2012 MLS Cup Champions Los Angeles Galaxy Portraits

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.”

VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 9

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There was some eye-popping moments in the Premier League this weekend, yet still very little debate who shone brightest.

Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of Goal of the Month competitors in the same day in the Potters’ 2-0 win at Hull City on Monday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

The first was a curling wonder from distance, while the second came from a bit closer as the big-calfed Swiss attacker bamboozled the Hull wall and goalkeeper.

The Potters are up to 16th in the Premier League table with nine points.

Finnish fans celebrate surprise title for IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamm
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HELSINKI (AP) Fans of IFK Mariehamn have gathered in the main square of the remote Finnish town to celebrate their team’s surprise league title.

“I feel very proud,” the club’s managing director, Peter Mattsson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that “thousands” were expected to turn up for the party.

Watched by more than 4,000, Mariehamn clinched the Finnish title on Sunday with a 2-1 home victory over Ilves, from the industrial city of Tampere.

[ MORE: Full MLS Cup bracket ]

Mariehamn held off 11 other teams, including the traditionally strong Helsinki club, HJK, and defending champion SJK from western Finland. It ended three points clear of second-placed HJK for its first league title.

Local media dubbed the team “Leicester” after the surprise English Premier League champions last season.

Mariehamn, which has a population of 11,500, is the capital of the Aland islands off the southwestern Finnish coast

Kroenke: “Very high” on Wenger who is “very hard” to replace

Jeff Fisher
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LONDON — Arsenal remains “very high” on Arsene Wenger and it will be “very hard” replacing the manager who is in the final year of his contract, owner Stan Kroenke told The Associated Press on Monday.

Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal into next season.

The 67-year-old Frenchman became the Premier League’s longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the Premier League title since Ferguson’s departure.

In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.

“You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke told the AP after Arsenal’s annual general meeting. “It’s very hard. He’s a great manager.”

Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.

“We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time,” Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting where Wenger didn’t address his contract situation in his speech.

Although Wenger has won the Premier League three times, the last success came in 2004 – a drought which frustrates fans.

“He’s been a wonderful influence on the club,” Kroenke said. “We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now.”

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit. Despite Wenger only winning the FA Cup twice since 2004, the team is in the lucrative Champions League for the 19th successive year thanks to its runner-up finish last season. Wenger is yet to win European football’s top prize.

“I know a number of (sports team) owners that are very successful that say the same thing – the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league,” said Kroenke, who also owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. “Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.

“We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene’s been consistently at the top and I will tell you – it’s very, very hard to do if you look around sports.”


2016 MLS Cup playoffs bracket in full

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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With Major League Soccer’s Decision Day 2016 in the books, we now know who will battle it out for MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Who will win MLS Cup? ]

Up first on Wednesday and Thursday are the four knockout round games, then the Conference semifinal first legs kick off this weekend.

We get into it thick and fast.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage

The PST crew already selected their picks for the postseason and filled out their bracket. You can see that by clicking on the link above. FWIW, I have Toronto FC beating the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup…

[ MORE: Ranking MLS playoff teams ]

Below is the MLS playoff bracket in full so you can make your picks and let us know who you went for in the comments section below.


MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

MLS Playoff bracket, 2016
Source: MLSSoccer.com