Drilling down on: L.A. Galaxy 3, Seattle Sounders 0

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Seattle looked nothing like the team that eliminated Real Salt Lake, while the Galaxy continue to look like the team that turned it on at precisely the right time.

The defending champions clobbered Seattle on Sunday at the Home Depot Center. As a result, Los Angeles has a chokehold on the Western Conference finals series, a strong three-goal lead heading into next week’s second leg in Seattle.

Man of the Match:

With apologies to Houston’s Will Bruin and his four post-season goals, the sensational Robbie Keane looks more and more like this year’s playoff MVP. There’s still time for something to change, of course, but the Irish international seems unstoppable right now. With two more goalsand an absolutely brilliant pass to set up another Galaxy goal, no one was more influential in Sunday’s big win.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Landon Donovan continues to deliver:

Donovan may sound like he’s bound and determined to retire, but he is delivering like a man just getting started. So far in the playoffs, the Galaxy captain has a goal and three assists, and his combination work withKeane is a sight to behold.

Donovan started just a little slowly in the playoffs against Vancouver, but he has been a productive livewire since. Proving that Donovan at 30 still has the fleet feet, he blew past Seattle center back Jeff Parke to create that handy Galaxy goal just before the half.

It’s not just that signature jump in his boots; Donovan is thinking fast, too. He was the fulcrum as the Galaxy looked to create midfield turnovers (something Bruce Arena teams always do well) and then get the attack started quickly.

When the counter was on, the ball usually found Donovan quickly. He did a wonderful job of moving things along quickly from there.

Seattle had a bad plan: 

Seattle manager Sigi Schmid’s hands were somewhat tied by Eddie Johnson’s lingering injury. That said, Schmid’s choices just didn’t work out.

The 4-5-1 with Fredy Montero isolated up front produced zilch. Christian Tiffert, playing in the hole behind Montero, was nowhere to be found. Result: Montero’s playoff shutout streak, now at nine games and counting, had no chance to reverse itself in this one. The Sounders created precious few chances until the final 10 minutes, when the Galaxy backed off.

Mario Martinez, the hero of Seattle’s win Thursday in Utah, reminded everyone why Schmid has been so reluctant to play him. He doesn’t show much interest in defending, and his positional discipline stinks. In a game where Seattle’s third-choice left back, Zach Scott, was never going to advance up the flank, Martinez continually worked to the inside. Which would be fine if Martinez had a left back behind him to provide the width.

Defensively, the visitors simply unraveled, and the Galaxy goal just before the half was just the start. By the 65th minute, the Sounders’ defense had been absolutely shredded. Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and the rest of Seattle’s defense was helpless against the Galaxy’s interchange inside the final third.

With a little luck, the home team’s win would have been 4-0 or 5-0.

There are plenty of potential playoff MVPs coming from L.A. Galaxy Valley:

Keane isn’t the only drop-dead gorgeous performer at the moment in an L.A. Galaxy kit.

Donovan’s movement and understanding with Keane is simply sensational at present (the very opposite of what we saw Sunday between Tiffert and Montero, who looked as if they barely knew each other.)

Omar Gonzalez was commanding in the back once again, although he did get sucked out of position and then linger out there a bit too long at times. Christian Wilhelmsson was a two-way force along the right. He played a significant role in two Galaxy goals.

And then there’s Mike Magee, who hit the Galaxy’s second Sunday. He now has eight playoff goals in 15 games for the Galaxy.

Packaged for take-away

  • Fair to point out that the visitors had one day less rest. Did that explain the gulf in performance level of these two teams Sunday? Probably not, but it’s still worth pointing out.
  • Donovan has 20 goals and 12 assists in 32 MLS playoff games. Anybody who cannot see Donovan’s value – there are plenty of U.S. supporters out there who inexplicably refuse to do so – simply is not looking at this thing objectively.
  • The Galaxy’s 57th minute sequence from inside the Sounders’ penalty area might have been the best combination work of the playoffs so far. Only Alex Caskey’s last-ditch defending prevented Donovan from recording his second assist of the night.
  • A hustle play by Parke kept Donovan from making it 4-0 in the 76th, as the Galaxy worked more of that combination magic inside the Sounders’ penalty area.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 10 — All eyes on Germany

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Many of the favorites in the 2018 World Cup have disappointed, but until Argentina fell 3-0 to Croatia on Thursday, Germany was the only one to suffer a defeat.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Die Mannschaft fell to Mexico in their opening match, with El Tri carving up the German midfield on the counter. Now, Joachim Low has had ample time to make the adjustments needed to go for victory as the Germans take on Sweden as they chase a spot in the knockout stages among Group F.

Meanwhile, Mexico looks to prove they’re not a one-hit wonder as they take on South Korea in Rostov. Juan Carlos Osorio has received plenty of praise – and rightly so – for his tactics in the upset victory, and that leaves El Tri with a chance to clinch a spot in the knockout stage with a win.

Before all that Group F craziness, Belgium takes the field in the morning against Tunisia as they look to follow up its comprehensive 3-0 victory over Panama in the opening round. A victory for the Red Devils would not only book a place in the knockout round, but also eliminate Tunisia from contention.

