2011 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy

MLS Cup 2012 preview: Houston Dynamo vs. L.A. Galaxy

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CARSON, Calif. – When is the actual result of an MLS Cup final very nearly reduced to a subplot? When the illustrious David Beckham has made it his MLS finale.

And it is quite possibly Landon Donovan’s MLS curtain call, too.

Global soccer’s most iconic figure of the last two decades concludes his six years in Major League Soccer in the league’s 17th MLS Cup. Beckham, 37, has already announced that he will take his preternaturally gifted right foot – is there one more free kick goal in that pricey boot? – and perform elsewhere after Saturday, if only for a short duration.

And what to make of Donovan, the 30-year-old attacker who is the national team’s all-time leading scorer (and on a march to be Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer), but who seems a little beaten by it all and keeps dangling the notion of retirement?

And we haven’t even gotten to the Houston Dynamo, a humble and hard-working club that tends to grind out playoff results like no other. The Dynamo, steered so ably by smoothly demanding coach Dominic Kinnear, is in its fourth MLC Cup in seven years.

Houston fell to L.A. in this same matchup last year, 1-0.

Don’t forget, this is the first final played under new MLS playoff rules that award host duty to the finalist with the best record. So the big home field edge goes to the Galaxy – never mind that the weather in Southern California looks and feels a lot like we’re all in rainy Seattle.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s final predictions:)

Saturday’s kickoff: Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif., 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, Telefutura

On the Houston Dynamo

  • The game has a chance to look a lot like last year’s, when the Galaxy squeezed out a 1-0 win in a meeting of the very same teams. In the very same building. With roughly the same weather. So it could once again be frustratingly cautious, as finals tend to be. Plus, both teams are good at waiting out the other fellow, careful not to make a mistake while waiting to pounce on one.
  • On the other hand, this is a very different Houston Dynamo team. Added since last year’s final are right-sided attacker Oscar Boniek Garcia and ground covering midfield specialist Ricardo Clark. Plus, the team’s four-time MVP, Brad Davis, will be on the field this year. Last year’s loss came as Davis watched from the sideline, injured.
  • Somewhat forgotten is that Houston also played the 2011 final with four center backs across the defense. Andrew Hainault was on the right, Jermaine Taylor on the left; both were in fill-in capacity due to other injuries. Thus, Houston’s ability to attack up the flanks was severely pinched.
  • So the Dynamo has the opportunity to apply far more pressure on L.A. this year. “We should be a lot more aggressive this time,” midfielder Adam Moffat said. “Last year, we created very few real chances, to be honest.”
  • Kinnear’s men are as healthy as they’ve been in a long time. Clark and Moffat, the preferred central midfielders, are training at full capacity after some recent injury worries. Calen Carr is back on the field, too, giving Kinnear a more pacey option for selection at forward.
  • Striker Will Bruin has four playoff goals, just one behind MLS post-season leader Robbie Keane.
  • You cannot talk about the Dynamo without mentioning how dangerous Davis and his pinpoint set piece deliveries have been for years. In most estimations, the veteran lefty is the second best restart specialist in MLS – after Beckham.
  • Davis has contributed directly (scored or assisted) on 20 Dynamo goals over each of the last two years.

(MORE: Oscar Boniek Garcia’s potential impact)

(MORE: Houston Dynamo 2012 vs. 2011 – not even close)

(MORE: Brad Davis says MLS Cup 2012 is not about revenge)

(MORE: Deconstructing the Houston Dynamo success)

On the Los Angeles Galaxy

  • Said Beckham, about the run-up to his final MLS contest: “It’s been an enjoyable week…. I am quite an emotional person. I know I will feel more emotion probably the day of the game. Maybe the night before the game. But I am really excited about the game itself. To be in third MLS Cup final, especially one being played in our own stadium, I am excited. And it’s going to be special.”

