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)

Pep: “Celebrations weren’t too much”

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Pep Guardiola is staying as close-lipped as possible when it comes to the post-match derby dust-up between his Manchester City and Manchester United on Sunday.

Reports say United boss Mourinho charged into the visitors locker room to protest loud celebrations following City’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford. For his troubles, he allegedly got milk thrown at him and City assistant Mikel Arteta ended up with a cut face.

[ MORE: Klopp responds to interview hubbub ]

Guardiola said the celebrations were his idea, and he doesn’t want to say much more about United’s reactions.

“I am the guy who encouraged each other to celebrate. What happened, happened. We will make statement to the FA. I am not going to comment about that. Celebrations were’t too much.”

“Everybody fought hard to win. We could have scored more goals. After the game we celebrated with the fans and went to the changing room and celebrated the win.”

 

He’d only elaborate by saying, in essence, you celebrate when you win and don’t when you lose, and that other teams celebrate winning in similar rivalries in similar fashion.

Now we await Mourinho. He’s a wild card, but with legal entities involved we wouldn’t be surprised to get little to nothing.

Klopp says post-match interview not a big deal

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It wouldn’t be too wild to call Jurgen Klopp’s Sunday post-match interview the most circulated exchange in the soccer world, at least in recent memory.

Klopp was back behind a microphone on Tuesday as Liverpool prepares for West Bromwich Albion, and was asked about his testy exchange with a reporter following the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Everton in the Merseyside Derby.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 1-1 Everton ]

He says it’s in the past for him and pretty much everyone. From The Liverpool Echo:

“Now I’m completely relaxed, I wasn’t five minutes after the game. Sometimes you look into the eyes of journalists and you feel they aren’t too interested in what you have to say. I’m not an actor.”

“It was nothing, I didn’t use any words I have to take back. I don’t like it but I cannot change it because I felt like this at that moment. I cannot act differently, but I can keep myself calm. It’s just an interview. I don’t think anybody remembers it. It was just an interview, nothing else.”

We’ll say this about the 1-1 draw: it still feels hollow, as Everton executed one of the greatest thefts in the Premier League this season. Even the awarded PK — Dejan Lovren‘s two-handed shove to Dominic Calvert-Lewin was a silly play in a non-threatening spot — was one of those, “Well, sure, but…” calls.

Liverpool dominated the game, and didn’t get three points. Everton got a point, but will want most of its day back. Thank goodness we get another chance at an enjoyable Merseyside Derby in the FA Cup next month.

Wenger: Man City, United should look to sumo wrestlers

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Arsenal is readying for a visit to West Ham United, but Arsene Wenger‘s mind took a detour to Japan.

In a wide-ranging pre-match interview touching on Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, and the Manchester Tunnel Fracas (TM), it was the last topic that had Wenger musing on the post-match actions of sumo wrestlers.

[ MORE: Premier League Tues. preview ]

For those who missed it, there was an alleged dust-up between Manchester City and Manchester United after Jose Mourinho and his men objected to boisterous City celebrations in the away locker room on Sunday.

Ever the politician, the rail thin manager called upon rather large athletes to make the point of what he’d like to see. From Sky Sports:

“It happened to us, it’s happened to them. It’s unfortunate. Ideally you would commit 100% on the pitch and be an angel after. It’s not always the case. You want to keep that passion on the pitch.

“It is difficult to take when you lose a game, to see the celebration. When I was in Japan, I liked sumo wrestling because you could never tell who had won. The winner never showed his happiness as there’s a deep respect for the opponent.”

Wenger’s last managerial stop came in 1996 with Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan.

There was plenty more from Wenger, who was asked about the statuses of Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil.

For the latter, it’s relatively straight-forward: There’s still no new contract between the playmaker and Arsenal, though no final offer has been made and Wenger remains optimistic about the hiring.

As for Giroud, who’s been tipped for a move away from Arsenal for some time, Wenger admits it’s tricky. The super sub would start on most teams but is quite valuable to Arsenal as the usual backup to Alexandre Lacazette.

And it’s not like Arsenal has hurt the Frenchman’s stock with one of the best international sides in the world.

“He’s a very important player and I have big respect for him. Look how many French caps he has got since he came here. He’s not wasted his time. I can understand his frustrations. He’s played many games, much more than many speak about. He’s played more than Lacazette for example. When you are at a big club with many strikers, you can’t guarantee.

“Personally I want him to stay at the club until the end of the season. Then we will see.”

If Wenger can massage the full season out of Giroud and then sell him, Arsenal will have to call it a win. But how different might the Gunners look next August, with Giroud, Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez all expected to be out the door?

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.