Galaxy win increases stakes for Saturday’s big match in Portland

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Twenty-four hours ago, LA Galaxy looked like they were in bad shape. It was unclear whether any of Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez, or Robbie Keane would play. Jaime Penedo was still coming back from international duty. A.J. DeLaGarza’s still out. With the enigmatic Montréal Impact visiting StubHub, Bruce Arena’s side were chasing some much-needed points without some highly-valued talents.

But that depth that we gawked at season’s onset — those much-discussed talents that inspire envy whenever an opposing coach looks at LA’s bench — managed to deliver three points. Still, with Jose Villareal and Jack McBean up top, Gyasi Zardes and Michael Stephens wide, it was a man-less-likely who stepped up. Kofi Opare (pictured), a second round pick who was playing at the University of Michigan this time last year, sorted through the chaos of a second half corner to pounce on the match’s only goal, turning on a loose ball near the spot to punch a left-footed finish into the left side of Evan Bush’s goal. Making Montréal rue their hour’s worth of missed chances, Opare’s first career goal delivered a 1-0 victory.

Those three points pushed LA into third in the West, their 51 points bringing Portland and Real Salt Lake within reach. Coming off their weekend win over rival Seattle, the Timbers sit a surprising first in the conference (53 points), with RSL one point behind. Both have designs on the Supporters’ Shield, but any slip over their last two matches could see them passed by the defending champions (or Seattle).

And one of the sides will slip. On Saturday, the West’s leaders meet at JELD-WEN – the latest, weekly version of Major League’s Soccer Match of the Year. First it was New York’s visit to Seattle (Sept. 29). Last week it was Seattle’s trip to Portland. Now it’s RSL visiting the Timbers. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear there’d be another Match of the Year on the last day of the season.

But for this week’s version, LA’s certainly raised the stakes, particularly since they’ll be home against San Jose this weekend. Though the Earthquakes are certainly capable of springing a surprise, both Jason Kreis and Caleb Porter have to assume the Galaxy will likely win that one and move to 54 points. That means whichever team falls at JELD-WEN will be relegated to third, at best. With Seattle at Dallas (and FCD’s season over), the Sounders could also pass Saturday’s loser, leaving Portland or Real Salt Lake in fourth.

And if the Portland and RSL draw? Then LA and Seattle may be one-two on Monday morning.

The Galaxy’s season-ending trip to Seattle means Portland and RSL will have a chance to climb out of the play-in round (both teams closing their seasons against Chivas USA), but that doesn’t minimize the stakes for Saturday’s match. The winner will continue their Supporters’ Shield chase, claiming the inside track to the West’s number one spot and shortening the odds they’ll host MLS Cup. The loser will be left hoping for help from other results.

Report: Ola Kamara wanted by mid-table La Liga outfit

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Columbus Crew star Ola Kamara is ready to leave the side, but he may not be moving inside of Major League Soccer.

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Metro.Us reporter Kristian Dyer says the Norwegian star is subject to a bid from a mid-table La Liga club. He’d been linked with a trade to Colorado as well.

Kamara, 28, came to MLS from Austria Wien and has since scored 34 goals in two seasons, a year after bagging 21 goals on loan for Molde in Norway.

Seventh place and 15th are separated by just four points in Spain’s top flight. Leganes and Espanyol are having the hardest time scoring goals, in terms of mildly educated speculation.

Transfer rumor roundup: Fred to Man City; Aubameyang wanted

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Could this January transfer window rival last season’s in terms of activity?

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Last season saw Crystal Palace save its season and Hull City nearly do the same, Morgan Schneiderlin head to Everton, Leicester find a decent N'Golo Kante replacement, and much, much more.

This season has been less active, though Ross Barkley has headed to Chelsea while former club Everton nabbed Cenk Tosun and Liverpool added Virgil Van Dijk.

The BBC has news involving Napoli which could affect two Premier League clubs. The Neapolitans apparently want Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who wants to be an every week starter, to be a prime part of their push to end Juventus’ Serie A stranglehold.

That would unseat Pepe Reina, who’s been long linked with a reunion with former boss Pepe Reina at Newcastle United. Napoli currently has Luigi Sepe as a No. 2 to Reina, though UEFA Europa League fixtures mean it’s no guarantee Mignolet’s arrival would allow Reina to leave town.

Sky Sports says Manchester City would like to see Fred as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho. Fred went 90 minutes for Shakhtar Donetsk in a pair of UEFA Champions League contests against City, including the 2-1 home win over the Premier League leaders’ B-squad on Dec. 6. The 24-year-old has two goals and two assists in league play, and could cost more than $25 million.

Don Balon proffers news that could unsettle Arsenal fans, as Real Madrid is apparently entering the bidding for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Florentino Perez would like an upgrade to Karim Benzema for his struggling La Liga super powers, and goodness knows Real will tempt Borussia Dortmund’s bank account.

One liners:

— The BBC also says Besiktas want Islam Slimani to join the club from Leicester City.

— Ola Kamara’s move from Columbus to another MLS team may be hijacked by La Liga.

Mourinho reportedly close to Man Utd contract extension

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Jose Mourinho is scheduling an extended stay at Manchester United.

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The 54-year-old has a contract through the end of next season, the dreaded third at a club for Mourinho, but reports say United is keen to keep him around through 2021.

Mourinho has not tasted a fourth season with a club despite winning league titles at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid.

The 2019-20 season at Old Trafford would be Mourinho’s fourth. According to the BBC:

Talks have progressed well and it is now just a matter of time before Mourinho commits to remain at Old Trafford beyond the expiry of his present deal in 2019.

Somehow, this feels it should be deemed another loss for Antonio Conte.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.