MLS Cup final: what we learned from the Galaxy win

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CARSON, Calif. – So much of the talk in bigger sports circles will be about David Beckham finishing his MLS career with a flourish, with a 3-1 win at the Home Depot Center. But the moment clearly also belongs to the Galaxy, to Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez and the rest.

Here are the five important points to be gathered from the 17th MLS Cup, where Bruce Arena’s Los Angeles Galaxy successfully defended its MLS Cup title.

The stars do matter

In the early DP years, the narrative was built that MLS teams could still win without the pricey Designated Players who were slowly being added to rosters. But now, with the most DPed-up of MLS sides claiming a second consecutive Major League Soccer crown, it’s pretty clear that the big salaries do matter in the MLS Cup chase.

Donovan and Robbie Keane each scored from the penalty spot. Beckham did his part, especially early, essentially supplying all of the Galaxy offense with those laser-targeted balls over 40, 50 or 60 yards. Truly, his long-range passing early Saturday was even more deadly than usual.

The talk now will be how Los Angeles and manager Bruce Arena use the DP slots going forward. Who will replace Beckham? Will they have another one to replace in Donovan?

But this much is clear: using the slots wisely (and spending lavishly surely helps) can beat the path to glory that works in MLS.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk Man of the Match)

Home field matters

Not that it’s any surprise, but the team with home field advantage just won for a second consecutive year. Going forward, teams will work even harder to be the higher seed, gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to get those few extra points, to advance a little higher up the combined table.

Talking to the Dynamo players and staff this week, they understand that they slipped in the standings because of too many draws at home against teams they probably should have beaten.

In critical moments the home field was the difference, especially during those telling, harried second-half minutes when the Galaxy found the way through and effectively finished off the contest, riding the momentum of vocal home ground support.

Experience matters

The Galaxy lost the plot for about 20-30 minutes in the middle of the match, as Houston hit the opener and then kept the home team from looking too threatening. But no worries … they have the kind of experienced soldiers who won’t collapse under the moment.

Said Man of the Match Omar Gonzalez: “None of us were actually worried. Me and Robbie were talking after and said that we didn’t see any other outcome other than us winning.”

The Galaxy won this match by recognizing an opponent left reeling. A quick succession of events midway through the second half. with the match tied, put the Dynamo on its heels – and the Galaxy pounced.

That’s not as simple as it sounds. It takes experience to recognize the moment, to seize the initiative and really finish a stumbling foe. The Galaxy has men with the chops and the experience.

In the last 10-15 minutes, the Galaxy brilliantly managed out the match. Not only did Bruce Arena’s side keep tidy in the back and the midfield, preventing the Dynamo from getting many real opportunities.

That’s the experience working, too.

“We were putting a lot of pressure on them,” Donovan said. “It seemed inevitable that the second goal was going to come.”

Omar Gonzalez is bound for the national team

On Friday, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann mentioned his intentions to get Omar Gonzalez more firmly hammered into the U.S. plans.

Gonzalez did a little hammering of his own Saturday, hammering away ball after ball along the Galaxy back line, hammering his way into position for the second-half equalizer and leaving absolutely no doubt about his value to this club.

Klinsmann was at the Home Depot Center, and surely a little wide-eyed like the rest of us as the 2011 Defender of the Year put on such a stunning show.

It wasn’t just the physical attributes, either. Gonzalez was expertly positioned all afternoon, always seeming to find just the right spot.

Oh, on the Galaxy’s second goal, it was Gonzalez who knocked the telling ball back into position for the mad scramble to follow.

MORE: Omar Gonzalez PST’s MLS Cup Man of the Match

Big-game feel

The afternoon had a big-game feel to it – and these events need such a thing.

This was the first year of a major MLS playoff tweak, where the higher seed among finalists get host rights. And it means so much. For L.A. players to dance with such delight before their home fans during the trophy presentation, to get the big noise as the Galaxy seized control over a telling three or four minutes, to get such sections full of impassioned supporters – these are things that just don’t happen during neutral site finals.

It makes the events far more memorable and, in the long run, will boost MLS to places it wants to be that much faster.

(Keep checking back; lots more to come on the Galaxy win)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic confirms Man United contract talks

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in talks with Manchester United about extending his stay at Old Trafford beyond this season.

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The veteran Swedish striker, 35, has scored 26 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions this season, and he has an option to extend his contract for another year. However, that option hasn’t been triggered yet by Ibrahimovic and United’s fans seem to be getting rather tetchy about the prospect of him not being around next season.

Ibrahimovic is enjoying life in England and revealed to the Manchester Evening News that he is in talks with the club about extending his stay in the Premier League.

“Let’s see what happens, we are talking,” Ibrahimovic said. “I have an option for another year, I want to do great as long as I’m here, so let us see, there is a lot of time. I’m enjoying being at a fantastic club, without doubts, one of the biggest clubs in the world with a great coach (Jose Mourinho).

“I know him before (from our time at Inter Milan), he’s a winner, he’s the perfect coach for this club. Being a Manchester United player, I don’t know how many people have that possibility but I am a Man United player, people wanted me here, I chose the club, I chose the best English club, that’s the way it works.”

Ibrahimovic also hinted that he would stay by stating he “never leaves a job unfinished” when talking about his dedication.

“I’m a person when I go into something I put my head 200 per cent, and I do what I’m good at. I go in, I go for the kill and I go out,” Ibrahimovic said. “And when I go out there is no complaints, that’s what I do. I never leave a job unfinished. I always go in, do my job, and in the way that is a fair play, a fair deal, that is what I do.”

With offers reported pouring in from Major League Soccer and the Chinese Super League, Ibrahimovic will likely have those kind of deals on the table next summer too. His current deal at United sees him paid over $310,000 per week but after joining from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer it could be one of the best pieces of business in United’s history if he helps them win the Europa League and/or finish in the top four in the PL this season.

If he leads the Red Devils back to the UEFA Champions League and has one more season as the talisman for Mourinho at Old Trafford, then leaves to finish out his playing days elsewhere, the legendary forward will go down as a hero in the eyes of United’s fans.

Portugal airport to be named after Ronaldo near his hometown

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FUNCHAL, Portugal (AP) Welcome to Cristiano Ronaldo Airport.

That will be the message awaiting passengers in the Madeira Islands from Wednesday, when the local airport will be renamed after the local star by the regional government.

Ronaldo is expected to attend a ceremony at the airport outside his hometown of Funchal on Wednesday, a day after his Portugal side lost 3-2 to Sweden in the city in a friendly.

The name change attracted a lot of attention locally, with many politicians opposing it.

Portugal’s squad landed on Monday at the airport displaying the trophy it won at the 2016 European Championship in France.

Funchal also has a Ronaldo statue and a museum about the player, as well a hotel complex named after him.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.