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.”

UCL, LIVE: Man City, Man United aim to win groups

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Both Manchester clubs are already safely through to the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, but Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho want more.

Of course they do.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Manchester City host Hoffenheim knowing a win will secure top spot in Group F, while Man United head to Valencia knowing they must win and hope that Juventus fail to beat Young Boys in order to win Group H.

Stranger things have happened, but it appears Pep’s City are nailed on to win Group F and United will finish second behind Juve and be at risk of facing a much tougher team in the last 16.

Elsewhere, the only thing to sort out is in Group F as Shakhtar and Lyon go head-to-head for the final spot available in the last 16 of the competition. While Ajax and Bayern do battle for top spot in Group E.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

Click on the link above to follow the action live. While below is the look at the full schedule for Tuesday, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET.


Tuesday, UCL group stage schedule

Group E
Ajax v. Bayern Munich
Benfica v. AEK Athens

Group F
Manchester City v. Hoffenheim
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Lyon

Group H
Valencia v. Manchester United
Young Boys v. Juventus

Tottenham release update on new stadium

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Tottenham Hotspur have issued an update on when their new White Hart Lane stadium will be ready.

Spurs fans, you’ll have to wait a few more months.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live

On the back of their superb draw at Barcelona on Tuesday which secured an improbable spot in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, Mauricio Pochettino had been speaking about the excitement of playing the home leg of their UCL knockout round game at their new home.

Tottenham’s $1 billion new stadium on the site for their former White Hart Lane home was supposed to be ready for the start of the 2018-19 season, and its opening was then delayed until September, and then pushed back a few months and, well, here we are.

This update states that the stadium will not be ready until at least the last week of January.

In a statement released on Wednesday, chairman Daniel Levy didn’t want to confirm exactly when they would be playing in their new home, but he did confirm the game against Manchester United on Jan. 13 would be played at Wembley.

The club said that they will receive a “status report from our contractors in the week commencing 7 January 2019 and will update you thereafter” and went into a few more specifics.

“The past few months have been spent rectifying issues with the critical safety systems. We are pleased to report that progress has been steady and we are now into the integrated testing and commissioning phases that take place ahead of the application for a stadium safety certificate. Testing is being conducted both during the day and night and our contractors will continue to work during the Christmas period. Barring no further significant issues we should then be in a position to schedule Test Events.”

Levy continued that Tottenham are “acutely conscious that we are asking fans to go to Wembley for far longer than any of us wanted to” as attendances at their temporary home have dropped drastically in recent months.

“What I don’t want to do is set any firm dates until we have finally achieved a safety certificate. So many people tell me to look at other major schemes that run late and, whilst I know it happens often, we are still hugely frustrated. Once again I want to apologise to fans and to thank you for your ongoing support. We have a busy time ahead both on and off the pitch, particularly after last night’s amazing qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League.”

When do Spurs need their new stadium to be ready by for the Champions League?

The last 16 first leg games will take place on February 12-20, while the second legs will take place on March 5-13, so Spurs will be hoping they are drawn away from home in the UCL last 16 first leg so their new stadium would be ready for a massive European knockout game.

Report: Marcelo Bielsa lined up by Atlanta United

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Now this is something that would not only break the hearts of Leeds United fans but it would surely delight supporters of reigning MLS champs Atlanta United.

A report from Paul Newberry of the Associated Press claims that Atlanta United want one of Marcelo Bielsa or Guillermo Barros Schelotto to take over from outgoing head coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino.

The Argentine coach took charge of ATL’s first two years as an MLS franchise but Martino announced he is leaving this month, and he is expected to be named the new head coach of the Mexican national team.

Bielsa is known to be a close friend of Martino, but does this link make sense?

Right now the eccentric Argentina coach has a sleeping giant, Leeds, in second place in England’s second tier and many believe the Elland Road club are the favorites for promotion to the Premier League this season.

However, a report from the Daily Telegraph states that Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani could be having money issues as his sports streaming company, Eleven Sports, is on the brink of shutting down.

“Radrizzani’s sports streaming service is at risk of shutting down after only four months amid growing doubts over the financial viability of the company. It is understood that the 44-year-old Italian businessman has been unsuccessfully attempting to renegotiate deals with established pay-TV operators but Eleven Sports is now considering pulling the plug on its UK company. Telegraph Sport understands there could now be added pressure on Leeds to achieve promotion this season due to fears over cash-flow issues.”

Would this situation force Bielsa to leave Leeds before the end of the season? Probably not. It seems likely that the pressure will be cranked up on him to achieve promotion though as Radrizzani, Leeds’ majority owner since May, will need to deliver the huge riches promotion to the Premier League brings to continue to bankroll the club.

Bielsa does have a reputation for jumping ship pretty quickly when he does decide he’s had enough at a particular club or if things that were promised to him do not come to fruition. That said, this would still be a huge shock.

Then again, Atlanta shocked many with hiring Martino in the first place and since then the signings of Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron, Barco and now Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinz.

Huddersfield’s Mooy, Liverpool’s Matip out injured

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A huge blow has arrived for Huddersfield Town, as Aaron Mooy has been ruled out until February with a serious knee injury.

The Terriers have announced that Mooy “suffered a tear to the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) in his right knee” in the 1-0 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday.

Mooy, 28, will miss the 2019 Asian Cup for Australia and Huddersfield’s top goalscorer this season will miss at least their next eight Premier League games. That run includes massive clashes with fellow PL strugglers Newcastle, Southampton, Fulham, Burnley and Cardiff, as Mooy would have lively been the difference for Huddersfield in those game.s

“I’m gutted to be missing an important time for club and country,” Mooy said. “We’ve got a lot of fixtures over the Christmas period at Huddersfield Town, but I back the team to continue our good performances and get the results that we’re targeting. I’m also sad that this injury will rule me out of the Asian Cup. I’d like to wish the Socceroos all the best as they head to the UAE; I’ll be supporting them from afar. The hard work on my recovery has already started and I’m looking forward to being back out on the pitch.”

What does this mean for Huddersfield?

With a pivotal run of games coming up for David Wagner‘s side, Mooy’s absence at the heart of their midfield will be felt. Danny Williams has just returned to full fitness so he should play alongside Jonathan Hogg (struggling with a knock) and Phillip Billing in Mooy’s absence. Wagner also has issues with Terrence Kongolo and right back Tommy Smith, as the latter will be out until January with a hamstring strain.

At this time of the season injuries are starting to mount up for every single Premier League, and Liverpool know all about that.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men will now be without center back Joel Matip until the end of January as he fractured his collarbone in the crucial win against Napoli at Anfield as Liverpool secured their spot in the UEFA Champions League last 16 on Tuesday.

The towering defender, 27, played throughout the game but landed awkwardly when winning a header late on. He went to hospital after the game and it quickly became clear that the issue was a lot more serious then previously thought. Matip will now undergo surgery to repair the damage.

Matip joins Joe Gomez on the sidelines, as the latter fractured a bone in his left leg last week and will be out until February.

With Trent Alexander-Arnold also going off injured during the victory against Napoli, plus Dejan Lovren struggling with injuries all season, the only fully-fit center back Klopp currently has is Virgil Van Dijk. Fabinho could play there at a push, but Klopp is now relying on Lovren to regain his fitness quickly to step in with both Matip and Gomez out.