Seattle Sounders v Los Angeles Galaxy - Western Conference Championship - Leg 1

Drilling down on: L.A. Galaxy 3, Seattle Sounders 0

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Seattle looked nothing like the team that eliminated Real Salt Lake, while the Galaxy continue to look like the team that turned it on at precisely the right time.

The defending champions clobbered Seattle on Sunday at the Home Depot Center. As a result, Los Angeles has a chokehold on the Western Conference finals series, a strong three-goal lead heading into next week’s second leg in Seattle.

Man of the Match:

With apologies to Houston’s Will Bruin and his four post-season goals, the sensational Robbie Keane looks more and more like this year’s playoff MVP. There’s still time for something to change, of course, but the Irish international seems unstoppable right now. With two more goalsand an absolutely brilliant pass to set up another Galaxy goal, no one was more influential in Sunday’s big win.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Landon Donovan continues to deliver:

Donovan may sound like he’s bound and determined to retire, but he is delivering like a man just getting started. So far in the playoffs, the Galaxy captain has a goal and three assists, and his combination work withKeane is a sight to behold.

Donovan started just a little slowly in the playoffs against Vancouver, but he has been a productive livewire since. Proving that Donovan at 30 still has the fleet feet, he blew past Seattle center back Jeff Parke to create that handy Galaxy goal just before the half.

It’s not just that signature jump in his boots; Donovan is thinking fast, too. He was the fulcrum as the Galaxy looked to create midfield turnovers (something Bruce Arena teams always do well) and then get the attack started quickly.

When the counter was on, the ball usually found Donovan quickly. He did a wonderful job of moving things along quickly from there.

Seattle had a bad plan: 

Seattle manager Sigi Schmid’s hands were somewhat tied by Eddie Johnson’s lingering injury. That said, Schmid’s choices just didn’t work out.

The 4-5-1 with Fredy Montero isolated up front produced zilch. Christian Tiffert, playing in the hole behind Montero, was nowhere to be found. Result: Montero’s playoff shutout streak, now at nine games and counting, had no chance to reverse itself in this one. The Sounders created precious few chances until the final 10 minutes, when the Galaxy backed off.

Mario Martinez, the hero of Seattle’s win Thursday in Utah, reminded everyone why Schmid has been so reluctant to play him. He doesn’t show much interest in defending, and his positional discipline stinks. In a game where Seattle’s third-choice left back, Zach Scott, was never going to advance up the flank, Martinez continually worked to the inside. Which would be fine if Martinez had a left back behind him to provide the width.

Defensively, the visitors simply unraveled, and the Galaxy goal just before the half was just the start. By the 65th minute, the Sounders’ defense had been absolutely shredded. Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and the rest of Seattle’s defense was helpless against the Galaxy’s interchange inside the final third.

With a little luck, the home team’s win would have been 4-0 or 5-0.

There are plenty of potential playoff MVPs coming from L.A. Galaxy Valley:

Keane isn’t the only drop-dead gorgeous performer at the moment in an L.A. Galaxy kit.

Donovan’s movement and understanding with Keane is simply sensational at present (the very opposite of what we saw Sunday between Tiffert and Montero, who looked as if they barely knew each other.)

Omar Gonzalez was commanding in the back once again, although he did get sucked out of position and then linger out there a bit too long at times. Christian Wilhelmsson was a two-way force along the right. He played a significant role in two Galaxy goals.

And then there’s Mike Magee, who hit the Galaxy’s second Sunday. He now has eight playoff goals in 15 games for the Galaxy.

Packaged for take-away

  • Fair to point out that the visitors had one day less rest. Did that explain the gulf in performance level of these two teams Sunday? Probably not, but it’s still worth pointing out.
  • Donovan has 20 goals and 12 assists in 32 MLS playoff games. Anybody who cannot see Donovan’s value – there are plenty of U.S. supporters out there who inexplicably refuse to do so – simply is not looking at this thing objectively.
  • The Galaxy’s 57th minute sequence from inside the Sounders’ penalty area might have been the best combination work of the playoffs so far. Only Alex Caskey’s last-ditch defending prevented Donovan from recording his second assist of the night.
  • A hustle play by Parke kept Donovan from making it 4-0 in the 76th, as the Galaxy worked more of that combination magic inside the Sounders’ penalty area.

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. West Brom (Lineups, Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea and Joleon Lescott of West Brom battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on November 22, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea hosts West Bromwich Albion from Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blues look to extend their eight-match win streak.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

The Blues make one change from last weekend’s 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Manchester City as Cesc Fabregas makes way in the starting XI for Nemanja Matic.

Antonio Conte‘s side will be opposed by a West Brom side that is unbeaten in their last four Premier League matches. The Baggies remain unchanged from last week’s 3-1 win over Watford as the side looks to move above eighth in the table.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard. Subs: Begovic, Aina, Ivanovic, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

West Brom: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom; Yacob, Fletcher (c); Brunt, Morrison, Phillips; Rondon. Subs: Palmer; Olsson, Robson-Kanu, Gardner, McClean, Galloway, Chadli.

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

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TORONTO — Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

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Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

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TORONTO — Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

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Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — When it came down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t land the title.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clearance.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

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