Los Angeles Galaxy v Chicago Fire

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.

AFCON wrap: Tunisia joins Senegal in knockout rounds (video)

Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri smiles during a press conference in Libreville, Gabon, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match against Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Half of the field is set for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations knockout rounds, as Group B completed his final day of group play on Monday in Gabon.

[ FIFA: World Cup draw date at Kremlin ]

Senegal will move onto play Cameroon on Saturday, while Tunisia will take on Burkina Faso.

Senegal 2-2 Algeria

Leicester City’s Islam Slimani scored twice, but it wasn’t enough to get Algeria into the knockout rounds of AFCON.

Papakouly Diop and Moussa Sow answered Slimani’s goals, and Senegal enforced its hold on the group it had already clinched after two matches.

Algeria needed a win and help, and looked to get it when Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani carried over their chemistry from the Foxes of England to the Fennecs of Algeria.

Zimbabwe 2-4 Tunisia

Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri scored of the fourth of Tunisia’s first half goals as the Eagles of Carthage emphatically clinched their knockout round spot. Tunisia lost in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Lille’s Naïm Sliti was also among the goal scorers for Tunisia, with Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya) and Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance de Tunis) also netting markers.

Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates) and Knowledge Musona (Oostende) scored for Zimbabwe.

Three USMNT players leave camp, two with injuries

Kekuta Manneh chases the ball during practice of the U.S. men's national soccer team Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Manneh has become a U.S. citizen, moving the Vancouver Whitecaps forward closer to eligibility for the men's national team. U.S. Soccer announced Manneh received his citizenship Wednesday, after the opening practice of January training camp under new coach Bruce Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Less than a week from Bruce Arena’s second debut as USMNT boss, we know three players who won’t be in the Starting XI.

Injuries have felled FC Dallas duo Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges, while Vancouver attacker Kekuta Manneh is leaving the squad to join his ‘Caps teammates for preseason in Wales.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

Acosta has a mild left ankle sprain and Hedges has a mild right knee sprain.

While Manneh may have been a long shot to see significant playing time on Sunday against Serbia or Feb. 4 versus Jamaica, Hedges had a chance to start at center back and Acosta has been capped before as well.

FIFA going to Kremlin for World Cup draw in December

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter looks on during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it will stage the 2018 World Cup draw on Dec. 1 at a Kremlin concert hall in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been allowing FIFA to use high-profile venues for World Cup ceremonies.

In July 2015, the qualifying program draw was made on the grounds of one of Putin’s official residences, Konstantin Palace near St. Petersburg. The summer was home built at the direction of Peter the Great.

The World Cup in Russia kicks off on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and returns there for the final on July 15.

Jurgen Klopp discusses Liverpool’s title chances

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It was a disappointing weekend for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: New odds for title contenders ]

The German coach watched on as his side lost 3-2 to Swansea City on Saturday in the Premier League and the Reds fell 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 16 games to go.

Klopp’s men have only won once in six outings in all competitions in January, and ahead of their EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton at Anfield (they trail 1-0 from the first leg) he was asked if they still have hope of overhauling Chelsea and winning the Premier League.

Speaking to the media, Klopp revealed that his team are good enough to at least be in the top four battle.

“We fight in each game, that’s maybe the most important thing. Then we have to see what happens around,” Klopp said. “Of course, in cup competitions the target is to win the competition. In the Premier League, it’s probably the same but it’s not that easy to plan or whatever. In this case, if Chelsea win all their games – which they pretty much do – there is no chance for any other team. For us, it’s still absolutely important to finish the season as well as possible – whatever that means. We’ll see after the season.

“You can imagine we have the quality to fight for the Champions League, that’s what we should do. If we do this and we are then close enough in the decisive moment of the season, you can still fight for a little bit more. But in this moment, it’s nothing we have to think about or we should think about. We now have two games and then we play Chelsea, so that’s when I’ll think about Chelsea but not how we can get them or whatever. We fight for everything we are able to, that’s all.”

He’s right. Liverpool finishing in the top four this season would be a great achievement at this stage of his project.

Perhaps more worrying for Klopp is that his side may now capitulate and finish outside of the top four for a second-straight season.

There’s no doubting that Liverpool have exceeded the expectations of most people so far in 2016-17 but Klopp’s men faded badly last season to finish in eighth place and with no wins in their last three games in the Premier League the pressure is on.

Without leading scorer Sadio Mane, who is away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, they’ve struggled to break opponents down and their defensive issues came to the fore against Swansea with sloppy mistakes costing them dear.

No team in the top seven has conceded more than Liverpool and with the Reds in fourth place and just four points ahead of sixth-place Manchester United and two points ahead of Manchester City who sit in fifth, all of a sudden they are looking over their shoulders instead of up at Chelsea.

Liverpool has lost momentum.

Boy do they need a big win in the EFL Cup against Southampton on Wednesday to regain some confidence and take that into their next PL clash, which just so happens to be against Chelsea at Anfield on Jan. 31.

Whatever he says publicly, Klopp must know that Liverpool cannot afford to lose to Chelsea. If they do and fall 13 points behind the Blues, the Kop can kiss goodbye to their title hopes for another season.