(MORE: David Beckham says goodbye to MLS)

  • Beckham has evolved into more of a support player this year. He can still ping the pretty passes accurately over 60 yards, and the Dynamo players know so. Clark will be tasked with applying early pressure on the former England captain. Beckham will idle a little deeper in the midfield, not making quite as many thrusts forward, not quite as many overlapping runs around the right side, etc. Whereas last year he was more a “playmaker-distributor,” this year’s Beckham’s role is more “distributor-playmaker.”
  • Donovan, as he has most of his career, has lined up recently as an outside midfielder or as a second forward alongside Irish international Robbie Keane. It’s mostly about whether Galaxy coach Bruce Arena prefers midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson or forward Edson Buddle in the starting lineup; Donovan will fill the other spot.
  • Arena has a choice to make at center back, where rookie Tommy Meyer or far more experienced A.J. DeLaGarza will start alongside commanding center back Omar Gonzales. DeLaGarza is training now but has not played in two months.
  • Mike Magee has become “Mr. November,” so nicknamed for his tendency to contribute the big playoff goals. His late runs into the penalty area from the left side tend to be expertly timed.
  • And speaking of movement around the penalty area, Keane’s choices on where to go find the ball and his ability to create defensive confusion over the last two or three months has been as good as any forward in MLS. Ever.
  • Keane (16 goals, 9 assists) and Donovan (9 goals, 14 assists) were MLS Best XI selections. Gonzalez almost surely would have been but for missing half the season through injury.
  • Is this the “last hurrah” for a uniquely starry Galaxy side? Donovan said they aren’t thinking about that. “Any team from year to year has lots of turnover. That’s the way sports are. That’s the way other leagues are. So we’re just excited about the game tomorrow. Not many teams have a chance to do what we have a chance to do, and we want to make the most of that.”
  • L.A. is attempting to become the first back-to-back league champions since Houston won in 2006 and 2007.

(MORE: Which version of the Galaxy shows up Saturday)

(MORE: David Beckham’s pre-match press conference)

(MORE: The Galaxy’s center back choice)

(MORE: Donovan mum on his future)

(MORE: Comparing Galaxy 2011 vs. 2012)

Bottom line:

A Galaxy team with Beckham, Donovan and Keane at full rev, with Gonzalez properly policing the back line, would be extremely difficult to beat, especially at home. But all of that has not happened consistently in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Kinnear-coached teams know just how to reach that final gear in the post-season. They managed to make things very hard on the Galaxy in last year’s final despite being severely under-strength.

Houston can expect to create a few chances. So will Los Angeles, with Keane at the tip-top of his game. Look for a close and fairly cautious match – and don’t be surprised if this one is 1-1 after 90 minutes, needing an extra 30 minutes and possibly even penalty kicks to declare a winner.

STREAM: Watch Hull-Chelsea, West Ham-Boro, every 10am ET game

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Diego Costa of Chelsea shows his frustration during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Four games take center stage at 10 a.m. ET in the Premier League on Saturday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Hull City host Chelsea at the KCOM Stadium, while struggling West Ham host Middlesbrough at the London Stadium.

Elsewhere Bournemouth head to Watford and Sunderland is hoping to get their first win as West Brom head to the Stadium of Light.

You can stream each game live by clicking on the links below or above.


10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. West Brom – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Middlesbrough – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]

Pardew, Palace wish luck to FC Cincinnati; USL Playoffs underway (video)

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 16: Tyler Polak #3 of FC Cincinnati steals the ball from Bakary Sako #26 of Crystal Palace FC as Paul Nicholson #8 of FC Cincinnati falls back on defense during the first half at Nippert Stadium on July 16, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.(Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images
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Before Crystal Palace drew Everton 1-1 at Goodison Park on Friday, they turned their attention Stateside.

The club released a video message in support of United States third tier side FC Cincinnati on Friday, as the third-seeded USL club prepares to take on No. 6 Charleston Battery at Nippert Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

Palace visited FC Cincinnati this summer, with 35,000-plus showing up as the Premier League side beat its USL opposition in a wonderful showcase for American soccer supporters.

Well, Pards and the boys were impressed, and issued a vote of good luck:

The playoffs are underway, with 16 of the 29 clubs making the march forward. Reigning champion Rochester Rhinos open up against Charlotte at Rhinos Stadium on Saturday, while the No. 1 seeds are New York Red Bulls II (Eastern Conference) and Sacramento Republic FC (Western Conference).

