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.”

USWNT names veteran team for Tournament of Nations

Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) The top-ranked U.S. will bring a veteran group to the four-team Tournament of Nations, which begins next week with a match against Japan at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

[ MORE: Man City, USMNT’s Mix Diskerud loaned to South Korea ]

U.S. coach Jill Ellis announced her training roster of 25 players Wednesday, all but three of whom played for the national team this year. The newcomers are goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, forward Kealia Ohai and defender Jaelene Hinkle, while defenders Casey Short and Emily Sonnett are back from injury.

The roster will be pared to 22 before the U.S. faces Japan on July 26. Brazil plays Australia the same day in the opener of round-robin tournament.

The Tournament of Nations is an important tuneup for the U.S. ahead of World Cup qualifying, which begins with group matches Oct. 4 in Cary, North Carolina.

FULL ROSTER

Goalkeepers: Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders: Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage), Tierna Davidson (Stanford), Jaelene Hinkle (NC Courage), Merritt Mathias (NC Courage), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns)

Midfielders: Morgan Brian (Chicago Red Stars), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage), Allie Long (Seattle Reign), McCall Zerboni (NC Courage)

Forwards: Crystal Dunn (NC Courage), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), Christen Press (Utah Royals), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign), Amy Rodriguez (Utah Royals)

Transfer rumor roundup: Pogba wants Juve move, Grealish to Spurs?

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Transfer season has been turned up a notch with the conclusion of the World Cup, and a number of big names are in the news on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Alisson on the brink of joining PL giants Liverpool ]


Paul Pogba‘s performance for France at the World Cup was key for Les Bleus in their run to the title, and now the Manchester United midfielder could be on the move.

Tuttosport is reporting that Pogba wants to complete a switch back to Juventus, which would see him joining Cristiano Ronaldo and the seven-time reigning Serie A champions.

Pogba previously played with Juve from 2012 to 2016, after beginning his professional career with the Red Devils.


With Aston Villa’s ongoing financial struggles, several high-quality players could be sold this summer, and the sale of the team’s most-coveted talent may be on the horizon.

Sky Sports is reporting that Tottenham Hotspur have engaged talks with Villa over a move for midfielder Jack Grealish.

The young creator could command anywhere between $40 and $50 million if a deal is struck with the PL giants, who look to sign their first player of the summer.


Napoli appears confident it can add to its attack this summer, as new manager Carlo Ancelotti looks to one of his former players.

Ancelotti has reportedly reached out to Paris Saint-Germain star Angel di Maria over a potential switch to Serie A, after having coached the Argentina international at Real Madrid four years ago.

With Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Julian Draxler already entrenched in PSG’s squad, Di Maria could be looking for a more stable environment in 2018/19 where he can receive more consistent playing time.

Oxlade-Chamberlain ruled out for season with knee injury

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Liverpool will miss one of its squad regulars in 2018/19, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been ruled out for the season with a knee injury.

The 24-year-old England international suffered the blow in April’s UEFA Champions League semifinal against AS Roma, and has been sidelined ever since.

The injury forced Oxlade-Chamberlain to miss a call up to England for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, as well.

“It feels like now is an appropriate time to tell people that for Ox this coming season will be about focusing on recovery and rehab,” manager Jurgen Klopp said of the injury. “We have known this from pretty much the day after he got the injury and after the successful surgery we were sure of it. I hope everyone treats this information responsibly.

“There has been no change, no setback – it’s exactly on the schedule we expected and planned for. The new information is that we’re now giving more detail publicly.

“It is typical of Ox that he didn’t want the news to overshadow the end of the season and, to be quite honest, we thought we could wait and tell people at an appropriate time. His surgery – which he had on the day of our second leg in Rome – has been completely successful and his recovery has started superbly well. But the truth of the matter is that we are preparing this season knowing he will not be with us on the pitch for competitive matches for the majority of it. If we do see him back this season it will be a bonus.”

The former Arsenal midfielder joined the Reds last season after a falling out in playing time with the Gunners.

In 42 matches with Liverpool, Oxlade-Chamberlain recorded five goals in all competitions.

Video: Ayoze Perez stuns with back-heel strike in Newcastle training

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The Premier League season may be a few weeks away from kicking off, but Ayoze Perez looks to be in fine form for the Magpies.

[ MORE: Cristiano Ronaldo won’t travel to U.S. with Juventus ]

The Newcastle attacker scored a wonderful flicked back-heel during a recent training session with the club (below), potentially giving fans a preview of things to come this season.

Perez, 24, is entering his fifth season at St. James’ Park, and with goals like this, the Spaniard will have expectations raised even further under manager Rafael Benitez.