Franklin blast all that separates LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake after leg one

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It was one of the rare occasions went LA Galaxy’s superstars were kept off a postseason scoresheet, but that doesn’t mean the night was a successful one for Real Salt Lake. Despite containing Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, the West’s second seed lost Sunday night in Carson, a Sean Franklin goal just after halftime giving the two-time defending MLS champions a 1-0 win in the first of the teams’ two-legged conference semifinal.

The LA fullback found the right side of Nick Rimando’s goal in the 47th minute, a ball played from the byline rolling out of the RSL penalty area and beyond the arc . Franklin ran onto the ball and hit a one-timer from 24 yards out, the ball curling away from the RSL keeper as it spun into the nylon.

The result won’t necessarily be a disappointing one for the visitors, though. The teams meet again on Thursday in Sandy, Utah, for the second leg of their playoff series. Should LA defend their one-goal lead, they’ll move on to another Western Conference final. If RSL reverse their deficit, they’ll be the team who faces the winner of Portland versus Seattle.

Real Salt Lake began the night with a surprise, choosing a two defensive midfielder, one striker look we rarely see from Jason Kreis’s side. With normal starting forward Joao Plata unfit to play, Kreis elected to add Cuban destroy Yordany Alvarez to the base of midfield in lieu of veteran forward Robbie Findley.

The extent to which worked was unclear. Although RSL appeared to cut off LA’s ability to get at central defenders Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler, the Galaxy had prolonged success building wider, leading to chances on balls played across the six-yard box. Were it not for some timely interventions from Schuler, RSL would have conceded in the first half.

But the visitors made it to halftime unscathed, even if the stalemate wouldn’t last long. Two minutes into the second half, Keane got behind the defense down LA’s left. Near the byline, the Ireland international played a ball toward the spot, though his pass rolled through the area and out.

With Real Salt Lake’s two defensive midfielders having collapsed into the penalty area, Franklin was given plenty of time to come from deep and challenge Rimando. Cutting across the ball with his right foot, Franklin bent his shot from the middle of goal into to the back corner of Rimando’s net, the U.S. international unable to prevent the night’s only goal.

After the score, Los Angeles controlled play, but with the introduction of Sebastian Velasquez in the 61st minute, Real Salt Lake started to pose a bigger threat going forward. Unfortunately for RSL, sacrificing Alvarez (as they did in the 57th) exposed their defenders to counter attacks, with LA spending the rest of the night threatening a second goal in transition.

But Borchers and Schuler were up to the challenge, each providing multiple crucial stops to keep their team within one. When they weren’t outright winning the ball, RSL’s duo was slowing down Keane and Donovan enough to give midfielder Kyle Beckerman and fullbacks Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran time to track back. Though LA were able to get in on Rimando toward the end of the match, the Borchers-Schuler pair looked like a duo who had been working on those scenarios ever since RSL finished their season 10 days ago.

In the 80th minute, Real Salt Lake had their best chance to equalize when Chris Wingert, at the left of the area, chipped a ball over LA’s packed in defense, finding Luis Gil at the far post. The young midfielder’s attempt to hit substitute Devon Sandoval inside the six went through the box, Todd Dunivant helping to preserve Jaime Penedo’s clean sheet.

This wasn’t a case of RSL holding out for a 1-0, accepting that result ahead of their home leg. Through LA may have been the better side for much of the second half, the last quarter hour saw the visitors press for an equalizer, nearly giving up a second goal in the 85th when Keane was put behind the defense but failed to convert a one-on-one. Though neither side would add to Franklin’s opener, the final minutes maintained the spirit of a surprisingly open first 90 minutes.

Thursday’s rematch at Rio Tinto will decide it. If Sunday was any indication, this one’s not going to finish 1-0.

