MLS match preview: Sporting KC at LA Galaxy

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We are getting into the area, roughly 8 or so weeks into the Major League Soccer campaign, where the alarm finally went off for last year’s LA Galaxy, when Bruce Arena’s team finally broke its slumber and decided to make something of the 2012 season.

Having stumbled so improbably through the first two-plus months of last year’s championship defense, the Galaxy did make something of 2012 – something quite extraordinary, really.

They stomped and stormed their way through the remainder of the regular season, pushed through the playoffs and, with just a little luck in the way post-season results fell serendipitously around them, got the championship match at home for a second consecutive season.

And they won the doggone thing.

This year’s Galaxy launch hasn’t been anything so languid as last year’s sleepy crawl. Indeed, Arena’s team is doing too badly

Then again, they aren’t exactly tearing through the MLS field either. Take away an early 4-0 win over Chicago (a team that has proven to be pretty weak), and the Galaxy has given up as many goals as it has scored.

Last week saw Omar Gonzalez and his crew crash out in CONCACAF Champions League and then lose late in Dallas. So, again … not great, not bad, but nothing special so far from the champs.

Which brings us to tonight’s big match at the Home Depot Center, surely one of the Round 8 marquee MLS matchups. The Galaxy host the league’s hottest team, Sporting Kansas City, unbeaten and unscored upon in its last five. Kickoff on the NBC Sports Network is set for 10:30 p.m. ET.

Last time steady SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen plucked one from his own net was March 9 in Toronto. Since then, a defense guided by center back Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin has led the way while Sporting KC marched to the top of the Eastern Conference.

The five-game unbeaten run includes a 1-0 mid-week win at New York. The hard-working, collective defensive attitude has built a 519-minute defensive scoreless streak, the 7th longest over 18 MLS seasons.

(MORE: Looking at the league’s longest, historic defensive streaks)

Arena’s team will be the better rested Saturday in Southern California, and by a long way. Sporting KC traveled across country on Thursday following Wednesday’s triumph in New Jersey. The Galaxy, meanwhile, have been inactive since Saturday’s loss in Texas.

Robbie Keane is back in training after missing last week’s match with an ankle problem. The Galaxy’s Irish international has looked dangerous this year when healthy, but one goal and one assist in league play isn’t where Keane wants to be about two months into the season.

Brazilian center back Leonardo, suspended due to a red card, will need to be replaced alongside Gonzalez. The options include veteran A.J. DeLaGarza and second-year man Tommy Meyer.

The Galaxy defense (back by Italian goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, who has looked only so-so) will have a lot to deal with in an SKC attack that includes technically gifted Graham Zusi (pictured above), playmaking midfielder Benny Feilhaber, Argentine striker Claudio Bieler and two of the league’s most aggressive fullbacks in getting forward, Chance Meyers and Seth Sinovic.

Bieler, tied for third in league scoring with four goals, has proven to be the very striker that manager Peter Vermes has been missing over the last couple of years in the heartland.

The full, fact-packed MLS match preview is here.

Gressel ties it in Atlanta United’s 1-1 draw with Timbers

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ATLANTA (AP) Julian Gressel tied it in the 56th minute and Atlanta United held on for a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

A loose ball deflection off defender Larrys Mabiala bounced into Gressel’s path and he pounced on it with a right-footed volley. Atlanta (10-3-4) stayed atop the MLS standings and extended its unbeaten streak to five games.

Mabiala opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. Samuel Armenteros was the first to get a touch with a left-footed stab on Diego Valeri’s free kick. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan blocked it out, but Mabiala headed home the rebound and Portland took the early lead.

The Timbers (6-3-5) extended their unbeaten run to nine.

MLS: NYCFC beat TFC in new coach Torrent’s debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jo Inge Berget scored twice and coach Domenec Torrent celebrated his New York City FC debut with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday.

Berget made it 2-1 in the 68th minute, following Maximiliano Moralez’s direct pass up the right channel and slotting it home.

NYCFC (9-3-4) tied it at 1 in the 51st minute on Berget’s back heel from the top of the 6-yard box.

Víctor Vazquez opened the scoring for Toronto (4-8-3) in the 37th minute. Vasquez outran his defender on Auro’s long ball up the right side and sent a chip shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.

NYCFC’s David Villa left the game in the 28th minute with a non-contact injury.

Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira in New York shortly after Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice was officially confirmed. Torrent had been the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola for the last 11 years, most recently at Manchester City.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 12 — Time to settle Groups A & B

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Day 12 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Monday, and with it begins the final round of group games to decide the 16 teams headed to the knockout rounds. For the next four days, we’ll be treated to four games each day.

Also, the end of 8 a.m. ET kickoffs. Hooray for sleeping in.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

First up, the conclusion of Group A, where both the hosts, Russia, and Uruguay have already advanced with wins in their first two games. Now, the two meet in the southwestern city of Samara to determine who’ll go through to the round of 16 as the group winners, and who’ll be the runners-up. Most likely awaiting either of them will be Spain and Portugal, pending the order in which they finish in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Speaking of Group B, Spain will finish group play against fourth-place and points-less Morocco, while Portugal have a tricky meeting with third-place Iran, who sit just a point behind the reigning European champions. The winner of Group B will face the runners-up of Group A, and vice versa.

Below is Monday’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 – Monday, June 25

Group A
Uruguay vs. Russia: Samara, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt: Volgograd, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Spain vs. Morocco: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Portugal: Saransk, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Transfer rumor roundup: Emery raiding Sevilla; Wilshere’s suitor(s)

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Unai Emery has reportedly been in contact with at least one former player, Ever Banega, in an attempt to convince the Argentine midfielder to join him at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

Banega, who’ll turn 30 on Friday, played two seasons under Emery at Sevilla — where they won back-to-back Europa League titles (Banega was only at the club for the second and third of three straight from 2013-2016).

With Banega reportedly on the fence about whether or not to leave Sevilla again — he only just returned last summer after one season at Inter Milan — Emery is said to have made a personal call after Arsenal’s bid of roughly $23 million triggered the release clause in Banega’s contract. Sevilla will join Arsenal in the Europa League next season after finishing seventh in La Liga.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Jack Wilshere announced last week that he will leave Arsenal this summer — thus opening up the handful of games for which he was healthy and fit to play each season, perhaps for Banega — which leads us nicely to the final bit of transfer talk for Sunday: West Ham are interested in the 26-year-old, but are reportedly only willing to offer him a one-year contract.

The Hammers’ hesitancy is, of course, a response to his years-long battle with injuries — he’s made just 66 appearances over the last four PL seasons (three with Arsenal, one on loan to Bournemouth).

Two other clubs to keep an eye on, as they’ve reportedly indicated interest in Wilshere and/or been in contact already: Everton and Juventus.