MLS Preview: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers

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  • 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.

Raiola: Zlatan to “100 percent” stay in Europe for two seasons

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be 35 and coming off major knee surgery, but that isn’t stopping suitors from lining up across Europe.

Ibrahimovic’s agent, Mino Raiola, says that MLS is not an option for the Swede over the next two seasons. From Sky Sports:

“Many clubs have asked for Zlatan. He can play two more years and will stay in Europe, 100 per cent.”

It would make sense for Ibrahimovic to stay around Manchester United, where he is admired by Jose Mourinho and coming off a season that showed he’s still capable of contributing at a high level.

But he remains beloved in Italy, and would be effective for most clubs in the Top 5 leagues should he return at even 75 percent of the Zlatan we’ve seen regularly.

Report: Manchester United, Inter Milan keen on Perisic deal

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Manchester United wants Ivan Perisic, and both the player and his current club are all about it.

Perisic, 28, is ready to leave Inter Milan, and the Serie A mainstays are happy to accept $46 million for his services according to Sky Sports.

[ MORE: No China for Costa ]

Primarily a left winger, Perisic moved to Inter from Wolfsburg at the start of the 2015-16 season. He scored 10 goals and added nine assists in Serie A play this season, and has kept up his production pace since moving from the Bundesliga to Italy.

United needs stars and depth for its Champions League campaign, and Perisic would buttress an attack with Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan amongst others. He was a difference maker for Croatia at EURO 2016, and can do the same at Old Trafford.

Celtic secures trophy treble, ends Scottish season unbeaten

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GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) Celtic completed a trophy treble in Scottish soccer and finished the domestic season undefeated after beating Aberdeen 2-1 in the Scottish Cup final thanks to an injury-time goal on Saturday.

Midfielder Tom Rogic scored from an acute angle in the second minute of stoppage time at Hampden Park to ensure Celtic added the cup to the Scottish Premiership and the Scottish League Cup.

[ MORE: No China for Costa ]

Brendan Rodgers became the third manager, after Jock Stein (1967, 1969) and Martin O’Neill (2001), to lead Celtic to a treble of domestic titles.

Celtic hasn’t lost any of its 47 games across in the league and both cups, and is the first team to go through the whole of a Scottish domestic season unbeaten.

No China for Costa: It’ll be Chelsea or Atletico Madrid

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Blues striker Diego Costa offered some insight into his future following Chelsea’s FA Cup Final loss to Arsenal on Saturday.

The combustible striker was subject to a head-turning bid from the Chinese Super League this winter, but is only looking at two European locations for his future.

Those are his current club, Chelsea, as well as former home at Atletico Madrid.

[ JPW: Poignant FA Cup Final reflects English mood ]

The 28-year-old Costa has kept his scoring pace level since arriving in the Premier League. He scored 64 goals in 134 matches for Atleti, and has notched 58 goals for Chelsea in 120 appearances.

Costa reportedly said, “No, no, no” when asked about China, as well as the following: