MLS Season Preview: LA Galaxy

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After failing to make it to their third-straight MLS Cup final last season, it’s very much a case of unfinished business for LA in 2014.

With a fired up Landon Donovan back and set to break the MLS goalscoring record, Robbie Keane captaining the side and Omar Gonzalez ready to hit the ground running before he heads to the World Cup in Brazil, LA have some stunning players who will help lead the charge for a title.

LA are seeking a record-breaking fifth Supporters Shield and MLS Cup title, plus their second CONCACAF title when they square off against Liga MX side Club Tijuana in March in an epic border battle. With trophies to fight for on multiple fronts, the Galaxy have strengthened and have a large squad full of MLS experience but still have plenty of young talent coming through the ranks as Homegrown products, such as Gyasi Zardes, are expected to have a big year.

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With a young team augmented by veterans, LA are hoping more silverware arrives at the StubHub Center in 2014 under legendary MLS head coach Bruce Arena.

Transfers In: Baggio Husidic (Free transfer, Hammarby), Rob Friend (Free transfer, Eintracht Frankfurt), Stefan Ishizaki (Free transfer, Elfsborg) Samuel (Loan, Fluminese)

Transfers Out: Colin Clark (Option declined), Laurent Courtois (Option declined), Sean Franklin (Option declined), Michael Stephens (Out of contract), Pablo Mastroeni (Retired), Jose Villarreal (Loan to Cruz Azul), Hector Jimenez (Trade to Columbus), Kyle Nakazawa (Retired)

source: Reuters
Keane, right, will be LA’s go-to man once again this season. But will his age be a factor?

Key Player: Robbie Keane

The Irish superstar is coming off a sensational second full season in MLS and with a new long-term contract signed, Keane’s days of terrorizing MLS defenders are far from over. Keane’s clinical finishing has resulted in 34 goals and 21 assists in 55 regular season games. Yeah, he’s that good. At the age of 33 he is slowing down a little but a double Achilles surgery over the offseason means he should be refreshed and ready to take a charge at yet another MLS Cup. Can ‘Keano’ lead the Galaxy into another season of success? You bet. When you have predatory skills like his around the box, it doesn’t matter how many miles you have on the clock. His famous celebration will be on show around MLS plenty of time this season. No doubt.

Manager: Bruce Arena is the master of rebuilding squads, but he really doesn’t have to do that with LA. 2013 goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini didn’t fare too well in MLS but his replacement Jaime Pinedo looks a real star. The only long-term LA player who left over the offseason was Sean Franklin, as the Galaxy should mount another assault on MLS’ finest. Arena’s no-nonsense approach and his ability to integrate MLS youngsters in with stars shouldn’t be underestimated. Plus his new long-term contract brings stability to the Galaxy.

Outlook: If LA isn’t in the Western conference final, it would be a huge surprise. Sure Donovan and Keane are aging but with their star quality and Arena building a solid team around Gonzalez in defense, LA will be tough to beat this year. It could be a roller-coaster year, but I’m thinking LA will finish in the top two in the West and go deep in the playoffs.

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.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

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“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

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Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.