Full first round

Western Conference

Sacramento Republic (1) vs. Orange County Blues (8) — Saturday
Swope Park Rangers (4) 3-0 LA Galaxy II (5)
Colorado Springs Switchbacks (3) 1-2 Vancouver Whitecaps 2 (6)
Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (2) vs. Oklahoma City Energy FC (7)

Eastern Conference

New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Orlando City B (8) — Sunday
Rochester Rhinos (4) vs. Charlotte Independence (5) — Saturday
FC Cincinnati (3) vs. Charleston Battery (6) — Sunday
Louisville City FC (2) vs. Richmond Kickers (7) — Sunday

Swansea 1-2 Liverpool: Reds stay red-hot, battle to comeback win

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  • Swansea led through Fer
  • Firmino equalized 
  • Milner nets late PK
  • Klopp’s side win fourth-straight

This is the kind of win a title contender grinds out. Liverpool beat a spirited Swansea City 2-1 at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday as Jurgen Klopp‘s side fought back from 1-0 down to win it late on.

Leroy Fer opened the scoring for Swansea in the first half but Roberto Firmino equalized in the second and then James Milner‘s late spot kick sealed the comeback win for the Reds.

With the victory Liverpool has now won four-straight Premier League games and has five victories in its opening seven encounters with 16 points on the board, while Swansea’s manager Guidolin is under more pressure as his side have now lost five of their last six and only have four points this season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

After a positive start the Swans took the lead in the eighth minute as a corner from the left was nodded back into danger by Borja Baston and Fer bundled home his fourth PL goal of the season. 1-0 to Swansea.

Swansea were buoyed by that early goal and continued to press Liverpool high with Fer smashing over and Jack Cork couldn’t quite hook his effort goalwards. Adam Lallana hobbled off with a groin injury midway through the first half and was replaced by Daniel Sturridge.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Borja then headed wide from Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s delightful free kick as Swansea missed a glorious opportunity to double their lead. At the other end Sturridge went down in the box under a challenge from Wayne Routledge but instead of a penalty being awarded he was booked for simulation. Upon seeing the replay it looked like referee Michael Oliver had made the right decision.

Jordi Amat then saved Swansea as a bad giveaway let in Sadio Mane but the Spanish defender came from nowhere to block Mane’s effort at the last minute.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Liverpool started the second half well with Firmino forcing Lukasz Fabianski into a save, then Mane rolled an effort goalwards which Swansea hacked to safety. Klopp’s side continued to press for an equalizer and it arrived after 55 minutes.

Philippe Coutinho‘s free kick was blocked but Jordan Henderson‘s cross then found Firmino who beat the offside trap to glance home a header. 1-1. Soon after Coutinho curled a fine effort just wide as Klopp drove his team on from the sidelines.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Liverpool looked increasingly dangerous but Swans, much to their credit, dug deep and battled for under-fire boss Guidolin. Lorus Karius flapped out a corner in the closing stages as Swansea tried to nick a late winner but just when it looked like both teams had to settle for a point Swansea conceded a penalty kick as Angel Rangel tripped Firmino in the box.

Milner clipped home the spot kick to put Liverpool 2-1 up and they survived a late scare as Mike Van der Hoorn somehow knocked wide from close range to seal a fourth-straight win in the Premier League.

STREAM: Watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10am ET on Saturday

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At 10 a.m. ET this Saturday you will be able to access NBC Sports Digital’s newest product, Premier League Goal Rush.

It will be available on the NBC Sports App, on NBCSports.com and on a dedicated Premier League Extratime channel as goals from all four matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be shown simultaneously as live look-ins occur around all the grounds in the Premier League.

STREAM “GOAL RUSH” HERE

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of NFL RedZone-like action from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

The feature game this weekend will be Hull City vs. Chelsea and as goals and incidents occur around the league, you will be transported to the action as it happens.

More info is available here, plus the schedule for all four games at 10 a.m. ET is below.


10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Chelsea
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Middlesbrough
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Bournemouth
10 a.m. ET: Sunderland vs. West Brom