Seattle Sounders v Los Angeles Galaxy - Western Conference Championship - Leg 1

MLS playoffs: Top story lines for the post-season

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Ten quick stories to follow through Major League Soccer’s 18th post-season:

1. Can the Galaxy become the league’s first three-time defending champion?

No team has won three MLS Cups consecutively through 17 previous MLS seasons – and here is LA, standing on two in a row. So much of the Galaxy’s chances will come down to the health of DP center back Omar Gonzalez and DP attacker Landon Donovan, both dealing with injuries. By the way, we’ve heard a lot lately about Mike Magee and about Marco Di Vaio and others … but the Galaxy’s Robbie Keane (pictured) is the best player in the MLS playoffs.

2. Will Landon Donovan’s ankle hold up?

The LA Galaxy star says his ankle, injured back in September, needs about six weeks to completely heal up. But he is soldiering through it. So can the league’s all-time leading scorer make it through the post-season? And what of his effectiveness? Seems like he’s one more ankle knock away from being the “Little Donovan” we saw through parts of 2012 and early 2013, not the “Big Donovan” we saw through so much of the summer.

3. For New York, with Supporters Shield in pocket, a bigger prize awaits

Congrats to the New York Red Bulls, who needed 18 years, 13 managers and hundreds of players to lay hands on the club’s first major trophy (Supporters Shield). While the debate rages about where Supporters Shield compares to MLS Cup on the continuum of league-related accomplishment, perhaps we should also consider this: only six Supporters Shield winners have gone on to win MLS Cup.

4. Red Bull leaders Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill

New York’s first two goals Sunday in an impressive 5-2 win over Chicago said it all: one absolute beauty from the stylish Thierry Henry, and one textbook scrapper via Dax McCarty (that dude should be nicknamed “Scrappy”) and impassioned grinder Tim Cahill. That is the perfect picture of this team’s useful blend under manager Mike Petke of substance and style.

5. Can the Seattle Sounders turn it around?

Seattle’s flailing fall, the team’s stunning late collapse, has been the story of October around MLS. The Sounders will tiptoe quietly into playoffs on the anti-momentum of a seven-game winless streak.

But the phrase most often repeated around MLS through the years is surely this: “You just have to get there; anything can happen in the playoffs.” Sounders manager Sigi Schmid sounded pretty sensitive recently as he defended his team for having arrived safely into the post-season, regardless of having backed in.

Yes, Sigi … you did get in. And credit for that. And now …

source:  6. And can Clint Dempsey contribute to any turnaround?

Clint Dempsey (pictured, left), the league’s highest paid man, a splashy summer addition at CenturyLink Field, was nine games into his second MLS go-round before finally getting a goal last Sunday. Who could have imagined it would take so long? But he did break that doggone seal … so can that be a springboard for more?

7. Are we forgetting about Kansas City?

New York swiped a bunch of the final day headlines, and everyone is all aflutter over the Timbers’ evocative turnaround tale. But can Sporting Kansas City, fronted by U.S. internationals Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, really be so far behind? The team is, after all, 7-1-3 over all competitions since a little dip in mid-August. And lessons have presumably been learned over two close post-season calls of the last two years, right?

8. The compressed playoff schedule

It takes eight months to get into the MLS playoffs. They end for two teams just three or four days later. Within 11 days, six of 10 teams will have been eliminated. That’s too quick! Surely there’s a better way to extend the drama.

9. How will the refereeing hold up?

Refereeing in MLS is a hot topic pretty much every week, so there’s no real reason to expect any difference now. I mean, Pierluigi Collina isn’t coming through the door here, right? MLS officiating keeps slowly improving, but mark this down: There will be a highly controversial moment that helps decide a series. Probably more than one.

10. The dark horse in Utah

How can Real Salt Lake be a dark horse? Jason Kreis team won a league championship not so long back (2009). And they were U.S. Open Cup runner-up this year. Still, RSL has lots of young parts, and they just aren’t as fashionable as a championship favorite. Still, Kreis’ team only finished behind the Timbers (everyone’s favorite now) by a single point.

(MLS Week in Review for Round 35)

(MORE: MLS Eastern Conference playoffs are set)

(MORE: MLS Western Conference playoffs are set)

(MORE: MLS playoff schedule and TV times)

Liverpool announce plans for $62 million training ground

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24:  Players warm up during a Liverpool training session ahead of their UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg match against FC Augsburg at Melwood Training Ground on February 24, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Liverpool have announced plans to move away from their famous training ground at Melwood.

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On Wednesday the Premier League side announced details about redeveloping the site of their current academy training center at Kirkby. They hope to spend over $62 million to update the facilities and house the first team and academy all in one venue.

If Liverpool, who are working with the local council in Knowsley on the project, get the green-light for the impressive project then work is expected to finish in 2019.

Chief operating officer at Liverpool, Andy Hughes, is eager to see the first team and academy players all housed in one facility moving forward.

“Our proposed plans to bring the first team and young players together in one location is a really exciting proposition. The scheme includes state-of-the-art facilities which will be used to support the development of our players and provides all-weather training options.”

The project will also see amateur club Kirkby AFC get a complete overhaul of their facilities, while the local community will benefit from improvements to the current pitches on the site. A public consultation will take place next month with more information on the plans expected.

Why move from Melwood?

