MLS playoff preview: LA Galaxy take slim lead into Thursday’s Western Conference semifinal second leg

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  • The LA Galaxy won the first leg, 1-0
  • Real Salt Lake has some history of not getting the job done at home in big games
  • Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan drive the Galaxy’s potent counter attack
  • The Galaxy is bidding for a record third consecutive MLS championship
  • If the teams are level on total goals at the end of 90 minutes, a 30-minute overtime will decide the series, followed by penalty kicks if necessary

Creeping doubt can be a terrible thing. When it comes to the LA Galaxy’s visit Thursday to Rio Tinto Stadium for a concluding playoff leg against Real Salt Lake, you have to wonder if one of the sides will succumb to it? Because both of these talented Western Conference sides have something to feel good about … but a little something to fear, too.

The two-time defending champion LA Galaxy takes a tenuous 1-0 lead into Thursday’s second leg of the Western Conference semifinal. Thursday’s winner from Rio Tinto (pictured above) advances into the conference final against Seattle or Portland.

Real Salt Lake has some disquieting history when it comes to these big deciders at home. That goes all the way back to a notorious (well, from RSL’s side it was notorious) 1-0 loss to New York back in 2008, just days after the stadium opened. Jason Kreis’ team was all over New York, pinging three of its 24 shots off the post but eventually falling and missing out on a trip to MLS Cup.

[MORE: MLS playoff focus: Notes on Real Salt Lake ahead of Thursday’s second leg against the LA Galaxy]

The big crusher came a few years later when RSL missed out on a bid for meaningful history by not finishing the job at home. That came in the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League final. In need of a draw against Mexico’s Monterrey to claim the crown and play in the fancy FIFA Club World Cup, RSL fell at Rio Tinto, 1-0.

Even this year, RSL lost inside its swell ground at the base of the Wasatch Mountains in the U.S. Open Cup final. (Even worse yet, they lost that match to D.C. United, which just finished with the poorest record ever in Major League Soccer regular season play.)

Overall, Real Salt Lake has hosted eight elimination matches (MLS playoffs or cup competitions) at Rio Tinto Stadium, having advanced in just two of them.

Kreis has refused to talk about it. Team captain Kyle Beckerman did:

“For us, the way I look at it, you’ve got to keep putting yourself in those positions to play those games,” the RSL veteran midfielder said. “We’re doing something good to keep getting these games and getting an opportunity to win on our home soil. … We know there’s still a lot to play for, so I think we’re really excited to get another chance to advance in a game that’s played at our place.”

That meager history for the home side is likely to land as cold comfort to the visitors, the two-time defending MLS Cup champions whose bid for a historic three-peat (it would be Major League Soccer’s first) now dangles in the balance. It does so because the Galaxy could not convert more chances in the weekend opener at the StubHub Center.

[MORE: MLS playoff focus: Notes on the LA Galaxy ahead of Thursday’s second leg against Real Salt Lake]

The Galaxy counter attack was synched up wonderfully, the movement from Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan right in time. The finishing, on the other hand …

“I don’t think that Robbie and Landon will ever miss that many chances again,” Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza said. “It’s a positive how many chances that they did get, but I think that they’ll finish a few of those on Thursday.”

source: AP
Major League Soccer’s all-time leading playoff scorer Landon Donovan.

But will they get all those chances? It just hasn’t happened that way for the Galaxy on the road this year. And that stands as the vulnerable spot for Bruce Arena’s team Thursday.

The Galaxy was just 4-9-4 on the road this year, matching Montreal for worst mark among MLS playoff teams. Take away one of those “road” wins, a victory over Chivas USA in the building the teams share, and Arena’s club was no better than 3-9-4 outside the StubHub Center this year. One of those wins came in Utah, at least; that was back in April, a 2-0 win at Rio Tinto.

Since then, however, Kreis’ men posted a commanding 3-1 win over the Galaxy at home, this one in June.

Beckerman warned that his team could not afford to lose sight of the big picture, one that says his team needs just one goal to pull level in this one. To do so, to panic and get rash about creating chances without careful game management, is to invite danger against the Galaxy counter.

“We’ll try to put some high pressure, but I don’t feel like we’re going to have to score like we have to score in the opening 15 or 20 minutes,” he said. “It’s a 90 minute game and we’ll have time to get a goal to send it into overtime or whatever we need.  It’ll be key to not get caught up and give up opportunities for them to counter. We know that I’ll happen, but if we can limit their chances it’ll help our chances for sure.”

FOLLOW LIVE — Berhalter’s USMNT taking on Chile

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The U.S. men’s national team, without a pair of prominent youngsters and building blocks for the future, is set to take on Chile at BBCA Compass Stadium in Houston.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT v. Chile ]

Following the departures of Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie from camp, Gregg Berhalter has made changes up and down the squad from Thursday’s 1-0 victory over Ecuador.

Hit the link above to follow along live, and check back with PST for a full recap and player ratings after the game.

Prime minister May joins England players in calling for strong punishment

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LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday urged soccer authorities to take strong action against Montenegro after England players faced a torrent of racial abuse during a European Championship qualifying match.

UEFA charged the Montenegro Football Association over its fans’ racist behavior in Podgorica on Monday night after England players Callum Hudson-Odoi and Danny Rose complained about being targeted with monkey chants during the team’s 5-1 victory.

