MLS Preview: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers

  • Landon Donovan remains iffy with that slow-to-recover ankle injury
  • The Galaxy’s Robbie Keane remains among Major League Soccer’s MVP favorites
  • Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri is elbowing his way into that same MVP conversation lately
  • This is a meeting of the West’s 3rd– and 4th-place teams – so post-season positioning is at stake

Yes, the LA Galaxy are two-time defending MLS Cup champs, still blessed with three highly paid league luminaries in Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez.

And, yes, the Portland Timbers remain one of the league’s top stories of 2013, playing well and with an eye-please panache under first-year boss Caleb Porter.

But here’s the thing as it relates to both Western Conference clubs ahead of their Sunday afternoon meeting in Oregon: neither one has secured a post-season spot just yet. Drop three points on Sunday and it’s not just a nationally televised downer; Depending on other Round 31 results, it could leave the loser squirming uncomfortably, still with a bit of lf work ahead in securing the post-season berth.

Kickoff from Jeld-Wen Field in Portland is 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC. (The match is also available on NBC Sports Live Extra, NBC Sports Group’s live streaming element for desktops, mobile devices and tablets.) The official league-preview is here.

Even if the teams involved aren’t too worked up over actually making the playoffs just yet, valuable positioning is certainly at stake. Remember, positions Nos. 4 and 5 in each conference must go through one more post-season round, a potentially taxing one at that. Presently, Portland is third but just a single point ahead of the fourth-place Galaxy.

LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena was able to rest his regulars for a mid-week CONCACAF Champions League win down in Costa Rica (which booked his team’s spot for the regional tournament’s quarterfinals early next year). While the rest for Keane and others is certainly beneficial, we still don’t know much about whether Donovan’s ankle, twisted two weeks ago during a draw at D.C. United, is well enough for performance from the club’s all-time scoring leader.

The fact that Sunday’s match is on artificial turf is sure to have Arena extra cautious on Keane’s preferred partner up front.

The battle to watch Sunday is in the midfield, where the Galaxy’s talented, well-rounded central pairing of Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas must deal with Portland’s rising Diego Valeri (pictured above). The Timbers’ top offensive threat has managed to get better and better as 2013 has moved forward. He has the Timbers’ last three goals, in fact.

“Diego has been a revelation with this club,” Timbers midfielder Will Johnson, the team’s emotional fulcrum, told this week. “I love playing with the guy, and it must be a real treat for the city of Portland to watch this guy; he’s special.”

This will be the teams’ second meeting at Jeld-Wen in 2013; Andrew Jean-Baptiste’s stoppage time winner was the difference in a 2-1 Timbers win on July 13.

Portland comes in just a little better on form, unbeaten in its last three. That includes last week’s tough, 1-0 home at Jeld-Wen over Colorado’s young bunch. The Galaxy, meanwhile, is winless in its last three. That includes a 1-1 draw at home last week against Seattle.

USMNT name squad for friendly v Paraguay

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The U.S. national team have announced their 22-man roster for the friendly against Paraguay in Cary, North Carolina on March 27.

This could be the moment we look back at the old guard passing the baton.

Interim head coach Dave Sarachan has named a young team as Levante’s Shaq Moore and former Sporting KC defender Erik Palmer-Brown (now at Manchester City) received their first call ups.

Per the release, the average of the squad is 23 years, 84 days with 17 players aged 24 or under. Is this the dawn of a new era?

With no sign of a new head coach being appointed until probably after the 2018 World Cup, plus no General Manager (a newly created role by new USSF president Carlos Cordeiro) yet appointed for the USMNT, it’s tough to know how much to read into this team selection as the U.S. rebuild continues to be put on hold after the failure to make the 2018 World Cup.

Christian Pulisic has not been called up due to the U.S. letting him focus on Borussia Dortmund for the time being and, let’s be honest, we all know he is the star of this team and will be for decades to come. Giving him a rest this time could be hugely beneficial in the future.

Antonee Robinson, Marky Delgado, Timothy Weah and Andrija Novakovich are also looking for their first cap after impressing.

Weah has been rewarded after coming off the bench for PSG’s first team in recent weeks as he also starred for the USA at the U-17 World Cup, while Robinson has broken through at Bolton and Novakovich is scoring goals for fun in Holland.

Sarachan has taken charge of two USMNT games as interim boss after being an assistant coach in Bruce Arena’s coaching staff. The U.S. have drawn both of those games against Portugal in November and Bosnia in January.

Below is the squad in full.

