Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Semifinals

MLS playoff focus: Notes on Real Salt Lake ahead of Thursday’s second leg against the LA Galaxy

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Ahead of Thursday’s second-leg of this Western Conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about Jason Kreis’ Real Salt Lake (Thursday’s match kicks off at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2):

  • Ned Grabavoy out; a big blow for RSL

A hamstring strain will keep veteran midfielder Ned Grabavoy out Thursday; RSL manager Jason Kreis confirmed so to media on Wednesday.

He collected the injury during the second half of Sunday’s 1-0 first-leg loss at the StubHub Center outside Los Angeles.

It’s a big loss in that Grabavoy was reborn in 2013. After a few years of “just OK” around Rio Tinto Stadium, Grabavoy was a central element thanks to sharp form from the first 2013 kick. He eventually posted career highs in starts (29), goals (5) and assists (5).

Second-year man Sebastian Velasquez seems the most likely candidate to replace Grabavoy. He is probably more mobile and energetic than Grabavoy (not to mention 8 years younger). But if you don’t think MLS playoff know-how is important, see “Houston Dynamo upset New York.”

Then again, RSL is likely to return to its 4-4-2, which could mean re-introducing Robbie Findley into the starting 11 alongside striker Alvaro Saborio. (Or even Joao Plata if he is healthy enough following a recent injury.)

  • Formation shift for RSL

Remember when Jason Kreis was a 4-4-2 guy through-and-through? That diamond midfield was RSL’s signature.

Kreis, still young at age 40 but with quite a few years at this managerial thing now, having assumed his current post at age 34, has matured. He now has the confidence to put something different on the field tactically.

And he has the confidence the say hold up his hand and say “My bad … that didn’t work.”

The set-up against Los Angeles for last weekend’s first leg was a 4-2-3-1, with   Yordany Alvarez sitting alongside longtime Rio Tinto holding midfield fixture Kyle Beckerman. Alvaro Saborio was the lone striker, supported by Javier Morales centrally, Grabavoy on the right and Luis Gil on the left.

Safe to say, we won’t see that again. Not tonight at least.

It was mostly a way to deal with the Galaxy’s dangerous counter-attack. Only, it didn’t work out at all, confusing Beckerman when in possession and certainly in the defensive assignments, too.

The result was more or less to RSL’s liking. A draw would have been better (or a win, of course). But going back home trailing by one goal isn’t the worst thing ever. Still, the Galaxy created plenty of chances, often moving through RSL’s defensive shape with too much ease.

(MORE: Real Salt Lake-LA Galaxy second leg preview)

  • RSL center backs had better be on it

One of the lesser told narratives this year around MLS has been the rise lately of Chris Schuler as Nat Borchers’ partner in the middle of the defense. He’s certainly big enough (6-4) – they sure needed those long, stretchy legs of his a couple of times on Sunday – and physical enough, but also technical enough.

And he had better be good enough tonight.

The movement of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane troubled RSL’s entire back line Sunday, but the central areas (along with Real Salt Lake’s two holding midfielders) will be particularly vulnerable to their pair’s movement, which is so quick and instinctive at the instant the Galaxy win the ball.

If Schuler and Borchers cannot communicate with each other with midfielders in tracking those feints, curling runs and big sprints from the Galaxy’s pair of star attackers, the one-goal deficit could expand in a hurry.

(MORE: What we learned from LA Galaxy-RSL first leg)

  • In praise of the old faithfuls … like Nick Rimando

We all like to look for the next new thing … the new restaurant or the new show on TV or whatever. But it’s always important to take a step back and appreciate the old stand-byes, too, right?

That’s Nick Rimando. His numbers remain strong, he’s a strong and commanding leader in the back and the 34-year-old can still deliver the big, game-changing save.

Rimando been so good for so long that we probably take the man for granted. Don’t forget, Rimando’s first starting assignment in MLS was 14 years ago with some good Miami Fusion teams. A lot of RSL holdovers have an MLS Cup medal from that 2009 title claimed over the LA Galaxy in Seattle. Rimando also has one from 2004, when he started for DC United.

(FYI, three current MLS managers started on that 2004 D.C. United side: Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke and Ben Olsen.)

  • Yellow card warning

Kyle Beckerman is the only RSL man on yellow card warning. “Only” man is a bit mis-leading. Beyond Rimando and Borchers, Beckerman is probably the most important RSL figure, not just for all the midfield tackling and calm possession, but for the leadership and composure.

The U.S. international will miss the next playoff match if he receives another booking.

