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.

“Injustice.” “Incomprehensible.” Ronaldo again protests suspension

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The five-game suspension Cristiano Ronaldo received for making contact with an official is not sitting well with the forward.

Better put: it’s still not sitting well.

Six days ago, Ronaldo took to Instagram to say he was being persecuted after his red card in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

Tuesday afternoon, he kept up the strong words by saying the suspension is “incomprehensible” and “an injustice.”

Roughly translated, Ronaldo posted, “One more incomprehensible decision. From injustice to injustive, they will never overcome me. And as always I will come back stronger. Thank you to all who have supported me.”

We’ll say this: He’s a really good soccer player.

Barca to offer Liverpool $176m for Coutinho

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Barcelona is insane.

Desperate following a rough two-legged loss to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, the Blaugranas are reportedly ready to offer $176 million to Liverpool for Philippe Coutinho.

Read it again: $176 million for Philippe Coutinho. It’s about $126 million with $12 million more when Barca clinches a UCL spot over the next four seasons (which they have done every year since finishing sixth in 2002-03).

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

Even in this transfer market, that’s nuts. Crazy to offer, and maybe even crazier not to accept.

That’s pretty much two-thirds of the Neymar money. Two-thirds (I keep repeating myself with this story)

It’s even a convenient out for Jurgen Klopp, who’s said Liverpool is not a selling club. Here, he can say with a straight face that the club can improve with this money by selling a player who has — and I recognize it’s not all about goals and assists — one double-digit goal season in his career and a career single-season high of seven PL assists (done thrice).

Almost anyone who’s had the audacity to say the Reds should accept the bid has often been shot down by the Anfield faithful online. “It’ll ruin our season” and “How do we replace him this late?” are the common cries.

To the first question: No, it won’t. To the second: Easy?

It’s not like-for-like, but nearly every player in the world is available for $176 million. It’s not like-for-like, but here’s a short list: Antoine Griezmann, Gareth Bale, Paulo Dybala, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus… Shoot! Klopp could sign 2-3 of his favorite BVB alums.

With this fee, Coutinho would become the second-highest transfer fee of all-time, behind only Neymar. There are makeweights Barcelona could offer that would make the deal even more intriguing to the Reds: Arda Turan, Andre Gomes, Denis Suarez.

Look at it from a neutral’s eyes — which I know is hard from the number of times I’ve read @ Tweets that say, “The only people who would like this deal are fans of Chelsea or United!” — at some point, it becomes unreasonable to not take advantage of Barcelona’s desperation. Maybe Coutinho is worth the “fit” for Barca, but rejecting this fee is more illogical than the offer itself.

At the risk of inflaming every more Liverpool supporters, Ross Barkley is probably going to cost someone $35 million and he’s a year and a half younger (Coutinho is a superior player right now, but we’re talking about the market here).

And, lastly, at some point you’re telling your entire team room that you’re willing to turn down near record money — it would be the highest non-buyout clause transfer ever — to keep a player from his dream club.

Take the money. Use it. Move on.

EFL Cup Weds preview: East Lancashire Derby highlights slate

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Eighteen teams booked spots Tuesday in the League Cup’s third round, with Watford the lone Premier League side to take a fall.

Six more try their luck on Wednesday, the last day of tournament play before the big boys join up.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

A sleepy big affair is the East Lancashire Derby between Burnley and now League One side Blackburn Rovers, a rivalry which has been staged in three leagues or competitions since the turn of the century. This makes it four, joining the Premier League (2009-10), FA Cup (2004-05) and Championship (six times since 2012-13).

Burnley has three wins and three draws since its last loss to Blackburn, which came via David Dunn penalty at Turf Moor in a Premier League match on March 28, 2010.

Make no mistake, Clarets goalkeeper Tom Heaton thinks it’ll be a fantastic affair (from burnleyfootballclub.com):

“And for the players. Make no mistake, we were all delighted when the draw came in,” said Heaton. “It’s a fantastic match we are all looking forward to. It’s a fantastic night as players, fans and for the club.

“We’ll be going there geared up to win the game and give it everything we’ve got. The new lads coming in will certainly get an eye opener for the atmosphere and how good it is. They’re brilliant games to play in, I’ve enjoyed every minute of them.”

If you’re surprised by the rivalry, you have company in Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray. From Rovers.co.uk:

“I have to say living in the north east of England, Suffolk and Scotland most of my life I never would have grasped that Blackburn and Burnley and the geography of how close they were to be honest,” he said.

“It is not something that has hit me in the face before of a huge rivalry and yet I can feel it from the people around the building who have lived here all their lives how important this game is to them. … We’ll give it our very best shot and leave no stone unturned in trying to get a result.”

Elsewhere…

Southampton, fresh off adding $19 million Dutch center back Wesley Hoedt, will host Wolverhampton Wanderers at St. Mary’s, one of four 2:45 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Also kicking off at that time is Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest at St. James Park, with USMNT fullback Eric Lichaj likely to feature for the visitors, as well as Rotherham United’s visit to Huddersfield Town and Cheltenham Town’s trip to West Ham United.

A quarter-hour later, the final two second round matches kickoff when Burnley hosts Blackburn Rovers and Rochdale heads to Stoke City.

Southampton lands $19 million Dutch CB Hoedt

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Southampton’s added another defender who checks all the boxes, and used its press release to cement its status on the future of want-away center back Virgil Van Dijk.

Saints added Lazio center back Wesley Hoedt on Tuesday, with the reported fee in the neighborhood of $19 million for the 4-times capped Dutch international.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Gooch scores for Sunderland ]

The 6-foot-2 defender is 23 years old, and played 23 matches for i Biancocelesti last season.

Here’s Saints vice chairman Les Reed:

“Finding a naturally left-footed player is even more difficult. We have been tracking central defenders on our target list for the past 12 months and Wesley has always been at the top of that list, so it was important to act when the opportunity came.”

As our own Joe Prince-Wright pointed out, Saints aren’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for Van Dijk’s departure.

Saints also have Maya Yoshida — who won a penalty for Saints this weekend — Jack Stephens, Maya Yoshida, Jan Bednarek and Florin Gardos in their corps.

Will Van Dijk stay? Betting sites have him at 5:6 odds to stay at Southampton, but somehow 1:1 to join Liverpool and 7:1 to head to Chelsea (Man City gets 24:1 odds).

At this point, we’d love to see Van Dijk stay and buck the summer’s (actually much longer than that) gossip as Saints fight for a Top Six place.