U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; Caps/Goals):
GOALKEEPERS (3): Alex Bono (Toronto FC/CAN; 0/0), Bill Hamid (Midtjylland/DEN; 5/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 1/0)

DEFENDERS (8): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Ipswich Town/ENG; 1/0), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 14/1), Matt Miazga (Vitesse/NED; 4/1), Shaq Moore (Levante/ESP; 0/0), Erik Palmer-Brown (Kortrijk/BEL; 0/0), Antonee Robinson (Bolton Wanderers/ENG; 0/0), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX; 15/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United/ENG; 49/0)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls; 2/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC/CAN; 0/0), Weston McKennie (Schalke/GER; 1/1), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United FC; 24/1), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 2/0), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht/BEL; 1/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 3/0), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain/FRA; 0/0)

FORWARDS (3): Andrija Novakovich (Telstar/NED; 0/0), Rubio Rubin (Club Tijuana/MEX; 4/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER; 36/10)

Podolski goal powers Vissel Kobe to 1st win in J-League

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KOBE, Japan (AP) German striker Lukas Podolski scored late in the second half on Sunday as Vissel Kobe beat Cerezo Osaka 2-0 for its first win of the J-League season.

Naoyuki Fujita gave the hosts a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute and Podolski secured the win on a left-foot shot with eight minutes remaining in regulation.

It was the first goal of the season for Podolski, who last year moved from Turkish club Galatasaray after signing a deal with Kobe estimated to be worth $5.3 million.

Elsewhere, Thai midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin scored late in stoppage time to lift Consadole Sapporo to a 2-1 win over V-Varen Nagasaki.

Takuma Abe scored midway through the second half to give Vegalta Sendai a share of the points in a 1-1 draw with Shimizu S-Pulse, while Diego Oliveira scored his first goal of the season as FC Tokyo beat Shonan Bellmare 1-0.

Mu Kanazaki scored the only goal as Kashima Antlers beat Sagan Tosu 1-0, Gamba Osaka and Kashiwa Reysol finished 2-2 and Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Jubilo Iwata ended in a goalless draw.

LIVE, FA Cup: Leicester v. Chelsea

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Leicester City host Chelsea at the King Power Stadium on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET) in an FA Cup quarterfinal clash between two Premier League clubs.

[ LIVE: Leicester v. Chelsea ]

Claude Puel has Leicester in eighth in the Premier League table and the Foxes can smell an upset with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in fine form.

Chelsea have had a long week with Antonio Conte‘s men going to Barcelona and being taught a lesson by Lionel Messi as they crashed out of the UEFA Champions League but played well apart from Messi’s heroics. Conte’s admission that he doesn’t see the FA Cup as being too important may give Leicester an extra boost.

In team news Leicester start Kelechi Iheanacho up top after his fine display off the bench last week, while Chelsea are pretty much at full strength with Cesc Fabregas dropped, Thibaut Courtois rested and Alvaro Morata starting up top.


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Hughes defiant after debut win as Saints boss

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Mark Hughes got off to the perfect start at Southampton as the new manager led his team to the FA Cup semifinals.

Saints beat third-tier Wigan 2-0 at the DW Stadium on Sunday to reach the last four of the FA Cup for the first time in 15 years. They are in the relegation zone in the Premier League but are two points from safety with a game in hand.

Second half goals from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Cedric did the job for Southampton as Hughes’ side weathered and early Wigan storm. Speaking to the BBC after the game, Hughes, who was sacked by Stoke in January, was in a defiant mood.

“People have questioned this group before I arrived and maybe questioned my appointment as well. It is only a start but a statement of intent,” Hughes said. “We have work to do in the Premier League but we will enjoy this moment. A Wembley semifinal which will be a great experience for our fans.”

Hughes’ side did what Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City couldn’t in knocking Wigan out of the FA Cup as Paul Cook’s team fairytale run was ended.

In truth Saints could’ve won by a more comfortable scoreline in the second half as Manolo Gabbiadini had a penalty kick brilliantly saved by Christian Walton, but given Wigan’s dominance in the first half, 2-0 was a fine result. Saints looked more dangerous in a 4-4-2 formation and Hughes knows there is plenty more work to do but confidence will perhaps grow with a trip to Wembley coming up.

When it comes to Hughes’ future at Saints he only has a deal until the end of this season. He has eight games to turn their fortunes around following Mauricio Pellegrino‘s firing earlier this week after just five wins in 30 PL games this season.

It appears that Hughes believes he can not only get the Saints out of trouble but also make some waves in the FA Cup semifinals at Wembley next month.

“It has been a difficult week for the guys,” Hughes said. “I am really pleased with the amount of talent I have to work with with this group.”