Anybody who has ever visited the site can tell you about the glaring issues at the historical training ground which has been home to Liverpool’s first team since the 1950s. First of all, many fans or interested onlookers often hop on a trash can or a small ladder to see right over the fence and watching training which is a big privacy issue for Jurgen Klopp and his team.

Also the current Melwood site has a concrete wall surrounding it and is penned in by houses and roads, so it has reached capacity and there is no more room for new pitches.

With the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Manchester City and Southampton developing impressive new training grounds in recent years, Liverpool don’t want to be left behind.

Having the first team and academy together makes sense, especially with the likes of Steven Gerrard taking up a new role in Liverpool’s academy and the fact that Klopp continues to give plenty of youngsters a chance to shine in the first team.

LIVE: Europa League – St. Etienne v Man United headlines

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Manchester United aim to finish off Ligue 1 outfit St. Etienne on Wednesday in the UEFA Europa League.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Jose Mourinho’s men lead 3-0 from the Round of 32 first leg as Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued his stunning recent form by bagging a hat trick last week at Old Trafford. Ahead of their EFL Cup final against Southampton at Wembley on Sunday, United have fielded a strong team with Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and Zlatan Ibrahmovic all starting in France.

Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones have not traveled with the team and are in a race against time to be fit for the EFL Cup final.

In the other two Europa League last 32 second leg ties taking place on Wednesday (the other 13 take place on Thursday, the traditional night for UEL action) evening across Europe Schalke also have a healthy 3-0 advantage from their first leg against Greek outfit PAOK, while Turkish giants Fenerbache will be hoping to overcome a 1-0 deficit as Russian side Krasnodar come to Istanbul.

Click on the link above for live scores, updates and stats from the three games on Wednesday, while we will have updates and analysis on all the action right here at Pro Soccer Talk.

Here’s the Europa League schedule below, with the score from the first leg in parenthesis.


Wednesday’s Europa League Round of 32, second legs

St. Etienne vs. Manchester United (0-3) – 12 p.m. ET
Schalke 04 vs. PAOK (3-0) – 12 p.m. ET
Fenerbache vs. Krasnodar (0-1) – 12 p.m. ET

From champs to a relegation battle: Why are Leicester struggling?

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What the heck has happened to Leicester City this season?

That debate has been present in bars across the world as the reigning champions of the Premier League are battling against relegation and are in terrible form in 2017.

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The Foxes are in the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League but are just two points off the bottom of the Premier League after suffering five-straight defeats and not scoring in nay of their last six PL games.

With N'Golo Kante gone, plus Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez struggling to regain their form from last season, everything is stacking up against Claudio Ranieri‘s side.

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Ahead of their big game against Liverpool at the King Power Stadium next Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) they badly need a boost to spark a surge away from the relegation zone.

In the latest PST Extra Jenna Corrado and I discuss what’s gone wrong this season and if Leicester can drag themselves away from trouble.

Click play on the video above for your latest PST Extra fix.

CCL Preview: MLS teams enter quarterfinal stage

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of New York Red Bulls celebrates a goal against the D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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CONCACAF Champions League action is back.

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Three teams from Major League Soccer remain in the tournament as an all-MLS tie takes place at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday between the Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls.

The first leg of their quarterfinal will provide an intriguing peek as to the offseason work both Carl Robinson and Jesse Marsch have done to crank their teams up a few notches, as both clubs will rely on plenty of young talent once again this season. Marsch has handed the captains armband to U.S. national team midfielder Sacha Kljestan after Dax McCarty’s departure in the offseason, while the Whitecaps have never lost at RBA in three previous visits.

Former Seattle Sounders star Fredy Montero won’t make his debut for the ‘Caps as he continues to work on his fitness but he could play on Mar. 2 in the return game at BC Place, while this tie at least confirms that one MLS team will be in the semifinals of North America’s top club competition.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Reigning MLS Supporters’ Shield champs FC Dallas also kick off the first leg of their CCL quarterfinal against Arabe Unido from Panama on Wednesday as the Texas outfit host the opener before heading down to Central America next week for the second leg. New DP signing Cristian Colman has impressed and given the absence of the injured Mauro Diaz, Oscar Pareja will look at him to make Dallas’ offense tick against a Panamanian outfit who went a perfect 4-0-0 in the CCL group stage.

In the two other CCL quarterfinals not involving MLS clubs, Costa Rican powerhouse Deportivo Saprissa drew 0-0 at home against Liga MX side Pachuca on Tuesday in the first leg of their quarterfinal. El Tri star Hirving Lozano was kept quiet by Saprissa but Pachuca will fancy their chances of advancing with a home game to come in the second leg. On Wednesday two Liga MX teams do battle as Tigres host Pumas in Monterrey as the runners up from last season look to make another charge to the final.

Below is the full schedule for the CCL quarterfinals, while you can stream the games on Facebook Live here.


CCL quarterfinal 1st legs

Deportivo Saprissa 0-0 Pachuca – Played on Tuesday, Feb. 21
New York Red Bulls vs. Vancouver – Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET
Tigres UANL vs. Pumas – Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. Arabe Unido – Thursday, 8 p.m. ET

CCL quarterfinal 2nd legs

Pachuca vs. Deportivo Saprissa – Tuesday, Feb. 28 – 10 p.m. ET
Arabe Unido vs. FC Dallas – Wednesday, Mar. 1 – 8 p.m. ET
Pumas vs. Tigres UANL – Wednesday, Mar. 1 – 10 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. New York Red Bulls – Thursday, Mar. 2 – 10 p.m. ET