MLS playoff preview: LA Galaxy take slim lead into Thursday’s Western Conference semifinal second leg

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  • The LA Galaxy won the first leg, 1-0
  • Real Salt Lake has some history of not getting the job done at home in big games
  • Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan drive the Galaxy’s potent counter attack
  • The Galaxy is bidding for a record third consecutive MLS championship
  • If the teams are level on total goals at the end of 90 minutes, a 30-minute overtime will decide the series, followed by penalty kicks if necessary

Creeping doubt can be a terrible thing. When it comes to the LA Galaxy’s visit Thursday to Rio Tinto Stadium for a concluding playoff leg against Real Salt Lake, you have to wonder if one of the sides will succumb to it? Because both of these talented Western Conference sides have something to feel good about … but a little something to fear, too.

The two-time defending champion LA Galaxy takes a tenuous 1-0 lead into Thursday’s second leg of the Western Conference semifinal. Thursday’s winner from Rio Tinto (pictured above) advances into the conference final against Seattle or Portland.

Real Salt Lake has some disquieting history when it comes to these big deciders at home. That goes all the way back to a notorious (well, from RSL’s side it was notorious) 1-0 loss to New York back in 2008, just days after the stadium opened. Jason Kreis’ team was all over New York, pinging three of its 24 shots off the post but eventually falling and missing out on a trip to MLS Cup.

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

The big crusher came a few years later when RSL missed out on a bid for meaningful history by not finishing the job at home. That came in the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League final. In need of a draw against Mexico’s Monterrey to claim the crown and play in the fancy FIFA Club World Cup, RSL fell at Rio Tinto, 1-0.

Even this year, RSL lost inside its swell ground at the base of the Wasatch Mountains in the U.S. Open Cup final. (Even worse yet, they lost that match to D.C. United, which just finished with the poorest record ever in Major League Soccer regular season play.)

Overall, Real Salt Lake has hosted eight elimination matches (MLS playoffs or cup competitions) at Rio Tinto Stadium, having advanced in just two of them.

Kreis has refused to talk about it. Team captain Kyle Beckerman did:

“For us, the way I look at it, you’ve got to keep putting yourself in those positions to play those games,” the RSL veteran midfielder said. “We’re doing something good to keep getting these games and getting an opportunity to win on our home soil. … We know there’s still a lot to play for, so I think we’re really excited to get another chance to advance in a game that’s played at our place.”

That meager history for the home side is likely to land as cold comfort to the visitors, the two-time defending MLS Cup champions whose bid for a historic three-peat (it would be Major League Soccer’s first) now dangles in the balance. It does so because the Galaxy could not convert more chances in the weekend opener at the StubHub Center.

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

The Galaxy counter attack was synched up wonderfully, the movement from Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan right in time. The finishing, on the other hand …

“I don’t think that Robbie and Landon will ever miss that many chances again,” Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza said. “It’s a positive how many chances that they did get, but I think that they’ll finish a few of those on Thursday.”

source: AP
Major League Soccer’s all-time leading playoff scorer Landon Donovan.

But will they get all those chances? It just hasn’t happened that way for the Galaxy on the road this year. And that stands as the vulnerable spot for Bruce Arena’s team Thursday.

The Galaxy was just 4-9-4 on the road this year, matching Montreal for worst mark among MLS playoff teams. Take away one of those “road” wins, a victory over Chivas USA in the building the teams share, and Arena’s club was no better than 3-9-4 outside the StubHub Center this year. One of those wins came in Utah, at least; that was back in April, a 2-0 win at Rio Tinto.

Since then, however, Kreis’ men posted a commanding 3-1 win over the Galaxy at home, this one in June.

Beckerman warned that his team could not afford to lose sight of the big picture, one that says his team needs just one goal to pull level in this one. To do so, to panic and get rash about creating chances without careful game management, is to invite danger against the Galaxy counter.

“We’ll try to put some high pressure, but I don’t feel like we’re going to have to score like we have to score in the opening 15 or 20 minutes,” he said. “It’s a 90 minute game and we’ll have time to get a goal to send it into overtime or whatever we need.  It’ll be key to not get caught up and give up opportunities for them to counter. We know that I’ll happen, but if we can limit their chances it’ll help our chances for sure.”

Day Three: All the action from the U20 World Cup

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With the 2017 U-20 World Cup underway in South Korea, we can forgive you if you haven’t seen much of the action yet.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Due to the time difference most of the games kicking off in the wee hours (if you’re on the East Coast of the U.S.), so we thought we’d give you a chance to catch up on what you might have missed while you were sleeping.

Click on the link above for all the latest news from the U-20 World Cup, while below are video highlights from Monday’s four games as Groups E and F were in action.


Group E – France 3-0 Honduras

Group E – New Zealand 0-0 Vietnam 

Group F – Ecuador 3-3 USA 

Group F – Saudi Arabia 0-2 Senegal

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sanchez to Bayern; Lukaku to Chelsea

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The Alexis Sanchez to Bayern Munich links continue with the Arsenal forward having just one year left on his contract and now Arsenal out of the UEFA Champions League for next season.

[ MORE: Kroenke speaks out ]

Sanchez’s international teammate, and Bayern Munich midfielder, Arturo Vidal has added further fuel to that fire.

Vidal spoke to Spanish outlet Sport and revealed he has been asked about Sanchez by the Bayern hierarchy and he wants the Chilean star to swap the Premier League for the Bundesliga.