(MORE: MLS playoff scheduling, timing and pace make no sense)

Robben extends contract with Bayern Munich through June 2018

(L-R) Thomas Muller of Bayern Munchen, Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munchen, Arjen Robben of Bayern Munchen during the German Bundesliga match between Borussia Mönchengladbach and FC Bayern München at Borussia Park on January 24, 2014 in Mönchengladbach, Germany.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
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BERLIN (AP) Arjen Robben has extended his contract with Bayern Munich for another year.

Bayern says the Netherlands winger’s contract will run until the end of June 2018.

[ MORE: Names to watch in Tuesday’s SuperDraft ]

Robben has been with the club for almost eight years, joining from Real Madrid in 2009.

He has scored 82 goals in 152 Bundesliga matches, 14 goals in 23 German Cup games and 21 goals in 53 Champions League matches, including the winning goal against Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final.

Antonio Valencia extends Manchester United deal

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18:  Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea marshalls Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Antonio Valencia has a fan in Jose Mourinho.

The Manchester United fullback, 31, has added a year to his contract. Scheduled to become a free agent after this season, his contract now runs through 2018.

[ MORE: Chinese club claims big bids ]

Ecuador’s captain, Valencia arrived at United from Wigan in 2009 after spending time with El Nacional and Villarreal.

He has 21 goals in 270 appearances, and has played 2,042 minutes under Mourinho. This season, Valencia is averaging 2.4 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per match.

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Ten names to watch as the MLS SuperDraft concludes

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After three days of celebrating its first two rounds, Major League Soccer will complete its surprise-ridden 2017 SuperDraft on Tuesday with a 2 p.m. EDT conference call.

Friday’s first round featured fewer trades than many expected, and a bit of a stunner in its first overall pick: Minnesota United tabbed UCLA attacker Abu Danladi.

[ MORE: Chinese club claims big bids ]

Danladi would’ve gone soon after, however, with most of the surprises coming outside of the Top Six. Vancouver’s opted for outside back Jakob Nerwinski (UConn) at 7, Houston tabbed Hofstra’s Joe Holland at 10, and Colorado looked to its backyard for Denver’s Sam Hamilton.

That helped Brandon Aubrey slide to 21st, while Canada’s two Generation Adidas players, Adonijah Reid and Shamit Shome, dipped deep into the second round.

It also means some very productive college players, and supposed first round prospects, could be hungry steals when the draft returns today. Here’s some low-risk, high-reward players for rounds that sometimes see teams pass on individual picks altogether.

Chris Wingate, MID, New Hampshire — Engine room feature piece at UNH

Wulito Fernandes, FWD, UMass Lowell — Cape Verde striker has flair

Jorge Gomez Sanchez, FWD, Temple — 27 goals in two years is good

Chris Nanco, FWD, Syracuse — Showed big upside at MLS Combine

Brandt Bronico, MID, Charlotte — Steadied any worries at Combine

Daniel Deakin, FWD, South Carolina — English striker great at set pieces

Russell Cicerone, FWD, Buffalo — Combine overshadowed solid four years

Christian Thierjung, FWD, California — 18 goals last two seasons

Eddie Sanchez, MID, Portland — Game changer in WCC; Can it translate?

Jordan Wilson, DEF, Kentucky — Scottish center back did well at UK

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New rules crushed Chinese club’s Costa hopes

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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New Chinese Super League rules stopped the nation from acquiring four of the biggest names in the football world.

Tianjin Quanjian believed it had successful bids lined up for Chelsea’s Diego Costa in addition to Real Madrid frontman Karim Benzema, Monaco’s Radamel Falcao, and PSG’s Edinson Cavani.

[ MORE: Costa trains on his own ]

And Tianjin Quanjian owner Shu Yuhui says it had Falcao and Benfica forward Raul Jimenez signed and sealed before the new rules were announced. The club already has Korean midfielder Kwon Kyung-won, Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel, and Brazil’s Geuvânio on the books.

But the new rules, which will limit the amount of foreign players on a team to three, hampered his hopes. From the BBC:

But Chinese clubs will only be able to field three foreign players per game when the new season starts.

“This situation has brought a change to our signing plans,” said Shu.

“The online reports about Costa – it’s true we’d like him, and we made an offer for Cavani and were deep in negotiations,” said Shu.

So clearly Costa’s “back injury” seems more likely to be the burden of financial desires on his shoulders. That said, MLS commissioner Don Garber will crack a wry smile at the new rules.

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