On the L.A. Galaxy season turnaround, credit where it’s due: big center back Omar Gonzalez

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CARSON, Calif. – You have heard the names David Beckham and Landon Donovan circling fiercely around the domestic soccer media whirlwind over the last few days.

Robbie Keane has gotten his Irish due, and rightly so. Bruce Arena is reaching ever higher on the legend scale.

All well and good, but this point absolutely cannot be overstated: The Los Angeles Galaxy absolutely would not be MLS Cup repeat champions today without commanding center back Omar Gonzalez.

It wasn’t just what the Galaxy’s center back and his ever growing shadow on this team meant to Saturday’s 90 minutes at the Home Depot Center – although Gonzalez surely put his big paw prints on the match like no one else.

Gonzalez rescued the entire L.A. Galaxy season. There’s a fairly high probability the Galaxy would not even had qualified for the playoffs without the high-value contributions of the fourth-year man.

Think about that. No Beckham farewell coronation. No Donovan to get his fifth MLS Cup. No Arena to get his fourth.

Just a bunch of pricey stars left to explain how things went so pear shaped.

(MORE: Gonzalez’s Man of the Match performance)

Remember the low point? When Bruce’s boys fell to the … wait for it … Carolina RailHawks back in late May, going down the U.S. Open Cup drain that night. At that point the Galaxy had won just three of 13 MLS matches and had crashed out of the Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League.

The club was awful. The defending champs were awful.

Players have explained away the stunning reversal that followed by talking about better attitudes. They found the hunger and the inner drive that had been so horribly misplaced. The players hand Arena a lot of the credit, and rightfully so.

Donovan has banged on about Beckham’s role, about the former England captain’s rising refusal to accept lesser; I’m sure Donovan is right.

But who are we kidding here? None of that would matter with the back line, one pounded into such an inferior state relative to the fierce product on rear guard patrol during the 2011 championship campaign, had not improved so substantially. And that’s all about Gonzalez.

The simplest explanation for the early misfiring was never a mystery: the defense wasn’t very good. Plain as that.

Gonzalez helped the Galaxy regain their defensive footing, and the long march toward reclamation of glory was officially “on.”

Said Beckham: “Omar isn’t just a special player, he’s a special person as well. He works hard, he listens. He’s a young player with a lot of talent. I hope someday that he will play for the U.S. national team more regularly because he deserves it. He’s been dancing around in there [locker room] naked, so he definitely deserves it after that. He deserved the MVP today and are very lucky to have a young player with his talent on this team.”

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.