An early, early, early look at Galaxy-Houston MLS Cup final

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So what if a full two weeks breaks up the momentum prior to the Dec. 1 MLS Cup final outside Los Angeles? Is there really any reason to wait on the analysis?

Yes, we all have 13 full days to dissect this year’s MLS Cup final, Houston v. Los Angeles Dos. Historically speaking, we’ve got twice as much time as always since, for the first time, a two-week break has crept into the playoff design.

So, clearly, we’ll be picking this baby apart like so much Thanksgiving turkey. (Thanksgiving, of course, is the reason for the long break; MLS didn’t want a championship over the holiday weekend.)

Still, let’s go ahead and outline why there’s reason to believe MLS Cup 2012 will play out differently, and look refreshingly dissimilar to MLS Cup 2011 – never mind that the teams and the venue are exactly the same.

  • Brad Davis  (pictured) will be part of this one. Houston always looked like a longshot in 2011, in no small part because its best player sat injured on the sideline. Davis, among the league’s top restart specialists and a critical element in Houston’s midfield possession efforts, had been hurt in the Dynamo’s conference final victory.
  • This is not the 2011 Galaxy. David Beckham isn’t quite the same, although two weeks of rest could restore some of the lost zip in his signature rips. Landon Donovan’s gimpy hamstring should be OK, but it does add an early element of mystery. Plus, even if preferred center back A.J. DeLaGarza can get healthy, there’s a danger that he won’t be sharp. So rookie center back Tommy Meyer may be on the spot once again.
  • Even beyond the injuries, the Galaxy in 2011 had landmark stability and consistency. But in 2012, not so much. They’ve been up and down up and down like a Coney Island Ferris wheel this year. Even lately in the playoffs, Bruce Arena’s side has been quite good (twice) and curiously shaky (three times).
  • Ricardo Clark’s summer addition for Houston adds an extra, experienced ball winner and ground-covering specialist, and that’s a less favorable central matchup for Beckham. And livewire winger Oscar Boniek Garcia has added a splash of color in 2012 that was missing from an otherwise plain Jane (but relatively effective) attack in 2011.
  • Finally, the Dynamo has been here before. Quite literally, in precisely this spot. Only once in the last two years has Dominic Kinnear’s team gone on the road in the playoffs and failed to get the doggone job done. That was at the Home Depot Center last year. So, the motivational intangibles seem to fall Houston’s way. (Of course, that’s an early read. Again, we have plenty of time to change our minds.)

ProSoccerTalk will keep up discussion of the chase for MLS Cup through the Dec. 1 final outside Los Angeles.

Schweinsteiger waiting on visa, training in Mallorca

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Bastian Schweinsteiger is waiting on a visa to make his trip to Chicago official.

It’s a formality, albeit a bit trickier now given the political climate in the United States. The former Manchester United midfielder is training at Real Mallorca ahead of the move.

The transfer was announced one week ago, and Schweinsteiger is anxious to get back on the pitch. Set for a 1-year, $4.5 million deal, the midfielder has not missed any Chicago matches yet.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The Fire is 1-1-1 to start the new season under Veljko Paunovic, and has three home matches next: Montreal (Saturday), Columbus (Apr. 8), and New England (Apr. 15)

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.