Galaxy win increases stakes for Saturday’s big match in Portland

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Twenty-four hours ago, LA Galaxy looked like they were in bad shape. It was unclear whether any of Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez, or Robbie Keane would play. Jaime Penedo was still coming back from international duty. A.J. DeLaGarza’s still out. With the enigmatic Montréal Impact visiting StubHub, Bruce Arena’s side were chasing some much-needed points without some highly-valued talents.

But that depth that we gawked at season’s onset — those much-discussed talents that inspire envy whenever an opposing coach looks at LA’s bench — managed to deliver three points. Still, with Jose Villareal and Jack McBean up top, Gyasi Zardes and Michael Stephens wide, it was a man-less-likely who stepped up. Kofi Opare (pictured), a second round pick who was playing at the University of Michigan this time last year, sorted through the chaos of a second half corner to pounce on the match’s only goal, turning on a loose ball near the spot to punch a left-footed finish into the left side of Evan Bush’s goal. Making Montréal rue their hour’s worth of missed chances, Opare’s first career goal delivered a 1-0 victory.

Those three points pushed LA into third in the West, their 51 points bringing Portland and Real Salt Lake within reach. Coming off their weekend win over rival Seattle, the Timbers sit a surprising first in the conference (53 points), with RSL one point behind. Both have designs on the Supporters’ Shield, but any slip over their last two matches could see them passed by the defending champions (or Seattle).

And one of the sides will slip. On Saturday, the West’s leaders meet at JELD-WEN – the latest, weekly version of Major League’s Soccer Match of the Year. First it was New York’s visit to Seattle (Sept. 29). Last week it was Seattle’s trip to Portland. Now it’s RSL visiting the Timbers. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear there’d be another Match of the Year on the last day of the season.

But for this week’s version, LA’s certainly raised the stakes, particularly since they’ll be home against San Jose this weekend. Though the Earthquakes are certainly capable of springing a surprise, both Jason Kreis and Caleb Porter have to assume the Galaxy will likely win that one and move to 54 points. That means whichever team falls at JELD-WEN will be relegated to third, at best. With Seattle at Dallas (and FCD’s season over), the Sounders could also pass Saturday’s loser, leaving Portland or Real Salt Lake in fourth.

And if the Portland and RSL draw? Then LA and Seattle may be one-two on Monday morning.

The Galaxy’s season-ending trip to Seattle means Portland and RSL will have a chance to climb out of the play-in round (both teams closing their seasons against Chivas USA), but that doesn’t minimize the stakes for Saturday’s match. The winner will continue their Supporters’ Shield chase, claiming the inside track to the West’s number one spot and shortening the odds they’ll host MLS Cup. The loser will be left hoping for help from other results.

Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

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ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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