Houston Dynamo v DC United - Eastern Conference Championship - Leg 2

The More Things Change: Houston Dynamo, One Year On

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LOS ANGELES — “I don’t want to talk too much about last year, because it was such a long time ago,” Houston Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear politely told reporters last night. With his team returning to Los Angeles for a second consecutive MLS Cup, the questions are obligatory:

What’s changed since the Dynamo lost to the Galaxy last year? Why is this time going to be different?

The difference in lineups — between Houston’s 2011 cup final team and the one that’s likely to start tomorrow at Home Depot Center — lays the case bare. Throughout the team that starts on Saturday, Houston looks stronger. Much stronger.

2011 Pos. 2012
Tally Hall G Tally Hall
Andre Hainault RB Kofie Sarkodie
Bobby Boswell RCB Bobby Boswell
Geoff Cameron LCB Jermaine Taylor
Jermaine Taylor LB Corey Ashe
Adam Moffat DM Adam Moffat
Danny Cruz RM Boniek Garcia
Luiz Carmago CM Ricardo Clark
Corey Ashe LM Brad Davis
Calen Carr SS Calen Carr
Brian Ching ST Will Bruin

Of the 11 players Kinnear’s likely to start tomorrow’s game, only four played the same position in last year’s final: Hall, Boswell, Moffat, and Carr. Taylor and Ashe started but were slightly out of position.

The changes leave Houston a much-improved team. Getting Brad Davis back into the team is huge, the team MVP forced to miss last year’s final with a calf injury. Having carried the team at various points in 2011, Davis’s absence in Carson was devestating.

On the opposite flank, Boniek Garcia (above) has quickly become the best right midfielder in the league. Sorry Mauro Rosales fans, durability matters. While your guy is among the best in the league regardless of position when healthy, Garcia isn’t far off. And his durability is incredible.

Will Bruin’s proven more dangerous up top, Ashe and Kofie Sardokie are legitimate fullbacks (as opposed to repurposed central defenders), while the re-acquisition of Ricardo Clark gives Houston a midfield that could potentially lock down LA’s. If you’re a Galaxy fan, how comfortable are you with David Beckham and Juninho against Clark and Moffat?

While the loss of Geoff Cameron seems huge on paper, it hasn’t be a problem. Taylor has had a very good season, while Boswell has stepped up after the departure of his central defense partner. The 29-year-old had one of the better seasons of his career.

Maybe that’s while Kinnear doesn’t want to talk about the past. True, nobody likes talking about near misses, but the real reason might be its lack of relevance. This year’s team is much more capable of pulling off an upset.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.