UEFA’s anti-discrimination group had sent a monitor to the game because there was judged to be a “high risk” of racism and their evidence will now feed into a disciplinary case that will be heard on May 16 by European soccer’s governing body.

The treatment of England players was debated in the House of Commons between discussions about the Brexit deadlock and there was an intervention from May’s Downing Street office.

“The abuse England players were subjected to last night was disgusting and completely unacceptable,” said James Slack, the prime minister’s spokesman. “It is right that UEFA are now investigating. We urge them to do this quickly and to take strong and swift action.”

In a sign of the extent of the racism problem in European soccer, UEFA announced a separate investigation on Tuesday into abuse aimed at Hudson-Odoi while playing for Chelsea. UEFA said it appointed an inspector to assess a complaint by Chelsea that the 18-year-old winger was targeted with racist insults by Dynamo Kiev fans during the London club’s 5-0 win in Ukraine in the Europa League.

“It is a disaster,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said of racism in European football. “I cannot believe these people still exist.”

In the Montenegro incident, the Fare network which monitors discrimination at games in Europe will provide evidence which could lead to a partial or full stadium closure for the team’s next Euro 2020 qualifier in June against Kosovo.

“We had an observer present who picked up evidence of racial abuse,” Fare said in a statement. “Our monitoring team have been compiling the evidence we have before presenting it to UEFA.

We commend the reaction of the England players involved, no human being should have to face abuse and vilification for their race or identity, something that many Montenegrins will understand from the divisive and bloody recent history of the Balkans.”

In one unsavory incident, England winger Raheem Sterling cupped his ears after scoring England’s fifth goal and Montenegro fans responded with jeers before an object — reportedly a lighter — was thrown onto the field. It was picked up by Hudson-Odoi.

“All of us know what skin color we are,” Sterling said after the game. “It’s not like you are telling us anything new.”

Hudson-Odoi, in another post-match interview, mimicked the monkey chants he and Rose heard.

“We hope that UEFA will act decisively, the sanctions that could be applied for an offense of this kind range from a partial stadium closure to full stadium closure,” Fare said in a statement. “These sanctions are being applied regularly for offenses in UEFA competitions, often against resistance from supporter groups and football stakeholders.

“The challenge of tackling racism and other forms of discrimination in European football however remains an ongoing issue. The societal change and education that is the ultimate solution is slow to take place. Even in the countries of Western Europe where there has been investment and focus on these issues, discrimination remains a stain on football.”

The Football Association of Montenegro said it was only “alleged” there was “racist behavior of few spectators” but committed to identifying anyone deemed responsible and banning them from all matches in the country.

“At the matches played by our respective national teams until now, we have not had any incidents related to religious, gender or racial discrimination and we are fully convinced that there will not be any such incidents in the future,” the federation said. “In a multicultural and multiethnic society as Montenegro is, there is not any space for such conduct, which was the feeling most intensively experienced by our guests from England during the previous two official matches they played in Podgorica.”

The English Football Association said much work is required to eradicate racism across the game.

“The issues we saw last night are not isolated to any specific country, and despite progress English football still has its own incidents of discrimination,” the FA said.

“Our experience is that by combining both sanctions and education, whilst working alongside campaigners such as Kick It Out, real progress can be made.”

Inter and Milan close to announcing plans for new stadium

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MILAN (AP) Inter and AC Milan are close to announcing a joint project for a new stadium, casting aside potential renovations to the San Siro.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

Inter CEO Alessandro Antonello tells the Gazzetta dello Sport the clubs agree the best way forward is to build a new stadium next to the city-run San Siro then tear down the old stadium.

Antonello says, “Inter and Milan are working together. We still have work to do but the time is right. Soon we will inform the city of our shared choice. Milan needs a stadium worthy of the top European cities.”

The San Siro, officially named Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, opened in 1926 and has already had several renovations. Modernizing the San Siro again could take more time and money than building a new stadium – plus would require Inter and Milan to play elsewhere during construction.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Young American undergoing cancer treatment to meet her Huddersfield hero

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A seven-year-old girl from Dallas, Texas will be meeting her hero in Huddersfield.

Bella has lost her hair during treatment for Medulloblastoma, a form of child brain cancer, and took comfort in watching shaved headed Aaron Mooy play for Huddersfield Town in the Premier League and at the World Cup for Australia.

After undergoing radiation treatment throughout the summer, Bella and her father spent plenty of time on the couch watching soccer as she rested from the intensive treatment.

The young American now has a Huddersfield kit with Mooy’s name and number on the back of the shirt, and the club came across her story on social media.

Bella and her father will now travel to the UK as guests of the club and will meet Mooy and watch him and the Terriers take on Leicester City on Saturday Apr. 6 at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Huddersfield Town’s commercial director Sean Jarvis revealed that Mooy and the club — with the help of local company PAXMAN who have a base in Texas for their caps which help with chemotherapy-induced hair loss — are delighted to welcome Bella to a PL game in April.

“Everyone at the club is looking forward to welcoming Bella over for her special trip in early April. Her story, and bravery, are extraordinary and she thoroughly deserves what should hopefully be a very special experience. The fact that she relates to Aaron’s shaved head is really beautiful and as soon as Aaron heard, he shared our desire to do something special for Bella and her family.”

As her mother Lauren explained, they hope Bella is coming towards the end of her treatment as they now wait for her immune system to recover.

In the meantime, she enjoys watching Mooy play via the FIFA World Cup video game or elsewhere, and she will now get the chance to meet him and watch him play in real life.