“He is doing great at Arsenal but I think he needs to take an extra step to fight amongst the best in the world and that is why he has to come to the best team in the world. He would do great here,” Vidal is quoted as saying.

Would Bayern be a good fit for Sanchez? It would certainly be the preferred choice for Arsenal if they did have to sell him this summer.

The Gunners would be reluctant to sell to any of their Premier League rivals, so this could suit everyone. Of course they wouldn’t want to lose the man who scored 24 PL goals and added 10 assists this season, but the reality is stark for the Gunners.

Sanchez would surely slot in seamlessly with Bayern’s fluid attacking front three and as the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery enter the twilight of their careers, Sanchez could be the main man in Bavaria for the next three to four years. This move would also provide Sanchez with a return to UCL action, something Arsenal can no longer offer him.


Just one day after the season came to a close Romelu Lukaku is being heavily linked with a return to Chelsea.

The London Evening Standard reports that Chelsea have put Lukaku, 24, at the top of their summer wishlist and ahead of Alvaro Morata.

Lukaku has two years left on his current Everton deal but has refused to sign a new contract and the Belgian international is being chased by several of Europe’s top clubs. His 25 goals this season meant he was the second-highest goalscorer in the PL and as reports about Diego Costa‘s leaving Chelsea for China this summer continue, Lukaku would be the perfect replacement.

Everton boss Ronald Koeman has admitted that the Belgian forward will leave to go on and become a star at a giant club but the Toffees were perhaps hoping it would be for the 2018-19 season.

As for Lukaku, he may feel like he has some unfinished business at Chelsea after being loaned out to West Brom and Everton after joining Chelsea in 2011 for a fee rising to $25 million. He played just 15 times for Chelsea and failed to score.

With his power, pace and aerial ability, you have to think Lukaku would be perfect for Chelsea’s counterattacking style. That said, his hold-up play is the one thing holding him back and that’s where Costa excels.

Chelsea sold Lukaku to Everton in 2013 for $36 million and it is believed he would cost Chelsea over double that amount to buy him back. The Blues have bought back players they sold in the past with Nemanja Matic and David Luiz prime examples, but this deal to bring back Lukaku would be a huge admittance by Chelsea that they got this one wrong.

John Terry explains 26th minute exit; winning bets revealed

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John Terry was subbed out of his 717th and final appearance for Chelsea in the 26th minute of their 5-1 victory against Sunderland on Sunday.

[ MORE: Chelsea hungry for more glory ]

Chelsea’s legendary captain called an end to his 22-year career with the Blues and the 36-year-old is yet to announce if he will retire from the game this summer or continuing playing elsewhere.

There is plenty of controversy surrounding how his final moments on the pitch for Chelsea played out.

Despite coming off in the 26th minute (his shirt number is 26) with a guard of honor from his teammates, applause from the Sunderland players and a huge ovation from the supporters at Stamford Bridge, many believe this wasn’t the right way to do things.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Terry revealed that he and Conte struck an agreement before the match and that it was his idea.

“I kind of negotiated with the manager to play 26 minutes and come off,” Terry said. “I think he wanted to get the boys that didn’t play on Monday night against Watford and give them a run-out. It was a compromise between the two of us.”

Following the planned farewell it has also been revealed that several UK bookmakers have paid out on bets on Terry being subbed out in the 26th minute. Odds of 100-1 were being offered on Terry coming off in the 26th minute and although it was technically the 28th minute by the time he walked off, bookmakers in the UK were still paying out.

As things stand the bets placed on Terry’s early exit will not be investigated by the soccer authorities.

The planned nature of this farewell has not sat well with plenty of soccer purists and those suggesting that Terry wanted to milk his farewell.

I understand those arguments but with Terry able to captain Chelsea for one final time, the man who led the Blues to five Premier League titles as skipper and also won 15 major trophies at the club should be the one to decide how he bows out.

Conte was fine for it as he got to rest Gary Cahill for nearly 30 minutes ahead of the FA Cup final. Chelsea’s fans loved it. Terry’s teammates loved it. And so did Terry.

He said farewell once and for all and this final game was all about two things for Chelsea: lifting the PL trophy at the end, and Terry saying goodbye. The result didn’t matter and no matter how you feel about Terry’s planned farewell, you have to accept it happened.

Stan Kroenke releases statement on Arsenal

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Arsenal’s majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has issued a statement regarding his future ownership of the club.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

The American billionaire was at the center of fan unrest on Sunday as Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League, missing out on a top four finish for the first time in 21 seasons under Arsene Wenger.

Kroenke’s fellow Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov (he owns 30 percent of the shares) last week offered over $1.3 billion for Kroenke’s 67 percent stake in the Gunners but Kroenke turned the bid down.

Now the company which also owns the LA Rams, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, have issued the following defiant statement.

“KSE UK, Inc notes the recent media speculation concerning its holding in Arsenal Holdings PLC and confirms that its shares are not, and never have been, for sale. KSE is a committed, long term investor in Arsenal and will remain so.”

That is about as definitive as it gets.

Kroenke will remain at Arsenal and until the situation regarding Wenger’s future, and that of star players Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez is sorted out, fans will continue to vent their anger at the American businessman.

With the Gunners preparing for Europa League action next season, the only thing which could save Kroenke and Co. from more unrest over the summer is if Arsenal beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Even that would only provide momentary respite before fans, former players and everyone else begins to look for answers to the bigger-picture questions on where Arsenal are heading on Kroenke’s leadership.

What a mess.