Hard way becoming the only way for finals-bound Galaxy

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SEATTLE – Of course, Los Angeles was going to make it tough on themselves. We should have seen it coming.

Even after taking a 3-0 lead in the first leg of their Western Conference final against the Seattle Sounders, the defending Major League Soccer champions were destined to revert to their drama-inducing selves, a quality that saw the team eliminated from CONCACAF Champions League by Toronto FC, plummet to the bottom of the West to start the season, fall behind against Vancouver in the playoffs’ knockout round, and lose at home to San Jose before eventually eliminating the Supporters’ Shield winners.

Those were the tea leaves that foretold LA’s Sunday struggles. The Galaxy were second-best all night, giving back two goals before a late Robbie Keane penalty kick secured the Galaxy’s third finals birth in four seasons. With a 4-2 (aggregate) win over Seattle, LA earned the chance to become the first team in five years to retain the league title.

“We know we didn’t play particularly well,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “We knew it’d be challenging. The objective was to advance to the MLS Cup final. That was accomplished.”

“Seattle played quite well. No question about that. Having said all that, we won this competition 4-2 and deserve to move forward.”

It’s a bottom line that belies the difficulty of the accomplishment. During Sunday’s first 20 minutes, Seattle’s three lead attackers – Johnson, Fredy Montero, and a surprisingly dominant Steve Zakuani – tore apart a Galaxy defense that was being beaten by every trick Seattle tried: combination play and one-on-one attacks; balls over the top and passes played through the line; considered build-up or quick, direct strikes.

“It’s probably been a while since a team came out and put that much pressure on us,” Galaxy right back Sean Franklin conceded, the former all-star forced to bear the brunt of a resurgent performance from Zakuani, who for the first time since suffering a broken leg in April 2011 showed signs of his former explosive self.

Franklin wasn’t the only Galaxy player to struggle early. Omar Gonzalez couldn’t contain Johnson. Rookie Tommy Meyer was out of sync with his partner. Perhaps most worrisome, LA couldn’t hold the ball, the team unable to adjust to a CenturyLink Stadium surface made slick by the downpour that fell during the match’s first half hour. On those occasions the defense was able to withstand Seattle’s pressure, the Galaxy would immediately give the ball back.

“We didn’t pass well tonight,” Arena said when asked about LA’s poor start. “The conditions certainly helped. It was a little bit difficult passing the ball. You could see our players [were] not fully confident on the surface.”

“If you watch the first 20 minutes, it looked as if they were playing on ice and they were playing on natural (grass),” according to David Beckham. “It was very frantic. They were passing the ball and keeping the ball, and we weren’t.”

Faced with problems in defense and midfield, LA did was they’ve done all season, resorting to the most-basic of solutions: Just play better. No tactical adjustments were needed. Bruce Arena didn’t need new personnel. His players just needed to execute.

“We understood we needed to pass the ball a little bit more,” Beckham said. “The game started to slow down … As soon as we put some passes together, we went through them and created chances.”

Still, the Galaxy were never their normal selves. At no point did they show the form that’d made them the league’s best team over the season’s second half. They team that took apart San Jose and Seattle in consecutive matches? They never showed up on Sunday, though to say that was all Los Angeles’s fault would be short-changing Seattle.

“They pressured us for every ball, played into feet,” Arena said of Seattle’s performance. “They positioned themselves better and were much more aggressive for second balls.

“Basically, on the night, they out-worked us.”

Seattle’s pressure left Los Angeles with no shots on frame through the first 45 minutes, and although the visitors had gained a greater foothold on the match by halftime, the Glaaxy still conceded 12 minutes after intermission, Zach Scott’s header off a Christian Tiffert corner pulling Seattle within one.

Then, as predictably as they allowed drama to undermine their otherwise smooth road to the final, Los Angeles regained their focused. Eleven minutes after Scott pulled Seattle within one, Keane created a penalty kick, eventually restoring a two-goal lead. Though Seattle had one good opportunity late, the Galaxy defense came together, aggressive play from goalkeeper Josh Saunders complementing a renewed organization from the back line.

“I thought Tommy and Omar did a good job of winning a few more balls, and we were picking up the second ones as well,” galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said, describing the defense’s improvement throughout the game. “We were able to break out a little bit and not just constantly be back and be pinned in with them firing from all sides. I think that was the biggest difference. We were winning the first ball and then cleaning up the second.”

Better passing, organized defending, winning the second balls. It was the formula Los Angeles used to play out the final minutes of a performance which became a metaphor for their season. It was unduly dramatic and failed to live up to the best team ever billing the champs accrued in the offseason. But it got the job done.

“Escape maybe is the right word, I don’t know,” Dunivant said. “We’re going through. To us, that’s the most important thing.

“If we’d won 3-0, we’d still be going through. We made it difficult on our fans and everyone on the sidelines, but we still got it done.”

If that was an implicit apology from the Galaxy left back, it wasn’t one endorsed by Bruce Arena.

“I don’t feel we escaped anything,” Arena said, defiantly. “We won 4-2 on aggregate. What’s there to escape from?”

“It’s been a really challenging season, and it’s taken a lot of character and talent to get where we are today,” Arena explained.

“After 14 games, we basically conceded the Supporters’ Shield. The objective then was to get into the playoffs. We went on a run that was fabulous. Last 17 games of the season we had 34 points. Thank God [the media wasn’t] smart enough to figure that out so we could kind of do it quietly and get ourselves going again.

