half with goalkeeper Josh Saunders down on the turf, in a tangle with center back Omar Gonzalez. He put another close-range shot over the bar in the second half.

Donovan still has something to offer. A lot, in fact.

This is the guy talking about retiring? After wilting in a couple outings, the national team’s all-time scoring leader reminded us that there is plenty of soccer left in his 30-year-old legs.

Donovan set up two of those first-half goals, going aggressively forward with the ball and seizing the initiative in ways he wasn’t before.

He responded favorably to a tactical re-positioning. Rather than working alongside Keane as a second forward, Donovan was positioned out wide. Edson Buddle started as the second striker, permitting Donovan’s relocation to the flank, the position where he has spent the bulk of his league and international career.

Donovan seemed to enjoy being wider, with a little more space in which to dash about, better able to see the field and the runners around him. Later, as Buddle left, Donovan moved back alongside Keane and found different ways then to trouble the Earthquake defenders.

San Jose is not the same without Victor Bernardez.

There is a reason the Earthquakes big center back is about to be named MLS Defender of the Year – even if that’s nothing more than a prediction on my part. For now.

So when the commanding Honduran defender left injured, San Jose was in trouble. Replacement Ike Opara just doesn’t have focus and awareness. He fell asleep, for instance, on the second Galaxy goal, caught unaware when Keane crashed across with a strong diagonal run.

We saw the same early in the season when Bernardez missed some time due to injury. Of course, that wasn’t in an elimination series in November.

Packaged for take-away

  • Referee Kevin Stott got on top of this one early, which made for a better match, one with just a little less of the silly stuff.
  • L.A. rookie center back Tommy Meyer, with wildly varying levels of success this year, may have played his best match to date.
  • Meyer’s central partner, Gonzalez, was immense, too. He was an aerial beast, in command of almost every ball that dropped into the Galaxy defensive third.
  • Beckham collected a yellow card, so he’ll need to be careful in the conference final opener; if the former England captain is cautioned in the first leg, he’ll miss the back end of the home-and-away series.
  • Opara had a wonderful chance to score an 11th goal in stoppage time for the Earthquakes, but blasted his shot high.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.