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No Donovan may mean more problems for Galaxy’s post-Beckham world

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Catch the right Galaxy game, and the atmosphere at StubHub Center is worthy of one of the league’s most prestigious teams. Amid a captivating dusk of the Southern California summer, one of the league’s more fan-friendly atmospheres highlights a generation growing up with Major League Soccer. Despite its market’s competition, the four-time champions have gained staked out a place in complicated sports market.

But the significance of that place is about to be tested. Even in the absence of David Beckham, the local profile of the Galaxy brand has diminished. Now, with the impending departure of its biggest star, the team will have to embark on a makeover. No matter whom AEG brings in, nobody will replace Landon Donovan.

[ RELATED: Landon Donovan to retired at end of 2014 season. ]

Not that LA doesn’t have other stars. Robbie Keane is one of MLS’s best players, and as the face of a team, there are few U.S. stars that have the potential of Omar Gonzalez. With an open Designated Player spot, Los Angeles has the profile to bring in the game’s bigger stars; potentially more, if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement gives them more ways to stock up. The team that takes the field next spring may turn out to be more talent than the one Donovan leaves this fall.

But is there another player who can make the same connection as Donovan? An American star that allows fans to be conflict-free between their club and national teams? Is there somebody good enough to be an icon but young enough to grow with the next generation of fans? Is there another player with a local connection who, even if he’s played elsewhere in his career, will allow Los Angeles to embrace him as their own?

One look at the national team says no. A deeper look at the next generation sees talented players who lack the overall package. For LA as much as MLS, Donovan was a truly unique star.

As much as losing a great player and leader, that will be the hardest part. Nobody can replace Donovan, the spokesman. Los Angeles is very much a Lakers town, one that’s swinging even farther towards basketball with the Clippers’ growth and UCLA’s historic success. For the older generation, the Dodgers are the area’s iconic team, while both USC and UCLA football have dominant presences in the absence of the NFL (which still sells a lot of Raiders gear in the area). While the NHL’s Kings and, farther south, the Angels and Ducks all have some of the pie, LA’s sports market, as peculiar as it may be, is defined by a few, clear icons.

When LA had David Beckham, it would break into that sphere, with the exploits of a global icon able to wrestle away time on the local news. With only Donovan, the attention has decreased, though his presence has allowed LA to stay on the map. A local media with a short attention span has that focal point to reference whenever soccer becomes important.

[ RELATED: For Donovan the man, it’s time to move on. ]

But what happens come 2015? Keane and Gonzalez aren’t enough. LA can be expected to bring in bigger stars, but it took somebody like David Beckham to make an impact before. Even well into his retirement, few players have a Q Score to match Beckham, who may still be Los Angeles’s most popular soccer player.

The Galaxy could go out, find two more Robbie Keanes, and win a fifth (perhaps sixth) title, but unless one of those stars can replace Donovan’s appeal, they could have trouble making progress in that market. As evidenced by the Kings, whose two Stanley Cups have failed to recapture the local relevant of Wayne Gretzky’s era, star power is important. Only brands like the Lakers and Dodgers can get by on winning alone.

Go to StubHub Center on a weeknight in summer, and you see the line the Galaxy walk. Life in Carson, Calif., is often an anonymous one. Have an 11:30 a.m. kickoff on a Saturday? The crowd will thin out.

The team lives a precarious life on the edge of the SoCal sports scene. Without Donovan, they’ll have to find a new way to keep up.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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