Major League Soccer team previews: LA GALAXY

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 2 in the West is the LA Galaxy:

Significant additions and subtractions: LA’s offseason may have dominated the headlines, but ultimately there’s been very little change. Eight of the 11 players who would have been first choice at season’s end return to Bruce Arena’s starting XI.

The biggest loss is David Beckham, but unlike his off-field brand, Beckham’s replaceable between the lines. So is Christian Wilhelmsson, whose brief cameo in MLS ended with a ring. And last year’s starter in goal, Josh Saunders, was allowed to leave for Salt Lake.

That’s where the Galaxy made their one significant addition. Carlo Cudicini, a long-time backup for Chelsea and Tottenham, moves into LA’s starting XI. The last time the now 39-year-old played more than 10 games in a league season was 2003-04.

Strengths: Questions about Cudicini aside, the defense looks great. The team will get a full year from MVP candidate Omar Gonzalez. A.J. DeLaGarza returns after missing the end of last season. With Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin, LA competes with San Jose and Real Salt Lake for the league’s best fullback tandem.

In attack, LA has another stellar tandem. Once Landon Donovan is back — Arena’s said he should start playing in April — he and Robbie Keane will form the league’s most potent attack. Perhaps it won’t be the most prolific, but as we saw last fall, there’s no duo more capable of executing when it counts.

Pressure points: I’m not sold on Carlo Cudicini in goal, though it seems a reasonable gamble. It’s not like he costs Designated Player money, something you often have to give up to lure a player from Europe. But this is a player coming to a new league who, far past his prime, hasn’t played a meaningful game in three seasons. Over the last decade, he’s averaged 4.6 appearances per season. So let’s just say he’s a question mark.

The team also needs to replace Beckham’s distribution. Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas will be fine in the middle, and Michael Stephens (and eventually, Mike Magee) will do a job wide right, but when this team gets bogged down and has trouble getting through the middle third, they no longer have Beckham to take over. LA need to develop an alternative so they’re not purely reliant on Donovan’s ability to steer them in transition.

source:  Difference maker: No matter what happens in midfield and attack, the team has Gonzalez, something they were missing at the beginning of last season, The MLS Cup MVP is going to help Cudicini’s transition, and in those opening months where the team’s best creator is still working himself into shape, Gonzalez and the defense will keep LA in every game. In a conference full of strong No. 9s, Gonzalez is LA’s equalizer.

Potential breakout player: With his midfield partner in Paris, Juninho will have more to do. That may be a good thing. The 23-year-old chipped in seven goals last season, but this year, he’ll have to play a bigger part in the team’s buildup and distribution. He was hardly lax in those areas before, but with Beckham gone, the Brazilian’s contributions become vital. Where as last year he was able to rely on Beckham’s presence when he surged forward, this year Juninho may have to do some of the orchestrating.

That’s more responsibility, but Juninho’s can handle it. Tasked with having a greater presence, the overshadowed talent could develop into an All-Star.

Bottom line: Number two in the West may be too low. When we originally ordered the West, San Jose’s injury issues were still a little up in the air. Now, LA looks like more than just the team you never want to face in the playoffs. Even before acquiring another Designated Player, the Galaxy are as strong as anybody in the West.

(MORE: full roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.

Neymar makes history in PSG’s 8-0 thrashing of Dijon

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A pair of statements which are both true, and not at all mutually exclusive, if you allow logic and balance to prevail: 1) Neymar and his friends at Paris Saint-Germain are quite good at the soccer; 2) they aren’t challenged enough in Ligue 1.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Of course, they’ll be challenged plenty during the latter stages of the Champions League (they drew Real Madrid in the round of 16), but on a weekly basis, the level of competition in their domestic league isn’t of a high standard to indicate just how good they are. That’s the new debate with regard to PSG — it’s no longer, “Are they good? Maybe they’re just a big fish in a small pond.”

