Watch Live: LA Galaxy at Real Salt Lake (Lineups and discussion)

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Returning to Major League Soccer action after their Champions League excursion, Bruce Arena’s LA Galaxy are in Sandy, Utah this afternoon, with their early season rematch with Western Conference champions Real Salt Lake giving the four-time champions a second crack at their first win of the season. Game time is 4:00 pm. ET, with the action available live on NBCSN or via NBC Sports Live Extra.

The Galaxy opened the season with a 1-0 loss to the team which ended last year’s three-peat pursuit, with Joao Plata giving new head coach Jeff Cassar’s team a victory in Carson, Calif. Since then, both teams have seen their fortunes turn, with LA eliminated in Champions League while Real Salt Lake was drawn last week in San Jose.

Both teams, however, have shown flashes of their title-contending selves. Ten days ago, LA was able to take a 1-0 win in the first leg of its Champions League quarterfinal with Club Tijuana, while Real Salt Lake took a 3-1 lead into halftime against a San Jose team that’s up to 20 straight wins at home. As a result, RSL sits at the top of PST’s MLS Power Rankings, while the Galaxy remain firmly entrenched in the list’s top ten.

WATCH LIVE: Real Salt Lake vs. LA Galaxy on NBC Sports Live Extra

For Los Angeles, the main objective will be shoring up a defense that was badly exploited mid-week in Mexico. The lack of foot speed between central defenders Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo was evident, while the line’s poor organization underscored one of the worst defensive performances of Arena’s time in Los Angeles. Against Álvaro Saborío and Plata, who has two goals in as many games, the Galaxy will need to be better, perhaps part of the reason their back four has been shaken up for today’s game.

As Real Salt Lake looks to pick apart that line, they’ll have a newly healthy Javier Morales at their disposal. The Argentine creator is set to return after sitting out last week with back problems. Chris Schuler makes his first appearance of the season, starting in central defense, while the scare Nick Rimando’s back suffering in San Jose turned out to be nothing serious. Though Robbie Findley and Sabestián Velasquez are still out, Real Salt Lake is near full strength for today’s home opener.

The game kicks off at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, with Robbie Earle, John Strong, and Ross Thaler set to bring you the action from Rio Tinto Stadium.

Lineups

Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert; Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil; Javier Morales; Joao Plata, Álvaro Saborío

Subs: Jeff Attinella, Carlos Salcedo, Kenny Mansally, Cole Grossman, John Stertzer, Luke Mulholland, Olmes Garcia

LA Galaxy: Brian Perk; James Riley, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Stefan Ishizaki, Juninho, Baggio Husidic; Landon Donovan; Robbie Keane, Rob Friend

Subs: Brian Rowe, Marcelo Sarvas, Samuel, Gyasi Zardes, Leonardo, Chandler Hoffman, Dan Gargan

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.