Below is Saturday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Saturday, June 23

Group F
South Korea vs. Mexico: Rostov-on-Don, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Germany vs. Sweden: Sochi, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Tunisia: Moscow, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Kluivert junior leaves Ajax for Roma in $21m transfer

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ROME (AP) — Roma signed Justin Kluivert, the son of former Milan and Barcelona forward Patrick, from Ajax on Friday for a fee that could rise to 18.75 million euros ($21.8 million).

The 19-year-old Dutch international forward has agreed a five-year contract with Roma.

“I’m very happy. I’m at an incredible club,” Kluivert said. “I cannot wait to start. I believe that Roma is the ideal team for my growth, which will allow me to play at the highest levels.”

Kluivert junior made 56 appearances and scored 13 goals for Ajax. He has one cap for the Netherlands.

He joins Roma for an initial 17.25 million euros ($20.1 million) and performance-related clauses could see the price rise by 1.5 million euros.

Ricketts family, owner of the Chicago Cubs, interested in purchasing AC Milan

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The Ricketts family, who purchased a controlling stake in the Chicago Cubs back in 2009, have interest in further pursuing ownership in financially troubled Italian club AC Milan.

According to a family statement, “The Ricketts family brought a championship to the Chicago Cubs through long-term investment and being great stewards of the team … They would bring this same approach to AC Milan.”

First reported by the Chicago Tribune, the news of the Tom Ricketts’ interest in the team comes on the heels of news that current owner Li Yonghong had failed to meet a Friday deadline for a $37 million loan payment. According to reports, the missed payment means that Li will cede control of the club to Elliott Management, who loaned the Chinese businessman the money to complete his initial purchase of the club last April.

The Chicago Sun-Times also reported the family’s interest in the club, and quoted their source as saying, “The Ricketts put together the management team, resources and training facilities [for the Cubs]. [They did] everything you need top to bottom to be successful.”

Ricketts has plenty of history in soccer ownership, having previously been a part of the group that owned English club Derby County before selling back in 2015. This May, Ricketts also announced he was leading an investment group that is looking to bring a USL expansion team to Chicago.

Forbes values AC Milan at $612 million – a massive 26% 1-year decline – and ranks them the 17th most valuable soccer club in the world. That valuation could be further on the decline, as the storied club missed out on Champions League qualification for the fifth straight year, although they qualified for their second straight Europa League appearance with 6th place finish in last year’s Serie A table, eight points behind Lazio in fifth.

AC Milan also faces heavy sanctions from UEFA regarding Financial Fair Play, although those fears could be eased with the financially-troubled Li selling the club.

The Ricketts family’s wealth comes largely from investment banking, with Tom’s father J. Joseph Ricketts having founded Ameritrade back in 1975. Tom is estimated by Forbes to be worth $1 billion, while his father has an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion.

Xhaka, Shaqiri display controversial goal celebrations in win over Serbia

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A seemingly innocuous goal celebration performed by both Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri has thinly veiled, politically charged undertones and could potentially land the pair in FIFA disciplinary proceedings following Switzerland’s 2-1 win over Serbia.

Both displayed a bird hand signal as they celebrated scoring goals, and considering their pre-match comments, post-match social media posts, and ethnic backgrounds, those were clearly meant to represent the double-eagle symbol in the middle of the Albanian flag.

This is a complicated political scenario, but it could be considered by FIFA to be politically provocative. Shaqiri is Albanian, born in Kosovo before moving to Switzerland with his parents and three siblings when he was just a year old. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and is not recognized as a sovereign nation by Serbia. Xhaka is of Albanian descent, and his father previously participated in a demonstration against the communist Yugoslavian rule in Kosovo that landed him a lengthy jail sentence. Albania and Serbia have a particularly tumultuous relationship, with their leaders meeting for the first time in over 60 years in 2014, which caused tempers to flare.

Following the match, Xhaka posted a picture of his celebration on his Instagram story, with the caption in Albanian roughly translated to, “Here you go Serbia, this is why they call me Granit Kosovo!” He deleted the post, and replaced it with an image of his celebration side-by-side with Shaqiri’s, with the slightly more cryptic caption, “We did it, bro!” in English.

FIFA is wildly against any type of political demonstration or involvement in the world of soccer. The governing body has punished individual nation federations in the past for government involvement, while political demonstrations on the field are fiercely frowned upon.

Switzerland captain and new Arsenal signing Stephan Lichtsteiner came to the defense of his two teammates after the match. When asked about the celebrations, he said to Goal.com, “We had a lot of pressure, it was not an easy game for us. We have a lot of Albanians, so there is a lot of history between Serbia and Albania. It was a very tough game for them mentally.”

“It was good. Why not? This is the history for them,” Lichtsteiner continued. “The war between them was so difficult. I spoke to the father of one of our players who is Albanian, and he told me about this history. This is more than football. This is more than football because they have this period, this war that gave them both big problems. I understand them. I think it’s normal, it’s part of their life. There was also big provocation ahead of the game from them [Serbia], so I think it’s normal.”

Shaqiri could be in especially hot water. The Stoke City midfielder wore boots with the flags of Switzerland and Kosovo. He has made it clear in the past that he values his roots, saying, “I was born in Kosovo, but I grew up in Switzerland. I live both mentalities, it’s not a big difference.”

Switzerland finishes its World Cup group stage round with a match against Costa Rica on Wednesday in which a win would secure a spot in the knockout stage.