On Wednesday, led by Neymar, the most expensive transfer signing of all-time, Unai Emery’s side thrashed 10th-place Dijon to the tune of 8-0. As mentioned, Neymar did slightly more than just pull his own weight — four goals to go with a pair of assists; he lent a direct hand in six of the eight goals.

[ MORE: Chelsea survive Norwich in PKs, reach FA Cup 4th round ]

Even the statistical whizzes at Opta appear somewhat stumped by such an abundance of goals.

Anytime the keepers of stats toss out a “since we started collecting data,” be proud of your achievement. Be very, very proud.

FA Cup: Chelsea, Swansea into 4th rd; B’mouth ousted by Wigan

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Two more Premier League sides booked their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup, courtesy of third-round replays, on Wednesday, bringing the PL’s total representation to 14 clubs…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea 1-1 (5-3 PKs) Norwich City

Chelsea’s scoreless streak — for both themselves and opponents (three straight 0-0 draws across all competitions) — came to a merciful end on Wednesday, but not before surpassing the 300-minute mark. Michy Batshuayi — who, it must be said, struggled mightily in making just his third start (all in cup competitions) since mid-October — broke yet another scoreless deadlock in the 55th minute, ending the Blues’ scoreless run at 331 minutes.

With barely 30 seconds remaining in second-half stoppage time, 19-year-old left back Jamal Lewis brought the Canaries level with a thunderous header off the post.

Extra-time saw Chelsea reduced to 10, and then nine, men. Pedro was booked for diving just after the hour mark, and the Spaniard earned a second yellow card for a wild challenge in the 117th minute. Four minutes later, in second-half extra-time stoppage time, Alvaro Morata was booked for diving and proceeded to shout and gesticulate in the referee’s face. A second yellow was shown immediately.

Willy Caballero denied Nelson Oliveira on Norwich’s first attempt of the ensuing penalty shootout, giving the Blues the only cushion they’d need as Willian, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, N'Golo Kante and Eden Hazard all converted.

Chelsea will host Newcastle United in the fourth round on Sunday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Swansea City 2-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers

Swansea faced the greatest threat of a Cupset on Wednesday but managed to come out on top, knocking off runaway Championship leaders and champions-elect Wolves. The Swans went ahead through Jordan Ayew in the 11th minute before the prolific Diogo Jota, who’ll be in the PL one way or another next season, brought Wolves back to 1-1 in the 66th. Three minutes later, Wilfried Bony bagged the winner to see Carlos Carvalhal’s side through to the next round.

Swansea will visit League Two side Notts County, who knocked off Championship playoff hopefuls Brentford in the third round, on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Wigan Athletic 3-0 Bournemouth

Bournemouth sat 32 places above Wigan in the English football pyramid when Wednesday’s replay kicked off, and it matter not a single iota, as Paul Cook’s side hammered the Cherries at the DW Stadium. Sam Morsy, Dan Burn and Callum Elder bagged the goals for the League One leaders (three points clear after 26 of 46 rounds played). Wigan have alternated each of the last four seasons, finishing 23rd in the Championship and leading/winning League One. It’s been five years since the Latics were relegated from the PL, in the 2012-13 season.

Wigan will host West Ham United in the fourth round on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Sir Alex’s son in trouble for saying he’d “shoot” refs

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LONDON (AP) It clearly runs in the family.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was known for having an explosive temper during his nearly 27 years at Old Trafford, and it seems he has passed it down to his son.

Darren Ferguson, who is the manager of third-tier English team Doncaster, is in trouble for saying he would “shoot” referees because of what he perceived as their poor standards.

Ferguson was charged by the English Football Association on Wednesday for remarks that “were improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

The 45-year-old coach has already apologized, saying it was a “tongue-in-cheek comment” and that “I do not advocate violence against officials.”

Ferguson was unhappy his team was denied a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Plymouth on Saturday.

“The referees are part-time and the standard is appalling, their fitness levels are a disgrace, I’ve had enough of it,” Ferguson said after the match.

“What can I do? Shoot them, it would be a good idea.”