MLS match preview: Sporting KC at LA Galaxy

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We are getting into the area, roughly 8 or so weeks into the Major League Soccer campaign, where the alarm finally went off for last year’s LA Galaxy, when Bruce Arena’s team finally broke its slumber and decided to make something of the 2012 season.

Having stumbled so improbably through the first two-plus months of last year’s championship defense, the Galaxy did make something of 2012 – something quite extraordinary, really.

They stomped and stormed their way through the remainder of the regular season, pushed through the playoffs and, with just a little luck in the way post-season results fell serendipitously around them, got the championship match at home for a second consecutive season.

And they won the doggone thing.

This year’s Galaxy launch hasn’t been anything so languid as last year’s sleepy crawl. Indeed, Arena’s team is doing too badly

Then again, they aren’t exactly tearing through the MLS field either. Take away an early 4-0 win over Chicago (a team that has proven to be pretty weak), and the Galaxy has given up as many goals as it has scored.

Last week saw Omar Gonzalez and his crew crash out in CONCACAF Champions League and then lose late in Dallas. So, again … not great, not bad, but nothing special so far from the champs.

Which brings us to tonight’s big match at the Home Depot Center, surely one of the Round 8 marquee MLS matchups. The Galaxy host the league’s hottest team, Sporting Kansas City, unbeaten and unscored upon in its last five. Kickoff on the NBC Sports Network is set for 10:30 p.m. ET.

Last time steady SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen plucked one from his own net was March 9 in Toronto. Since then, a defense guided by center back Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin has led the way while Sporting KC marched to the top of the Eastern Conference.

The five-game unbeaten run includes a 1-0 mid-week win at New York. The hard-working, collective defensive attitude has built a 519-minute defensive scoreless streak, the 7th longest over 18 MLS seasons.

(MORE: Looking at the league’s longest, historic defensive streaks)

Arena’s team will be the better rested Saturday in Southern California, and by a long way. Sporting KC traveled across country on Thursday following Wednesday’s triumph in New Jersey. The Galaxy, meanwhile, have been inactive since Saturday’s loss in Texas.

Robbie Keane is back in training after missing last week’s match with an ankle problem. The Galaxy’s Irish international has looked dangerous this year when healthy, but one goal and one assist in league play isn’t where Keane wants to be about two months into the season.

Brazilian center back Leonardo, suspended due to a red card, will need to be replaced alongside Gonzalez. The options include veteran A.J. DeLaGarza and second-year man Tommy Meyer.

The Galaxy defense (back by Italian goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, who has looked only so-so) will have a lot to deal with in an SKC attack that includes technically gifted Graham Zusi (pictured above), playmaking midfielder Benny Feilhaber, Argentine striker Claudio Bieler and two of the league’s most aggressive fullbacks in getting forward, Chance Meyers and Seth Sinovic.

Bieler, tied for third in league scoring with four goals, has proven to be the very striker that manager Peter Vermes has been missing over the last couple of years in the heartland.

The full, fact-packed MLS match preview is here.

Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.

Orlando City trades defender Jose Aja to Whitecaps for allocation money

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have struck a deal with an Eastern Conference side to help solidify their back line.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson leads Werder Bremen to win ]

On Saturday, the Cascadia club finalized a deal to acquire Orlando City defender Jose Aja in exchange for $125,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for 2019.

Additionally, Orlando could receive another $100,000 in TAM if Aja remains on the Whitecaps roster next season and a 2021 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick if Aja is in Canada for the 2020 campaign.

Aja has made 25 appearances for Orlando since coming to MLS in 2016 from his native Uruguay.

The timing of the deal is intriguing, given Tim Parker’s willingness to exit the Whitecaps ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

PST reported on Thursday that Parker is seeking a move back to the East Coast, and the New York-native is being tracked by several Eastern Conference sides, including the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and the Montreal Impact.

Parker is considered one of the top American defenders in MLS, and is actively seeking a massive pay raise ahead of the new season, after making just under $100,000 in 2017.

PL Sunday preview: Red Devils battle Chelsea at Old Trafford

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It will surely be one of the biggest fixtures of the season when Manchester United and Chelsea get together on Sunday, and for both clubs a victory could be vital in projecting their form for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

Meanwhile, a crucial meeting at Selhurst Park pits teams on opposite ends of the table against one another. Crystal Palace enters the weekend levels on points with 18th-place Swansea, while Tottenham could leap Chelsea for fourth if results go in favor of Spurs.

[ MORE: Liverpool continues to score at lightning pace against West Ham ]

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The injury bug has hit Palace hard as of late, with a total of 12 senior team players being left out of Roy Hodgson‘s squad. The list includes Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Mamadou Sakho, which won’t make things easy against a talented Spurs side.

Tottenham have had a ton of success in this fixture recently, winning the last five encounters and only allowing one goal in the process.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have hit the ground running in the second half of the season thus far, picking up a league-high 15 points in the Premier League since the start of 2018.

If there is a saving grace for the Eagles though, it is that Palace has been solid at home this season, and gone unbeaten in nine of its last 10 fixtures at Selhurst.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN

After a pair of draws from the PL sides kicked off their Champions League Round of 16 campaigns midweek, United and Chelsea can now focus their attention back to England; at least for the time being.

Jose Mourinho’s team came away from Seville with a crucial scoreless draw after the hosts tested goalkeeper David De Gea on numerous occasions, while Chelsea were close to pulling out a victory against Barcelona had it not been for a big-time mistake from Andreas Christensen late in the match.

Nonetheless, this is a fixture that always garners significant attention, especially from the Blues, who tend to have a better go of it. United has won just once against Chelsea in their last 14 fixtures, with the lone victory coming last season.

That said, Antonio Conte and his side have failed to exemplify consistency this year, and that includes road matches. The Blues have just two road wins in their last nine attempts across all competitions, which bodes well for the Red Devils.

The good news for Chelsea is the recent form of attacking duo Willian and Eden Hazard. The Brazilian was constantly in dangerous positions up the pitch against the Blaugrana in their recent UCL encounter, nabbing the lone goal for the Blues, while Hazard has scored six times in his last six PL matches.

The 2 Robbies: Unstoppable Liverpool, Man United-Chelsea and more

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In today’s episode, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss Liverpool’s emphatic win over West Ham (0:17), breakdown an extremely complicated relegation situation where nearly half of the league is in jeopardy of going down (10:05), before closing the show with a preview of tomorrow’s Man United v. Chelsea match (28:10).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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