Goals

Los Angeles: 47′ Sean Franklin

Lineups

LOS ANGELES: Jaime Penedo; Sean Franklin, Omar Gonzalez, Kofi Opare, Todd Dunivant; Robbie Rogers (61′ Hector Jimenez), Juninho (90′ A.J. DeLaGarza, Marcelo Sarvas (82′ Rafael Garcia), Gyasi Zardes; Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane

Unused subs: Brian Rowe,  José Villarreal, Laurent Courtois, Leonardo

REAL SALT LAKE: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert; Yordany Alvarez (57′ Robbie Findley), Kyle Beckerman; Luis Gil, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy (61′ Sebastian Velasquez); Álvaro Saborio (79′ Devon Sandoval)

Unused subs: Carlos Salcedo, Cole Grossman,  Jeff Attinella, Kenny Mansally

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Chelsea debut; Red Bull Derby (of sorts)

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The Europa League group stage begins Thursday, with two London giants taking part in a relatively unfamiliar competition.

[ MORE: Full Europa League schedule ]

Both Arsenal and Chelsea have played in the tournament finals in recent years, but for the most part are Champions League mainstays.

This season, however, it’s the UEL leading one to Greece and the other to a visit from a Ukrainian side.

Both are involved in our five matches to monitor amongst the 48-team field on Day 1.

5 (tie). Villarreal vs. Rangers / Celtic vs. Rosenborg

The Old Firm rivals with plenty to prove kick off their group stages on Wednesday, in turn saying something for Scottish football.

For Steven Gerrard‘s Rangers, that means the chance to make good on their first full European tournament since the 2010-11 Europa League. They took the long way, winning four qualifying rounds to earn these nights. Now what? Perhaps their toughest test yet in Villarreal.

For Brendan Rodgers‘ Celtic, it’s an opportunity to show that while the Champions League has been a bit too rich for their blood, a Europa League group stage with Austrian, German, and Norwegian competition isn’t a problem for the best team in Scotland.

4. Arsenal vs. Vorskla Poltava

Forget the opposition: Unai Emery sees the Europa League as the opportunity to put more silverware in the halls of Arsenal HQ. From Arsenal.com:

“Every title for us is very important. In 2000, Arsenal played the final against Galatasaray but didn’t win. And also, Arsenal played the final in 2006 in the Champions League and also didn’t win. In my career, the ambition is very important for continuing to improve and continuing to achieve the objectives in my career personally and with the team. I want to play for every title going forward.”

There’s no reason to expect anything but a win for the Gunners against a team in just its second European group stage.

3. Marseille vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

Frank McCourt’s Olympique Marseille still doesn’t sound quite right, so let’s go with the manager. Rudi Garcia’s Olympique Marseille has a lot of weapons, including a trio of World Cup winners in Steve Mandanda, Florian Thauvin, and Adil Rami. Their Bundesliga visitors feature a Mexican national teamer (Carlos Salcedo) and an American (Timothy Chandler), but eyes will be trained on a Frenchman: Sebastian Heller has three goals and an assist in three league appearances this season.

2. PAOK vs. Chelsea

With all respect to Vieirinha and Amr Warda, this shouldn’t be a major challenge for Maurizio Sarri‘s men. Yes, even with Eden Hazard, Mateo Kovacic, and David Luiz being rested in London.

But it gets our circle because Sarri has called it the most difficult challenge of their group stage. BATE Borisov and MOL Vidi (formerly Videoton) are the other members of Group L. From ChelseaFC.com:

“I have seen the four matches played by PAOK in the Champions League play-offs. My staff have seen the matches of the Greek championship. I think I know everything.

“We want to play with our characteristics, to control the match with our ball possession, but I know tomorrow will be difficult. They are a good team. They have won against Basel, Spartak Moscow, they drew against Benfica in Portugal. We have to do a very good match if we want to gain points.”

1. RB Leipzig vs. Red Bull Salzburg

UEFA would prefer to avoid matches like this, even presumably one-sided ones, as two clubs owned by Red Bull square off in a meaningful competition. The pair being in the same group will be even trickier when there are chances to affect the next round fate of their brother club (The clubs aren’t technically deemed to have the same ownership, but it’s difficult to conclude the relationship isn’t a healthy one).

Tigres cruises to Campeones Cup in Toronto

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What home field advantage?

