Inside Look: How the LA Galaxy won MLS Cup 2014 and cemented their legacy

1 Comment

First things first, the soccer played in Sunday’s 2014 MLS Cup final was not a perfect advertisement of “the beautiful game.” Let’s remember, though, that cup finals rarely are, no matter what part of the world we’re talking about.

They’re almost always cagey affairs with tons of adrenaline and anxiety beforehand, both sides unwilling to be the ones who “lost” the game, and stretches of “good soccer” being few and far between.

The fine folks over at Backheel.com probably described Sunday’s final, and all cup finals for that matter, as well as can be done.

That said, here’s how the LA Galaxy won MLS Cup 2014, their third title in four years, willing their way past the New England Revolution in Sunday’s final.

“We own the left” – LA Galaxy  On the Revs’ left side of defense, you’ll find Chris Tierney and Jose Goncalves — two veteran defenders ranking among the top five or 10 at their respective position within MLS. On the right, there’s A.J. Soares and Andrew Farrell — a pair of young, promising, up-and-down performers opponents frequently target.

Here’s everything the Galaxy tried to during the first half on Sunday. And — shocker — which side did they target most frequently?

source:

The number of attacking-half touches by left back Robbie Rogers (14) tells you everything you need to know about Bruce Arena‘s attacking gameplan. The game’s opening goal also came — albeit, secondarily — from targeting Farrell who was nowhere near up to the challenge of marking Gyasi Zardes one-on-one.

[ RELATED: Recap: Galaxy top Revs in extra time, send Donovan out on top ]

Sarvas locked in on Nguyen — I thought Juninho might draw the assignment of following MVP finalist and Revs attack catalyst Lee Nguyen all over the field, but it was Marcelo Sarvas, instead, which makes plenty of sense considering the two switch roles over and over through the course of 90 minutes with great situational awareness.

In the first half particularly, Sarvas was all over Nguyen, allowing him fewer than 20 touches in the Revs’ attacking half, including a whopping zero inside 25 yards from goal. In the rare instance found the ball at his feet, he had little time — and even fewer options — to pick out a forward pass of carry the ball forward, something he did so devastatingly well in the regular season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS Cup coverage | PST on Twitter ]

Second-half adjustments — Donovan moves more centrally and Zardes goes wide. This one didn’t seem to make a ton of sense from Arena. For starters, both players are far bigger contributors in the positions in which the started the game. Beyond that, it lets Farrell off the hook by killing the overlapping moves of Donovan and Rogers.

Patrick Mullins took Charlie Davies‘ place after 72 minutes and immediately had an impact on the game. It took him seven minutes to set up the Revs’ equalizer, but the biggest difference between the two forwards’ shifts was evident in sheer work rate. Mullins made the left-channel run that Davies had failed to all game long, and in doing so set up an overlapping Chris Tierney for a goal. Very simple stuff, really.

[ RELATED: VIDEO: Robbie Keane scores the MLS Cup-winning goal ]

The brightest star steps up in the biggest moment — As I said after Robbie Keane scored the game-winning goal, you’d expect nothing less of the 2014 MLS MVP. He’d struggled up until that point, selfishly trying to create shots of his own when he had better options elsewhere, But when he got behind the backline of the Revs, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind he would find the back of the net.

In the end, experience and the been there, done that factor was just enough to nudge the Galaxy over the line.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

Photo by Visionhaus
Leave a comment

Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho doesn’t have attacking options, but he does have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.

Solskjaer: Manchester United ‘looked mentally tired’ versus Burnley

Solskjaer reacts to Manchester United loss
Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

OIe Gunnar Solskjaer doesn’t have the answers to what ails Manchester United without Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, and he can’t even fake it.

The United boss could only hang his side’s 2-0 loss to Burnley on sharpness, as the Red Devils out-attempted the visitors by a 24-5 margin.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

United also had 72 percent of the ball, but Burnley’s whole philosophy is cool with you having the ball if you don’t have the lead.

The Red Devils never looked quite ready to grab that, either, from the moment an early Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross sailed through the six absent receiver. From the BBC:

“The boys looked mentally tired towards the end, we didn’t find that creativity,” Solskjaer said. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. When you are at Man United you are privileged because you are playing for the best club in the world.

“Sometimes you go through periods like that and it is a test I am sure they are going to come through.”

It’s all formulaic from the Norwegian manager. “The we’re United and it’s a special place” struck all the right chords when he first took the reins at Old Trafford, but the club hasn’t bought much quality since then and it’s ringing hollow as the depth fails to bail them out.

Spoiler alert: He did.

You can accept that Solskjaer is going nowhere and also accept that the whole thing is not going to improve any time soon. United should absolutely be in the Top Four given the failings of Chelsea, but cannot stop tripping over its own feet.

Man Utd shocked by advantageous Burnley

Leave a comment

Manchester United never showed up at Old Trafford, and Burnley reaped all the benefits.

Chris Wood and Jay Rodriguez scored as the Clarets stunned the Red Devils 2-0 on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

United fails to take advantage of Chelsea’s draw with Arsenal, and sits six points back of the Top Four.

Burnley climbs seven points clear of the drop zone, level with five teams on 30 points.


Three things we learned

1. Wood shines up top: It was a 10th goal to go with his first assist of the season for the New Zealand international, who used a half-yard of space from Harry Maguire to put Burnley in front. Burnley’s philosophy is to find their forwards at all cost, and when Wood is delivering that ethos looks genius.

2. United’s absent wings cost it dear (and jeer): Juan Mata and Anthony Martial were lively, but both Daniel James and Andreas Pereira did little to inspire hope of a goal for the home side. The Red Devils were the focus of crowd derision on the day, as they again wasted a chance to improve their Top Four credentials. Most teams will suffer without their top two attackers, but this is Manchester United. Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford missing or not, Wednesday was iugly stuff.

3. Jay Rodriguez’s new nickname is “Bangers Only”: Joking aside, it’s difficult to remember Rodriguez goals that don’t get you out of your seat. His insurance goal absolutely buried United, and gives him seven across all competitions. It also gives Sean Dyche plenty of competition in training, with Ashley Barnes on the periphery.

Man of the Match: Wood


United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka cut a promising 15th minute cross through the 18, but no teammate could get a foot to it.

Fred continued his lively play when he hit a low drive to Nick Pope in the 23rd, good endeavor without the required sharpness.

Daniel James forced Pope into a leaping save in the 32nd, and Martial couldn’t get his feet right when Nemanja Matic rolled him to the doorstep in the 34th.

Burnley took the lead out of absolute nothing, Wood taking advantage of Harry Maguire when Ben Mee flicked a long free kick to the Kiwi.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Rodriguez went bar down with a beauty in the 57th minute to make it 2-0, and real trouble arrived at Old Trafford.