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.

Bravo fit again, but will he start Chile’s Confed Cup group finale?

Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
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MOSCOW (AP) Claudio Bravo is fit again and could start in goal against Australia at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Saturday.

Bravo – who is Chile’s joint most-capped player with Alexis Sanchez – hasn’t played since April 27, when he injured his calf for Manchester City in a derby game with Manchester United.

“Claudio is fit, he’s managed to train the last couple of days just like his other teammates,” Pizzi said. “He’s ready and available to play.”

Pizzi brushed off concerns about a lack of match fitness, saying that “quite obviously we take into account that factor” but players like Bravo are “are of such good quality that it isn’t that important they haven’t played in the last couple of months.”

Stand-in Johnny Herrera played in Chile’s 2-0 group stage win over Cameroon and Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Germany.

Gary Medel was substituted with a minor injury while playing in defense for Chile against Germany. Teammate Francisco Silva said Saturday that Medel had complained of “a very small muscle contraction issue” but was now fit.

Pizzi said he will aim to tire out Australia with Chile’s trademark all-action style, even though his team struggled for energy in the latter stages against Germany.

“This energy drop we had in the second half didn’t damage us too much because the opposing team couldn’t maintain a high pace because of the demands we’d imposed on them,” Pizzi said of the Germany game.

“We’re going to try to get (the Australians) tired as well and use this to beat our opponent, and we hope this is going to translate into goals.”

USMNT’s Wood extends Hamburg contract through 2021

Photo credit: Hamburg / Twitter: @HSV
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HAMBURG, Germany (AP) American forward Bobby Wood extended his contract with Bundesliga side Hamburger SV on Saturday to 2021.

Wood, who joined Hamburg from second-tier Union Berlin, scored five goals and set up two more in 28 Bundesliga games. He had 17 goals in 31 second-division games for Union the season before.

“Not only his goals count for us, but his readiness to run and challenge,” Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt said. “Bobby is a key player for our offense and a real team player.”

Wood has eight goals in 32 appearances for the United States.

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win 2-0

Photo credit: NYCFC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The only thing standing in the way of New York City FC avenging their infamous 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls with a lopsided demolition job of their own, on Saturday, was an otherworldly goalkeeping performance from Luis Robles. It was the Red Bulls shot-stopper, with his four saves on the afternoon (three of them coming in spectacular fashion), who kept Jesse Marsch’s side within touching distance for more than an hour. Jack Harrison was denied early on by Robles, but got the better of him not long later for the game’s opening goal. Heroics from Robles kept the score at 1-0 for another 32 minutes, before Ben Sweat’s (accidental?) header made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, managed their first shot on target in the 80th minute. That’s three wins in a row for NYCFC, who go seven points clear of their Hudson River rivals and keep Toronto FC in sight at the top of the league table, five points ahead.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

18′ — Robles goes full-stretch to deny Harrison — David Villa’s vision and Rodney Wallace‘s hold-play created the chance for Harrison, but Luis Robles’ acrobatics denied the 20-year-old Englishman in spectacular fashion.

33′ — Harrison not to be denied this time — Sweat delivered the ball to Harrison near the top of the box, and the second-year man did everything right with what’s a really, really difficult chance to take — facing away from goal, first-time, ball traveling across the goalkeeper, upper-90 to the far post.

65′ — Sweat loops a header past Robles for 2-0 — Sweat probably didn’t mean it, but the ball hit the back of the net, and that’s all that matters. Not a bad time to score your first MLS goal, either.

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Man of the match: Luis Robles

Goalscorers: Harrison (33′), Sweat (65′)

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.