MLS Preview: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers

2 Comments
  • 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 MLSSoccer.com 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.

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Southampton

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON — Chelsea’s beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday, with the Blues setting up an FA Cup final clash with Manchester United on May 19.

Antonio Conte‘s side scored twice in the second half with Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata on the scoresheet against a sorry Saints outfit.

Here’s what we learned as Chelsea will set up a clash with Jose Mourinho.


GIROUD AN ELEGANT ASSASSIN

Olivier Giroud is quickly becoming a cult hero at Chelsea. The Frenchman dribbled delicately around three Southampton defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy before prodding home to put his side ahead.

It was a elegant, yet clumsy, goal and summed up Giroud’s penchant for delivering goals of the highest difficulty.

Giroud has now been involved in 22 goals in 26 FA Cup appearances (15 goals, 7 assists) and the Frenchman is proving to be Chelsea’s first-choice central striker ahead of Alvaro Morata, although the Spaniard did grab a goal late on to wrap up the win.

Giroud has scored four goals in 13 appearances in all competitions since arriving from Arsenal in January but the way he holds the ball up and links with Eden Hazard is a huge plus for Conte. Giroud could also start up top with Morata if Chelsea tweak their system and at the age of 31 there is still plenty of life left in him and not just as a late sub.


COULD CONTE STAY…

Antonio Conte will likely still leave Chelsea at the end of the season but the Italian coach seems to badly want his time at Chelsea to end with a trophy.

But here’s a thought: if Chelsea beat Man United and somehow make it into the top four at Tottenham’s expense, will he remain in charge for the final year of his three-year contract?

The Blues cruised into the FA Cup final and looked fired up from the start as Eden Hazard pulled the strings and Giroud made a nuisance of himself.

Conte’s comments all season long suggest he will depart Chelsea this summer and seek a new project, but if he does so after winning the FA Cup to go along with the PL title he won last season and then finishing fifth, that’s not a bad two years in the PL and the Italian will depart with his pride and reputation intact.


SOUTHAMPTON’S STRUGGLES

Saints are in the Premier League’s relegation zone for a reason and their total lack of confidence was clear for all to see at Wembley.

Mark Hughes‘ men have five games left to save themselves but it almost seems as if Saints’ players have resigned themselves to relegation from the Premier League. One win in their last 21 PL games (that came against West Brom) tells the story of a side crumbling before our eyes.

After they shipped 12 goals in four Premier League, all of them defeats, Hughes has set Saints up in a 5-3-1-1 formation to try and make them tougher to break down.

It is working, at least defensively, with a 0-0 draw at Leicester on Thursday, but going forward they totally lack any cohesion and only created three real chances on Sunday as Shane Long made a hash of a great opportunity, Charlie Austin hit the post and Nathan Redmond tested Willy Caballero.

Saints are in a really bad place as they now have to find a way to stop themselves hurtling towards relegation. Their game at home against Bournemouth next weekend is a must win. Simple.

Chelsea joins Man Utd in FA Cup Final

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Leave a comment

Chelsea will meet old pal Jose Mourinho in the FA Cup Final after beating Southampton 2-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata scored the goals for Antonio Conte‘s men, whose date with Manchester United comes at the same venue on May 19.

Southampton will turn its attention back to the relegation battle, four points behind 17th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Willian hit the cross bar with an early effort as Chelsea looked very much up for the semifinal.

Olivier Giroud had a 39th minute chance zip wide of the frame, as Chelsea posted nine of the first half’s 11 shot attempts while holding 60 percent possession.

Saints would have been happy to get to the locker room at nil-nil.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Twenty-eight seconds into the second half: That’s when Giroud scored, with Chelsea’s first long ball knocked down by Eden Hazard on the edge of the 18 and played to the Frenchman.

Giroud cut between two Saints defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with his right foot.

Hazard curled an effort of his own wide in the 48th minute.

Saints snapped to life, and Shane Long touched around Wily Caballero but too strong to equalize at Wembley.

Nathan Redmond forced a wild save out of Caballero in the 72nd minute, and nearly claimed the corner.

McCarthy tipped a Hazard shot over the bar minutes later.

Morata put it to bed on a cross from his in-tune assist man Cesar Azpilicueta.

The finish was thrilling nevertheless, with Charlie Austin hitting the far post and Saints getting a goal line clearance at the other end.

Wenger: Praise after exit announcement “more than I deserve”

Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem like the type to go on a victory lap, but the Arsenal boss is handling his resignation and the accompanying praise with pure class.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

Wenger announced the end of his long Arsenal tenure earlier this week, and has been met by heaps of praise from ex-players, fans, current Gunners, and even rivals.

The Frenchman addressed the plaudits following a 4-1 win over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“I would like to thank everyone who has been very nice and kind and praised me more than I deserved it. I would like to say thank you everyone. It’s been a great period for me and I’m thankful for that.”

Arsenal punished West Ham after the Irons equalized through Marko Arnautovic, getting a lucky goal from Aaron Ramsey and two fine finishes from Alexandre Lacazette in the win.

“I was focused on winning the game. We just tried to be professional and do our job even when the circumstances are different. It was a good team spirit and good preparation for Thursday.

“I think we constructed patiently. We didn’t make big mistakes. First of all before winning a trophy, you need to get through the semi-finals. This is a good way to prepare – scoring goals against a strong West Ham team who have done well recently.”

Next up: A huge test in the UEFA Europa League semifinals, with Atletico Madrid visiting for Thursday’s first leg. Wenger rested several big names, and Atleti has just one win from its last four matches (including a Madrid Derby draw at the Bernabeu).

WATCH: Chelsea’s Giroud scores 27 seconds after halftime

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Leave a comment

Southampton held firm against Chelsea’s challenge for 45 minutes of Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium.

Well, 45 minutes and 27 seconds.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

The first long ball of the second half saw Chelsea’s Eden Hazard leap to trap, and the Belgian played a quick ball forward to his striker.

That’s Olivier Giroud, who dribbled between two defenders and Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with the outside of his right foot.