Keane, right, will be LA's go-to man once again this season. But will his age be a factor?

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.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.