Bruce Arena: ‘I don’t know if anyone has the formula’ for MLS playoff success

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Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena insisted on Thursday that all he knows for sure about the Major League Soccer playoffs is that teams have to make the postseason to win.

“Half the battle is making it,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “This year was very competitive from start to finish in the league, as we know.”

His opponent in the Western Conference semifinals, Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis, was quick to praise the former United States boss.

“Bruce is the best coach in the history of soccer in this country,” Kreis said. “There’s no question that he gets it right, and he gets it right at the right time, otherwise he wouldn’t have [four] MLS Cups to his name already.”

In their four championships (two with Arena), the Galaxy have finished as high as first in the conference and as low as fourth. Last year, Los Angeles squeaked by the Vancouver Whitecaps, 2-1, in the play-in game before making a run to lift their second MLS Cup in a row.

The team they beat, the Houston Dynamo, finished fifth in the East last year. In 2013, the Galaxy finished in the middle of the Western Conference playoff pack, in third.

“I think part of the reason for our performances not being as consistent as I’d like [all season] is, we’ve just had a difficult time this year getting our whole group together for any extended period of time, but as of late, we’ve been able to do that with a little bit more consistency,” he said. “It’s obviously helped us.”

Los Angeles finished the season with just two losses since July 27 after losing three of their five games in both May and June. In that stretch, the team climbed from seventh in the conference to their final third-placed spot.

Arena has been vocal in his disapproval of MLS’s schedule during international breaks, when he stands to lose much of the spine of his starting lineup, with Landon Donovan, Omar González (United States), Jaime Penedo (Panama) and Robbie Keane (Ireland) frequently featuring for their countries.

Perhaps the league working around the November international dates bodes well for the Galaxy in the playoffs, even if it makes for some awkward scheduling.

“I think it’s going to be real difficult for the teams,” Arena said. “Recovery time is very difficult in this schedule, so it’s going to be interesting. I don’t think anybody really knows how it’s going to play out.”

Kreis said the veteran experience of the Galaxy makes it a dangerous team to play in November.

“They get it,” Kreis said. “They put things together in the playoffs. They have players that have been there and done it so many times that they know what they’re capable of.”

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.