MLS Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy

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  • Donovan, Keane with back-to-back hat tricks.
  • Vancouver 8-1-3 at home this season.
  • Whitecaps won last meeting at BC Place, 3-1.

Back-to-back weeks, Los Angeles has got a hat trick from a Designated Player. Landon Donovan’s three goals in Dallas helped the two-time defending champions take a point from Dallas two weeks ago, while Robbie Keane’s second half explosion against Real Salt Lake saw the Galaxy crush the Western Conference’s leaders. Given this trend, surely Omar Gonzalez, Los Angeles’s new Designated Player, is ready for an offensive explosion Saturday at BC Place?

Obviously, that’s unlikely, and not only because of Gonzalez’s position (central defender) or the sure improbability of having any player score a hat trick. The Vancouver Whitecaps, LA’s Saturday opponent, are 8-1-3 at home this season, their only loss coming in a game where Jun Marques Davidson was sent off in the eighth minute. The only other teams to take points out of BC Place have been Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, and Portland, the last of those draws coming on May 18. Since then, the only blemish in the Whitecaps’ six home games has been Philadelphia’s 1-0, 11-on-10 win.

Given the nature of their home ground, it’s easy to see what the Whitecaps have such an advantage. It’s like playing on the surface of a pool table, the fast artificial field allowing balls to roll forever across the BC Place pitch. Though there are other artificial surfaces in the league, Vancouver’s may be the only one that makes no attempt to even emulate natural grass. It’s a rug, and although it’s not as bad as Astroturf, games at Vancouver often harken back to the early days of MLS, when it was far more common to see a touch pass from midfield roll out of bounds when a surprised fullback forgets the ball’s seeing no resistance.

If you play on that field 17-or-more times a year, you become used to it. You know how to weight your passes. You know the effort it will take to run down a ball. You know the speed at which the game’s going to be played.

If you’re not used to it, you have to adjust. You’re at a steeper disadvantage than you’d see face on any other road trip. And you’re facing a team with talents to take advantage of the pace.

Los Angeles certainly have the ability to adjust. Robbie Keane is old, but he’s not slow, and although Landon Donovan isn’t World Cup 2002-fast anymore, speed is still his ally. Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho are quick enough in the middle, while the thoroughbreds Bruce Arena can choose from on the outside are capable of keeping up with most.

But with Vancouver coming close the last time the two teams played (a 2-1 loss in Carson) and LA having won only three road games this season, Galaxy hat tricks are unlikely. On that slab at BC Place, LA biggest worry is keeping up.

The Galaxy will go into Saturday’s game in fourth place, holding 37 points after 24 games. The Whitecaps are in fifth with 36 points in 24 matches.

What they are saying

LA Galaxy forward Landon Donovan: “It’s pretty crazy, and, really, in the whole league. Because at the end of the day, teams that get to the final, if you want the game at home, there might be a point or two separating you from the other teams. Not only do you want to get in the playoffs and hopefully win the West, but you want to keep an eye on the East, too, and see if you can pass all those teams.” [source]

LA Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant: “When you factor in games in hand, it’s a virtual tie among a lot of teams. Fortunately, eight of our 10 games are against conference opponents. You can make up points. And then, obviously, other teams are playing a lot of conference teams.” [source]

Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie: “”We’re the home team, and we need to put the other team under pressure. We’ve been doing very well at home and scoring quite a lot of goals. We need to keep that going.” [source]

Prediction

LA’s last visit to Vancouver ended in a 3-1 loss, Russell Teibert scoring twice in the second half. This game could play out similarly. There’s no combination of LA defenders that look like a good matchup on BC Place’s field against Tiebert, Camilo, and Kenny Miller, and with Nigel Reo-Coker playing well, it may take an off day from the Whitecaps to keep them from climbing the West’s standings.

AT HALF: Lukaku, Lingard have Man Utd up at West Brom (video)

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Romelu Lukaku didn’t celebrate much more than a fist pump following his match-opening goal against former teammates West Bromwich Albion.

[ MORE: Watch via NBCSports.com).

No one said anything about celebrating teammates’ goals, though.

Lukaku scored to give the Red Devils a 1-0 lead, then watched as Jesse Lingard‘s deflected lash left Ben Foster high and dry as United cruised into the break up two goals.

It’s 10th PL goal of the season for Lukaku, who has 15 in all competitions. For Lingard, it’s four and seven.

Here’s Lingard’s marker:

Celtic’s record unbeaten run ends at 69 matches

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Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run has ended at 69 matches, and it ended with a thud.

Tynecastle Park was the scene for a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Hearts, a defeat started by a 16-year-old’s first Scottish Premiership goal.

[ REPORT: Luiz done at Chelsea? ]

Harry Cochrane’s his name, and his 26th minute goal gave Hearts the lead, and it was 2-0 by halftime through Kyle Lafferty, the ex-Burnley and Norwich player.

David Milinkovic scored three minutes after halftime, as the wake-up call didn’t arrive at the break, and added a penalty kick late in the match.

Celtic has a two-point lead on second-place Aberdeen with a match-in-hand. Rangers sit five-points back.

Sixty-nine games! Remarkable in any league. Here’s what Rodgers had to say:

“But I also want to congratulate my players. To have gone through 69 games and this to be their first defeat; of course it’s a sore one when you are beaten like that but they can hold their heads up. They have been absolutely amazing over those 18 months.”

WATCH LIVE: West Brom vs. Manchester United

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The Hawthorns is the scene as Manchester United attempts to pull back into sole possession of second place on the Premier League table with a visit to West Bromwich Albion (Watch live at 9:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Baggies have several regular starters on the bench, with Chris Brunt, Gareth Barry, and Gareth McAuley (Allllll the Gareths!) getting a rest.

United will hand starts to Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata, with Anthony Martial on the bench with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

LINEUPS

West Bromwich Albion: Foster; Nyom, Hegazi, Evans, Gibbs, Krychowiak, Yacob, Livermore, Burke, McClean, Rondon. Subs: Myhill, Robson-Kanu, Brunt, Barry, Rodriguez, McAuley, Field.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Young, Herrera, Matic, Mata, Lingard, Rashford, Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Lindelof, Rojo, Shaw, McTominay, Ibrahimovic, Martial.

Report: Luiz done at Chelsea, perhaps as soon as January

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A report out of England says Chelsea defender David Luiz could be out the door in January.

Luiz, 30, has a knee injury and has played in just one match for Chelsea since a Halloween loss to Roma in the Champions League, one that supposedly culminated in a blow-up between the defender and manager Antonio Conte.

He was sold once before by Chelsea, shipped to Paris Saint-Germain for $66 million in 2014 before returning to Stamford Bridge in 2016 for $45 million.

[ MAN CITY-SPURS: 3 things |  Studs and duds ]

Luiz has made just one appearance, a Nov. 22 match in Qarabag, since that Roma loss. He returned to the bench against Liverpool before being diagnosed with a knee injury.

The report says Juventus is a possible destination for Luiz, though the Champions League could be a problem for both sides. Luiz is Cup-tied to Chelsea, and Juventus remains in the UCL as well.

And Chelsea would need reinforcements at the back. It’s back three has operated with Andreas Christensen, Cesar Azpilicueta, and Gary Cahill. Other options are Antonio Rudiger and 20-year-old Jake Clarke-Salter, which would be fine were Chelsea not alive in four competitions (The League Cup quarterfinals have the Blues hosting Bournemouth on Wednesday).

The power seems a bit more in Luiz’s hands thanks to some of Conte’s sanctioned loans. Kurt Zouma has arguably been Stoke City’s most consistent performer in an under siege unit, one of 10 backs on season-long loans. The most sense is to find reconciliation, presuming the dust-up is real, and move on in the summer if necessary.