MLS playoff preview: Seattle Sounders at Los Angeles Galaxy

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There is precious little time for the Western Conference finalists to savor and dote on their recent sweet accomplishments.

Late Wednesday evening the Galaxy did what most of us predicted they could not, storming into San Jose to upend the league’s top regular season team. And how!  Bruce Arena’s team found a gear we haven’t seen in a while – just  in the nick of time – to kick San Jose around pretty good.

One night later, Seattle finally delivered that first MLS playoff series win, the one fans have been jonesing for since their club added a festive splash of rave green greatness to the league in 2009.

They meet Sunday outside Los Angeles to kick off the home-and-away, total goals series.

MLS Western Conference finals

Sunday’s Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET, Home Depot Center, ESPN

On the Los Angeles Galaxy

  • For all the L.A. “Galacticos” star power, who has made the moments most consistently in the post-season lately? That would be Mike Magee, who contributed three goals during L.A.’s dash to the MLS Cup run last year, and then provided the series-winner against San Jose.
  • Irish international striker Robbie Keane is putting on a clinic these days of sharp off-the-ball movement. He works the channels between defensive elements brilliantly, dropping in and then dropping out, moving off the markers at just the right time or slashing across a pair of them as he did for L.A.’s second goal against San  Jose.

(MORE: Keane shreds San Jose’s wobbly defense)

  • Meanwhile, Landon Donovan has moved out to the right in the Galaxy’s 4-4-2 (rather than as Keane’s partner along the strike line). He simply looks more comfortable out there. And given Beckham’s natural tendency to drift right, Donovan scoots inside liberally, which gives defenders a lot to think about and deal with.
  • Given all the other potentially defining pieces, it’s hard to settle on one element that will decide this series. But here’s one that sure could go far in revealing a winner: Seattle’s Alonso against Galaxy do-all Juninho in the center of the park.
  • Galaxy rookie Tommy Meyer has earned his MLS playoff cred over three matches so far. What Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said of Meyer after Wednesday’s win in San Jose: “Tommy became a man tonight. We’re going to need that at least two more times, hopefully three more times, out of him. And if he plays like that, we’ve really got a chance.”

On the Seattle Sounders

  • At this time last year we would have spoken about Los Angeles as Seattle’s unbeatable nemesis. No longer; the Sounders’ took two matches from L.A. this year. (The Sounders did lose in L.A. on the regular season’s final match date, a hard-to-define contest that meant absolutely nothing to both clubs.)
  • Seattle doesn’t give up a lot of goals, which usually indicates a rough and tough back line. In this case, the back line isn’t bad, but it’s really more about two things: First, it’s about holding midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, the league’s top midfield ball winner, a man who zooms around all over the field with shin-kicking menace. And it’s about goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, whose calm presence and able shot-stopping has relieved fears around Seattle that Kasey Keller might somehow prove irreplaceable.
  • Seems like we are talking about goalkeeping a lot in the 2012 playoffs, so let’s throw this out there: Gspurning looks like the top netminder remaining in the playoffs. He really does look unbeatable lately.
  • Sigi Schmid’s team managed to cope without top creator Mauro Rosales in Utah on Thursday’s night. But the Sounders’ chances rise if their right-sided midfielder (and top crossing threat) can get back on the field.
  • Either way, on the other side of the field, this is a big chance for Mario Martinez or Steve Zakuani to exploit the Galaxy’s weary legs and to make Landon Donovan (who has played lately on the Galaxy’s right side) work back and defend.
  • Fredy Montero and Eddie Johnson have two goals each this year against the Galaxy.
  • Should be interesting to watch the pair vs. Omar Gonzalez and Meyer. The Galaxy center backs tend to be better matched against the bigger bangers at striker, a la San Jose’s top choices. The more mobile Montero could prove slightly more problematic.
  • Sounders thinking-man midfielder Brad Evans on Mario Martinez’s strike, of the sensational and stunning variety, Thursday in Utah that sent Seattle into the conference finals: “It was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. You see those one or twice a year — that’s it. … It came at a perfect time.”

(MORE: Sigi Schmid stretches to find some motivation for his team)

Bottom line:

It’s really about which Galaxy team shows up. Things weren’t looking so swell, and the Galaxy looked a bit labored and long in the tooth over its first 180 minutes of playoff soccer. But what a spirited and energetic effort they delivered to blow San Jose’s boat out of the Bay.

Seattle’s defense was strong against Real Salt Lake, although RSL just has not been scoring goals lately. So, dealing with Beckham, Donovan, Magee and Keane will be a far more difficult job.

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, who won an MLS Cup inside the Home Depot Center four years ago, says his team will be physically prepared, never mind one night’s less rest. They had better be.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia