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

Simple things fueling LA Galaxy’s big playoff turnaround

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CARSON, Calif. — It turns out one week is an eternity in Major League Soccer. As the sole evidence of this highly scientific observation, we present the LA Galaxy.

One week ago, the defending MLS champions were walking off the carved up green of Home Depot Center having failed to take advantage of home field. They were on their way to Santa Clara carrying a 1-0 deficit after late errors gifted the Earthquakes’ Victor Bernardez the series-opening goal. One website (author’s note: this one) previewed the second leg by saying, “it’s hard to see a way through here for the Galaxy.” It wasn’t a controversial prediction.

But something happened on LA’s way to the offseason. They woke up. Bruce Arena’s team scored three first half goals in Santa Clara and sent the Supporters’ Shield winners packing. Add in Sunday’s 3-0 drubbing of the higher-seeded Seattle Sounders, and the Galaxy are back to their championship-prowling selves.

So what happened? How did the Galaxy go from near-extinction to stream rolling some of the league’s best teams?

“I think we needed a kick up the backside, and probably [the San Jose loss] was it,” David Beckham said, thinking back to the team’s mindset after last Sunday’s loss.

“Before the San Jose game away, our movement and our fitness maybe wasn’t as good,” Beckham conceded. “But I think we’ve picked it up. We realized to go all the way in this competition, we have to pick it up … We’ve brought out standards higher.”

For defender Todd Dunivant, Bernardez’s goal was almost a blessing – a wakeup call. Combined with San Jose’s passive posture to start the first leg in Santa Clara, the deficit gave LA license to jump on the front foot.

“[Bernardez’s goal] kind of propelled us,” Dunivant said.”It changes the whole mindset of the series. San Jose suddenly goes in not as aggressive. Maybe they’re just trying to protect the lead and not lose the game, and now we’re the aggressors.”

According to Dunivant, that posture has changed from the sluggish, lackluster side that gave up as many goals as they scored in their first two playoff games. Over their last two matches, LA has outscored their opponents 6-1.

“We’ve been aggressive, and we’ve taken our chances when they’re there,” Dunivant said. “We sensed the opportunity tonight.”

The biggest example of that has been Los Angeles’s suddenly unstoppable counter attack. On Wednesday, Tommy Meyer set Landon Donovan lose on San Jose, the Galaxy captain hitting Robbie Keane for the series’ winning goal. Against Seattle, it was Keane’s turn to orchestrate, feeding Sean Franklin behind the defense, LA’s right back setting up Mike Magee for the night’s second goal.

“Quick movement and quick counter attack and transitions,” Keane cites, asked to explain LA’s turnaround. “We have clever players in the team that could cause any team problems … If we keep the ball, keep it moving quickly, we’re a very hard team to play against.”

The quick movements, the sharp decisions on the ball – they weren’t there before Los Angeles departed for San Jose. Whatever the reason – fatigue, lack of focus, the need for a kick up the backside – Los Angeles was not playing like MLS champions. But with their back against the wall at Buck Shaw Stadium, things changed.

“When you play quite a few games in a short space of time, you become a little bit stale, a little bit tired,” Beckham explained. “We had that in the first game against San Jose. We’d come off a tough game against Vancouver, scraped through in that one, then [came] up against a San Jose team that was very strong.

“I think we recovered a lot better than [San Jose]. I said it that day after the game … Leading into the second one, we were ready … Our confidence was up, and it showed … It showed in this game as well.”

There haven’t been any tactical revelations. There’s been no shakeup to the lineup, no emotional pleas from the coaching staff or captain. Chalk it up to whatever you want – aggression, movement, a wakeup call – LA’s just playing better. They’re playing harder. They’re executing.

Sometimes, the most obvious answer is the right one.

“There’s never any secrets,” head coach Bruce Arena quips, asked to explain his team’s turnaround. “I’d like to tell you that we have a lot of [secrets] and we pulled them out for this. Just playing well and obviously scoring goals and being a lot more solid defensively. Just overall, we’re playing better.”

And as Bruce Arena sees it, LA’s only getting better:

“The 90 (minutes) in San Jose was good, and tonight was more complete. I think we were a little sloppy in the last 15 minutes in San Jose. Tonight was better, so that’s encouraging.”

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Sunderland

during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Sunderland at Carrow Road on April 16, 2016 in Norwich, England.
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  • Stoke is winless in last four matches
  • Four points in two games have Sunderland in 17th

Stoke City hosts Sunderland on Saturday from the Britannia Stadium as the Black Cats look to stay afloat in the Premier League (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

With Stoke sitting in the midst of mediocrity this season, Mark Hughes and his side have very little to play for when they meet Sunderland. Hughes’ men have allowed 12 goals in the past three matches, while only a single finish themselves. Despite boasting powerful names like Marko ArnautovicXherdan Shaqiri and U.S. National Team defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron, the Potters have certainly underachieved and Sunderland will look to capitalize.

[ MORE: PST discusses Leicester’s success and how they got here ]

Sunderland has caught a bit of a hot streak over recent weeks, pulling off key results against Norwich City and Arsenal. Striker Jermaine Defoe has been a savior for the Black Cats, posting 13 goals on the season for a side that has only mustered up 39 as a team. With Sunderland lumped together with Norwich and Newcastle in the relegation battle, Sam Allardyce and his squad need a result to keep momentum rolling forward.

What they’re saying

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes: “I’m not one to hide behind injuries – I’ve never done that – but the reality is that we haven’t been at our best form because maybe key individuals aren’t available and we’ve had to make changes within games at times.”

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “We are in good form at the moment… but I would expect Mark will have Stoke really revved up and he will want to stop this very poor run of performances. But I do hope they’re as bad as they have been in the last three games!”

Prediction

While Stoke may be playing for a top-half finish this season, the pressure remains firmly on Sunderland with four games left to play. Last week’s 0-0 draw against Arsenal has the Black Cats believing they can stay up next season, and I believe they’ll put out a result on the road. The two sides will finish in a 1-1 draw, leaving Sunderland fans to turn to Crystal Palace-Newcastle and Arsenal-Norwich.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

VIDEO: Previews of every Premier League game – Week 36

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 23:  Louis van Gaal manager of Manchester United celebrates with winning goalscorer Anthony Martial of Manchester United after victory in The Emirates FA Cup semi final match between Everton and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on April 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Week 36 is a huge one in the Premier League.

[ VIDEO: Top 5 storylines

Leicester City can win the title, the top four race is intense, there’s a scramble for the top six and the relegation battle is stressing fans out.

Everything is on the line with three weeks of the season to go. This is magic.

[ MORE: Week 36 TV schedule

So, let’s take a look at each game this weekend with previews of all of them below.


Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA Network) – [STREAM]

Arsenal vs. Norwich City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Manchester United vs. Leicester City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Swansea City vs. Liverpool – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Stoke City vs. Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Brom vs. West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Everton vs. Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton vs. Manchester City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford vs. Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: This is it, don’t get scared

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur is challenged by Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Week 36 of the Premier League season is here and we have a full slate of action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ] 

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: Top 5 storylines

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

Newcastle United 2-0 Crystal Palace (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA Network) – [STREAM]

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

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Manchester United 2-1 Leicester City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Swansea City 1-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Stoke City 1-1 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Brom 2-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

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

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

Southampton 3-1 Manchester City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford 1-2 Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Top 5 storylines in Premier League: Week 36

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Week 36 of the 2015-16 Premier League season is here.

[ MORE: Full TV schedule – Week 36

That’s right, remarkably we have just three weeks to go in the season. I can’t quite believe it either.

With Leicester City on the brink of winning the title, an intense top four battle and a massive scrap between three teams for the final two relegation spots, it’s going to be madness.

Here’s a look at the top five Premier League storylines you should be keeping on eye on this weekend.


Foxes can clinch – (Manchester United vs. Leicester City, Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

“Now is the real chance to win the title. Next season you never know what happens. Once in a life.”

Those were the words of Claudio Ranieri ahead of Leicester’s trip to Old Trafford. The Italian manager knows he’s on the brink of immortality. The Foxes need just three points from their remaining three games to secure the title but they will be under no illusion that Manchester United will roll over this Sunday. Oh no. Despite reports of United’s fans offering up their season tickets in the home end for Leicester fans to potentially see their team win the title, there will be no such gesture of goodwill from Louis van Gaal and his players.

