Mike Magee, Landon Donovan

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

6 Comments

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.

Watford “Behind The Badge” airs third installment; Catch up on Episode 2 here

Leave a comment

Catch up on Watford’s look “Behind The Badge” ahead of Sunday’s third episode of the four-part glimpse into one of the Premier League’s promoted sides.

The Hornets sit 11th, currently 7 points clear of relegation danger, and are giving fans a better idea of what’s been going on at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Embedded above
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Follow @NicholasMendola

MLS Cup Final preview: Seattle, Toronto battle subzero temps for first Cup

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley walks off the field after a training session, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Toronto, for the MLS Cup soccer championship. Toronto hosts the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment
  • First MLS Cup Final for both
  • Sounders all-time 7W-2L-2T
  • TFC joined in 2007, Seattle 2009

It’ll be in the high twenties (-1 Celsius) when Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders kick off the MLS Cup Final on Saturday night in Ontario (Kickoff is Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT).

Combine the visible breath and slight chance of snow with a BMO Field which has been relentlessly loud throughut TFC’s playoff run, and we have the makings of an all-timer.

[ MORE: PST’s MLS Cup roundtable ]

Toronto and Seattle met up at the same venue on July 2, the 1-1 draw perhaps a bit deflated by the absence of Clint Dempsey for Seattle and TFC’s American duo of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

Seattle superstar Nicolas Lodeiro wasn’t there, either, still weeks away from arriving from Boca Juniors.

This is the second MLS Cup Final at BMO Field, after Colorado defeated FC Dallas in 2010. TFC men Drew Moor and Clint Irwin were part of the championship-winning Rapids in that one.

Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris greets fans who gathered to send off the team after MLS soccer training, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Tukwila, Wash. The Sounders were scheduled to travel to Toronto later Wednesday to prepare to face Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle’s Jordan Morris (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

[ MORE: PST’s Michael Bradley interview ]

Toronto will bring star power to go with a challenging formation; While accolades rightly go to Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco, the Reds’ 3-5-2 under Greg Vanney features versatile wide men in Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow.

Seattle is powered through Nicolas Lodeiro, the ex-Boca Juniors playmaker who has been nearly as effective as Giovinco (albeit with a smaller MLS sample size). Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the ex-TFC man, has been very good at the back, but can the Sounders’ back line handle Altidore and Giovinco?

The metronomes could be the difference. Bradley’s been good for TFC, but Osvaldo Alonso gave an MLS MVP caliber performance this season.

[ MORE: PST talks with Ozzie Alonso ]

What they’re saying

Toronto FC keeper Irwin on the weather: “It’s probably the most difficult part. As a field player, you can move around. You’re warmer, more active. At this point, there’s not much we can do other than bundle up, and I’ll stay moving back there.”

Seattle forward Jordan Morris on Lodeiro“The first thing Lodeiro said to me is, ‘When I get the ball, you just run.’ I think of him like a quarterback.”

Prediction

Look to the engine rooms here. Alonso is a handful and a magnificent passer of the ball. On his day, Bradley is even better. Will it be? Neither player will shirk from pressure. We’re thinking extra time after a 1-1 match. And Toronto’s depth and home field will propel it to a 2-1 win.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Bacary Sagna of Manchester City clears the ball from Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Man City leads all-time 53W-29D-28L
  • Leicester took 4 of 6 pts last season
  • MCFC won previous four

To cure what ails, Leicester City has to knock off one of the top contenders to its Premier League throne: Manchester City (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on NBC and NBCSports.com).

There are some advantages for Leicester, though, as Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero are suspended for their red cards picked up the loss to Chelsea. Pep Guardiola used Pablo Zabaleta next to Fernando in the UCL draw with Celtic, and looks set for the same come Saturday.

Leicester rested the majority of its starters in a 5-0 loss at Porto this week, following up a 2-1 setback at Sunderland that left the champs just two points ahead of the 18th and 19th placed clubs in the PL.

What they’re saying

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri on the task at hand: “I was waiting for a period like this. Now it’s important to react with a big effort together from the team. That is my focus now. We have to be focused on these matches until Christmas Day. We have to get points. We need points and we have to fight. This part of the season is our key moment. I think every match gives us an opportunity. We have to fight. I repeat, we have to fight.”

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on Zabaleta’s positional change“But I think Pablo Zabaleta can play in the middle – he is very experienced and he can play there as he did very well against Celtic. I think in the last years of his career he’ll play more in the middle and it gives us another option.”

Prediction

As much as the injuries hurt Man City, there’s certain harm in the wounded unit that fell 3-1 to Chelsea. We believe the Foxes will strike, but Kelechi Iheanacho has proven more than a suitable fill-in for Aguero. Man City 2-1.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 15

Leave a comment

Week 15 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game – Week 15 ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-3 Man City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Swansea City 2-3 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Watford 0-1 Everton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Man United 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]