“We’re back in the final, and hopefully we can have an improved performance from tonight.”

Fan protests spur Fiorentina owners to put club up for sale

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) The owners of two-time Serie A champion Fiorentina have announced they are putting the club up for sale due to fan protests.

A club statement says the ownership is accepting “serious offers only from those who really mean well for the Viola shirt.”

Shoe and leather entrepreneurs Diego and Andrea Della Valle have controlled Fiorentina since 2002, having restarted the club after the previous ownership ended in bankruptcy.

The Della Valles guided the club up from the fourth division back to the top flight but were never fully embraced by the squad’s fans.

After four straight years of finishing in the top five of Serie A, an eighth-place result last month was difficult to accept by the supporters.

Former Fiorentina captain Stefano Pioli was recently appointed to coach the club.

De Boer an exciting hire for “club that can grow further and further”

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Frank De Boer said all the right things in his first interview as Crystal Palace boss, and Eagles fans should puff out their chests at the club’s most impressive hire in a long time.

On the heels of blustery Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew, and to a much lesser extent Tony Pulis, De Boer is no shrinking violet.

Yet the Dutchman has set the standards high for his London debut. There’s no talk of “just surviving” or whimpering at the might of the league’s top clubs. De Boer’s ready to do well.

[ MORE: Ranking expectations for PL bosses ]

Appointed Monday, De Boer will take charge of his third club following stints at Ajax and Inter Milan. He won four titles in five season at the Dutch club, but spent just 85 days in that tumultuous seat.

From CPFC.co.uk:

“It’s a club that can grow further and further because English clubs in the Premier League can spend a lot of money, and we can do something well with that. There is the prospect to be a solid Premier League club and this is the most important thing for me right now, not struggle for relegation. If we can do more that would be nice, but we want to be a stable club.”

Palace chairman Steve Parish has taken a solid step in the hiring of De Boer, who becomes just the second Palace boss from outside the British Isles. He’ll have an array of attacking options, but will probably need to look past his current batch of defenders to find players who fit his style.

That said, he’s said he’ll look at his current group first. He’ll love Patrick Van Aanholt and perhaps Jeff Schlupp, but De Boer needs some help at the back. Still, like Mauricio Pellegrino at Saints, this seems like another hire that was worth the wait for a PL fan base.

Still, Palace views itself as a club that can excite, and Allardyce was not the man to set Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend up to succeed. In fact, the Eagles have probably been blessed by Allardyce’s retirement, and Parish did not drop the ball when given the opportunity.

Chicharito injury update ahead of Confed Cup semifinals

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KAZAN, Russia (AP) Mexico star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez trained separately from his teammates on Monday because of muscle fatigue, the latest concern for a Mexican team that has been struck by injuries at the Confederations Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Confed Cup news

Defender Diego Reyes also didn’t practice with the team in its final training session before traveling to Sochi for Thursday’s semifinal against Germany.

Mexico had already lost defender Carlos Salcedo because of a shoulder injury, while defender Hector Moreno has been a concern with a muscle ailment.

Coach Juan Carlos Osorio is already certain to be without midfielder Andres Guardado because of a yellow card suspension.

Chicharito warmed up with the rest of the group in Monday’s practice session in Kazan but left the field after the players met for a few minutes with coach Juan Carlos Osorio.

When one of Osorio’s assistants asked Chicharito about his condition, the player said he was “fine, not a problem.”

The Bayer Leverkusen forward ran a few laps around the field accompanied by the team’s physical trainer, then underwent a few stretching exercises on the sidelines. He watched the rest of the training session from the bench.

The team said Chicharito’s absence was a precaution.

“He said that he was leaving because he was still a bit tired after the match,” midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos said. “He’s played a lot of matches, a lot of minutes, a lot of practices. He just needs to rest a bit, nothing important.”

Chicharito played the entire game when Mexico came from behind to defeat host Russia 2-1 on Saturday to guarantee its spot in the semifinals of the eight-nation World Cup warm-up event.

He was rested in the 2-1 win over New Zealand, when Osorio rotated his squad because of a concern over injuries. Salcedo sustained his shoulder injury during that game and was forced to be removed from the squad. Reyes was hurt in the game against Russia and remains doubtful for the semifinal. He stayed at the team’s hotel on Monday, undergoing rehab for his muscle injury.

Chicharito scored his only goal of the tournament in the 2-2 opening draw against Portugal last week.

Guardado was shown his second yellow against Russia.

“He is a crucial player for us, very important for the team, one of our captains,” Dos Santos said about Guardado. “But we have other players who can make up for his absence.”

Mexico is trying to win the Confederations Cup for the second time. It won the World Cup warm-up event in 1999.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

VIDEO: Fans of Mexican teams brawl in “friendly game”

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This was clearly not a friendly game.

And that was just in the stands.

A game to benefit the United Soccer Talents Foundation was abandoned at half time as fans took to the pitch and brawled in Santa Ana, California.

The “friendly” game was played between former members of rival clubs Club America and Pumas at Eddie West Field as fans of the Mexico City clubs converged.

At half time those fans fought in the stands and then ran onto the pitch to exchange punches as the widespread brawl lasted for 30 minutes, with local law enforcement then arriving to control the situation.

According to NBC LA, five people have been arrested on suspicion of assault and assault with a deadly weapon.

Click play on the video above to see the ugly scenes play out.