United have won six of the last eight in the PL, have reached the FA Cup final and Van Gaal needs a top four finish to realistically be around next season. They need a win. Yes, Leicester is without Jamie Vardy but Ranieri always seems to find a way of re-energizing this team. He really won’t have to say much this weekend. It’s simple: “beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and you are champions of the Premier League. You will go down in history forever.”

With Wayne Rooney pulling the strings in midfield, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford a threat in-behind Leicester and David De Gea in top form, Leicester will face a tough test. Then again, every week we write them off and they just keep winning.


Bitter Chelsea ready to battle – (Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur, Monday, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

Speaking of the PL title, remember who the reigning champs are? This is awkward. Of course, it’s Chelsea. Following Jose Mourinho’s midseason departure after a disastrous start to the campaign saw the Blues languishing just above the drop zone, Guus Hiddink has steadied the ship with a top 10 finish at least keeping things respectable ahead of Antonio Conte’s summer arrival.

That said, plenty of Chelsea’s players seem to have played themselves out of Conte’s plans in recent weeks with turgid performances. They won’t be lacking in effort on Monday, though, as the Blues are desperate to make sure that if Leicester slip up then London rival Tottenham don’t take advantage of it.

With Mauricio Pochettino confirming he has verbally agreed a new contract at Tottenham ahead of this game, all is rosy as Spurs. They have a new stadium on the way, a talented a hungry young squad and are making real progress under Pochettino as they’ll be in the UEFA Champions League next season. Chelsea is jealous, envious and maybe a little bitter to see their London rivals challenging for the PL. Eden Hazard has said the players will do their utmost to make sure Spurs don’t beat them on Monday. Expect an intense London battle at Stamford Bridge, a ground that hasn’t been a happy hunting ground (one win in their last 13 visits) for Tottenham in the past.


Wenger under pressure – (Arsenal vs. Norwich City, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra 

Arsene Wenger hit back at Arsenal’s critics ahead of this game but the fans are starting to stay away from the Emirates and that is bad news from the Frenchman.

After two decades in charge, any Arsenal fan will thank Wenger for what he has done for the club. However, the growing feeling from many is that they want a change. Wenger hasn’t delivered the PL since 2004 and this season their title charge crumbled. They should have won it. Leicester and Tottenham are not superior to them, at least on paper, but Wenger’s side showed a mental fragility at a pivotal point of the season and now they’re challenging for fourth place instead of the title.

When the season is over Arsenal’s board will have to take a long, hard look at what’s next. With empty seat in their last home game, Wenger insisted it isn’t a problem. He can’t keep burying his head in the sand.


Pardew to be a villain? – (Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra 

Alan Pardew led Newcastle to the top five and the quarterfinals of the UEFA Europa League. He also had them embroiled in a relegation battle and had an up-and-down relationship with the fans during his time in charge at St James’ Park.

When he returns with his Crystal Palace side this Saturday he will get a mixed reception. The Eagles have won just once in the PL in 2016 and sit on 39 points and not out of relegation trouble themselves even if it seems very unlikely they’ll go down. Their run to the FA Cup final has been a distraction but there will be plenty of focus from Rafael Benitez and Newcastle. They know the next two games is their chance to save themselves.

Newcastle are three games unbeaten and host an out of sorts Palace and then travel to Aston Villa. They must win those two games to give themselves a chance of staying up. If Pardew leads Palace to victory at St James’ he may just have to stay in the locker room for a while after the final whistle has blown…

With Sunderland away at Stoke and Norwich away at Arsenal this weekend, the Magpies know a win could see them leapfrog both and get out of the relegation zone. That would be huge as their confidence continues to build under Benitez. Is it too little too late, though? Look at the situation above. It is tight.


Top 4 battle intense

West Ham United face a tricky trip to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra), while Manchester United host Leicester City and Manchester City travel to top six chasing Southampton on Sunday (11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). West Ham, United and City are all battling it out with Arsenal for the final two Champions League spots.

Nobody can afford to slip up.

As we mentioned, United are looking strong and although West Ham have lost just one of their last 10 games they’ve also drawn four of their last five to curtail their progress. City drew 0-0 with Real Madrid in midweek and may have one eye on the return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu next Wednesday. Can Manuel Pellegrini afford to rest key players like Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart ahead of that game?

The top four battle will likely go down to the wire and its likely one of the contenders will slip up this weekend with tough games for all four.