Jesus Duenas scored twice to join a Toronto FC own goal on the score board as Tigres UANL beat the MLS side 3-1 at BMO Field in Toronto to win the the first ever Campeones Cup.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Lucas Janson scored late in the match for Toronto FC.

The new competition brings together the winners of MLS Cup and Liga MX’s Campeón de Campeones in a one-off trophy tilt.

The win was a small measure of revenge for Tigres, which was knocked out of the CONCACAF Champions League after a fierce quarterfinal against TFC.

The breakthrough came via Duenas, who beat TFC’s back line to a Juninho pass. Michael Bradley showed Duenas to the back post, but Alex Bono didn’t have his angle covered and Tigres had a 1-0 with 10 minutes to go before halftime.

To add insult to injury for Toronto, who saw Jay Chapman head off the cross bar, Sebastian Giovinco had to leave the match soon after Tigres’ opener due when he injured himself trying a shot from 45 yards.

Duenas made it 2-0 from distance in the 64th minute when he ripped a partially cleared corner kick just off the shin of Nick Hagglund and inside Bono’s far post.

An Eriq Zavaleta own goal made it 3-0 for Tigres, but Toronto received a fortunate penalty kick in the 86th minute to get on the scoreboard via Janson, on loan from Tigre (no s).

Allegri wants VAR, Bonucci doubts ref vision on Ronaldo red

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Sky Sports in Italy says its lip readers confirm that Cristiano Ronaldo’s sending off Wednesday was down to tugging the hair of Jeison Murillo while the Valencia man was on the turf.

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci wasn’t too impressed, even after his club went on to win 2-0 in Spain.

[ UCL: Real rocks Roma, Man City falls ]

“As far as I could see, it was a pretty normal clash,” Bonucci said. “Murillo put his hands on Ronaldo first, he reacted, but these things can happen and we must be stronger than everyone and everything.

“Ronaldo was angry, of course. The referee saw what he saw – not very well – and we overcame the obstacles.”

Juventus boss Max Allegri wants to take it a step further.

Juve is no stranger to calling for VAR, and Allegri is upset that the Portuguese megastar will miss at least one more match due to the red card (and could miss his Manchester United reunion should his suspension go beyond one match). From Football-Italia.net:

“I can only say that VAR would’ve helped the referee in this decision,” Allegri said. “Going down to 10 men in the Champions League for an incident like that is disappointing. We risked losing tonight with this and we’ll miss him for the next games too.”

It all pales in comparison to the vitriol seething out of Ronaldo’s sister, who reportedly posted on Instagram that “there will be a high price” for his tears, adding that “God never sleeps.”

Arteta: Despite loss, Man City was “ready for the game”

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Mikel Arteta might have enjoyed the opportunity to sit in the hot seat for Manchester City when the Premier League champions opened their UEFA Champions League season at home to Lyon on Wednesday, but he sure didn’t like the result.

[ RECAP: Man City 1-2 Lyon ]

With suspended Pep Guardiola watching from the stands, Man City went behind 2-0 to the French visitors. The champs could muster one second half marker in a loss at the Etihad Stadium.

Arteta said he couldn’t say whether the game would be different with Guardiola on the touch line, but doesn’t think the loss comes down to his absence. From ManCity.com:

“We missed the right pass and didn’t find consistency,” he said. “We felt under threat every time we lost the ball, that can bring the confidence lower. We were ready for the game, keen to start to Champions League because the way we ended it last season really hurt.

“The players are not perfect, sometimes they have bad days, sometimes better. I can’t fault the effort. I won’t judge them because we lost.”

He’s finding more positives than his players when it comes to the day’s mettle.

“We started slowly, and we were inconsistent in the way we wanted to play,” Arteta said. “We lost too many duels. We gave the ball away in difficult circumstances and they scored twice, but after that, the reaction from the lads was superb. We tweaked a few things to control situations better and we created chances, but at this level, it wasn’t enough.”

John Stones was at the back for both of Lyon’s goals, and admitted that halftime hit the players hard.

“Really disappointing,” he said. “To concede two goals like we did is very frustrating,. We came in at half-time a bit deflated. We picked ourselves up and played a better second half but it was frustrating.”