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

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Ahead of Thursday’s second-leg of this Western Conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about Bruce Arena’s LA Galaxy (Thursday’s match kicks off at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2):

  • Still waiting for delivery from Robbie Rogers

His brave work in moving domestic sports into a better and more accepting place has been one of the great off-field stories of MLS in 2013. Maybe ever.

But Robbie Rogers simply isn’t delivering on the field. Rogers started once again along the right on Sunday in Los Angeles, but his body of work was pedestrian, at very best. If not for the great performance from Sean Franklin, whose big night in behind Rogers on the right included a lot of great defensive work, and generally so much more than that wonderful and important goal, then we would probably be spending more time dissecting Rogers’ night of lesser.

(By the way, that was Franklin’s first goal in 17 MLS playoff matches. And what a way to get No. 1 ! You’ve seen that thing, right?)

  • Can the Galaxy hold off RSL late?

The troubling statistic that has gotten better lately, but just won’t go away for the Galaxy is this: The Galaxy gave up 18 goals after the 75th minute this year, second highest in the league, ahead of only woeful Chivas USA.

The team has done better lately, particularly after Jaime Penedo summer addition helped stabilize the Galaxy in goal. And it hasn’t hurt that Omar Gonzalez (pictured), the club’s U.S. international and recently enshrined DP, has mostly been able to concentrate on club duties lately rather than toggling between national team and Galaxy chores.

Still, it’s something to consider if RSL, behind by a goal in the series, has to press for a late one to level the score on aggregate.

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

  • Donovan: “We are going there to win … not to tie”

A tie will do for the LA Galaxy – but that will not be the aim.

So says the club’s all-time leading scorer. He’s certainly correct in that so few teams, particularly if we aren’t talking about Serie A sides out of Italy, truly know how to play for  a draw.  Here’s what Donovan told the LA Galaxy blog:

“We have to be very good defensively, but we’re not going there to defend for 90 minutes, we’re going there to try to keep the ball and move the ball and put them under pressure too,” he said.

“I’m sure that they’re not going to go crazy because the reality is that they just need a goal at some point. For us the mentality is to be aggressive and get around the ball and get after the ball, but also when we have chances to possess and go forward.  We’re going there to win the game, we’re not going there to get a tie.”

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

  • LA Galaxy strong in conference semifinals

Playoff experience and understanding how to manage the matches (and the series) is clearly important. Just ask the Red Bulls, who just got knocked into off-season nether world by one of Major League Soccer’s ultimate playoff grinders, the Houston Dynamo.

But do you not give the Galaxy enough credit for their gift of grind?

The Galaxy has, after all, gone a perfect 6-for-6 in their last half dozen conference semifinal series. The fell in the semifinals in 2003 (the first year Major League Soccer’s current home-and-away format was adopted. Since then … they just don’t lose in this round. The Galaxy is 9-3-2 overall in this round in the current format.

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

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.