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LA Galaxy enter 2016 in a familiar role — all-in to win it all

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Every team in every sport in the world has what’s known as a “championship window” — the period in which the heart of its roster competes in the collective prime made up of a number of individual careers.

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One of the keys to successful team-building is assembling a cast of players whose careers are ready to peak at roughly the same time — in soccer, ages 26-31 are generally thought of as a player’s most  years — so as to convert the group’s collective talent into championships. This is, of course, much easier said than done.

Given Major League Soccer’s…unique… roster rules, regulations and mechanisms, there’s one other avenue by which teams — one in particular, actually — have built MLS Cup-winning squads throughout this decade: the Designated Player — most typically an aging veteran who, in his day, was of such quality that he’s still able to dominate MLS into his mid- to late-30s, though that generalization is quickly changing in recent times.

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Juninho & Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy
Juninho & Omar Gonzalez

The team about which we’re speaking is, of course, the LA Galaxy. Between 2011 and 2014, the Galaxy won an unprecedented three MLS Cups in four years. 2015’s playoff failure signaled the end of that particular squad’s championship window, though — in large part due to MLS’s cumbersome roster rules and regulations — thus the winter of 2015-16 was one of many changes for Bruce Arena’s bunch.

However, the Galaxy don’t rebuild the way most MLS teams do, so much as they reload every few years. Recently departed are Galaxy stalwarts and cornerstones Omar Gonazlez and Juninho (casualties of the salary cap and allocation money and target allocation money and so on and so forth), paving the way for an offseason of wildly spending other people’s money (doing as the Galaxy do).

[ MORE: The PST staff fearfully predicts the 2016 MLS season ]

So now the Galaxy find themselves in a familiar position: with all their chips sitting in the middle of the table, going for broke.

Nigel de Jong will anchor the Galaxy midfield in 2016, providing the kind of defensive cover to the backline that Steven Gerrard simply couldn’t upon arrival in August. Massive improvement. Jelle Van Damme will ably replace Gonzalez’s physical presence and aerial dominance in the heart of defense, at less than half the price. Marked improvement. Ashley Cole will assume the starting left back job and attempt to prove he’s still got something left to give despite a disastrous spell at Serie A side Roma, thus Robbie Rogers moves to right back. This might go bust.

[ MORE: MLS roundtable — discussing the hot topics of MLS 2016 ]

Robbie Keane & Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy
Robbie Keane & Steven Gerrard

Further investment was made to reward and retain winger/forward Gyasi Zardes, making him, essentially, the Galaxy’s seventh DP (Gerrard, De Jong, Van Damme, Cole, Robbie Keane and Giovani dos Santos will all pocket more than the $457,500 DP threshold (whether through traditional MLS compensation, or lucrative contract buyouts from Italy). Average age of the above listed players: 31.1 years, and only rising as the season wears on (without Zardes and Dos Santos, it jumps to 33.6). Not exactly in their primes, despite the magnitude of their respective careers, are they?

That said, it’s still the greatest collection of individual acclaim (and perhaps a bit of talent, still) that MLS has ever seen. If there’s a coach in the league capable of carefully massaging this squad through the spring and summer months and bringing it to a boil once the playoffs arrive in the fall, it would have to be someone who’s won five MLS Cup, three Supporters’ Shields, a U.S. Open Cup and guided the U.S. national team to the brink of the World Cup semifinals — his name is Bruce. Next winter will almost assuredly bring about another major overhaul, but for now Arena’s set to face perhaps the toughest challenge of his illustrious career over the next eight months.

Sessegnon beats Neuer to score first Spurs, Champions League goal

Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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Ryan Sessegnon has his first Spurs goal, which also happens to be his first UEFA Champions League goal, and he’ll love telling the tale of it.

The 19-year-old Englishman ripped a rocket past Manuel Neuer of all people, collecting a deflection to equalize early in Tottenham’s match against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

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Sessegnon entered the day with an assist in 30 minutes spread across three appearances for Spurs, and needed just 20 more minutes to find a goal.

He made a big money move from Fulham this summer, having made a remarkable 120 senior appearances. Almost all of those came before he turned 19, and he’s scored 25 times with 18 assists.

Kingsley Coman has Bayern’s goal as the teams remain locked at 1 after Bayern hung 7 on Spurs in England earlier in the group stage.


Jesus hat-trick downs Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta qualifies for knockouts

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Manchester City looked sluggish again, but Gabriel Jesus made sure it didn’t matter.

The Brazilian cropped up at a critical juncture for Pep Guardiola, sending Manchester City through into the knockout stage on a winning note as his hat-trick sealed a 4-1 come-from-behind victory that knocked Dinamo Zagreb from European competition altogether.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The first half was especially lackluster for the English visitors to Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, with lots of possession but little to show for it. The hosts went in front early on, punishing Man City on the counter on a fabulous volleyed finish from former Barcelona youth product Dani Olmo.

That was the best goal of the day, but Man City picked itself up and pulled back level before the break, with Jesus grabbing his first via a header as Dinamo Zagreb shut off, screaming for Man City to put the ball out with a Zagreb player down. The visitors rightly did not, and Dinamo was punished by the equalizer.

After halftime, Man City was much better, hammering the left flank to take a commanding lead. The second came on excellent work by Jesus in the box to shake a defender and finish with his right, while the third flew in minutes later on a pinpoint Benjamin Mendy cross that Jesus met with a flying karate kick. Pep Guardiola had one eye on the festive fixtures, withdrawing Jesus soon after the hour mark, replaced by Oleksandr Zinchenko who curiously took Jesus’s place at the striker position.

Phil Foden was the best Manchester City player throughout, and finished off the scoreline with seven minutes to go. An excellent buildup down the right saw Bernardo Silva sprung through, and he cut back to Foden at the top of the six-yard box who slid to meet the ball with pace and poke home the cherry on top.

Elsewhere, Atalanta topped Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in the Ukraine on goals by Timothy Castagne, Mario Pasalic, and Robin Gosens, meaning the Italians secured the second spot in Group A, qualifying for the knockout stage. The Ukranians were left dead in the water after right-back Dodo was sent off 13 minutes from time, leading to the second goal to seal things up. Atalanta’s advancement marks a stunning comeback given the Italian side failed to secure points in any of their first three group stage matches.

That left Shakhtar in third, dropping to the Europa League, while Dinamo Zagreb was left at the bottom of the group, on the outside looking in.

Charlotte MLS club files trademarks for eight potential names

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It is being heavily reported that Charlotte is the next city to earn a club in the rapidly expanding Major League Soccer landscape, and Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has taken the next step towards that possibility.

The new club needs a name, and they appear to be nearing a selection. Tepper filed for eight different name trademarks, according to multiple reports, including The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue who confirmed the filings were made under Tepper’s Panthers address.

Here is the list of names he filed copyright requests for:

“Charlotte FC” would be a bare-bones and generic name that follows in the footsteps of recent MLS expansion clubs such as Orlando City SC, NYCFC or LAFC. Others are a little more colorful, including “Carolina Gliders FC” or “Charlotte Monarchs FC,” while a few others like “Charlotte Town FC” or “Charlotte Athletic FC” clearly call forth thoughts of smaller English clubs.

Rodrigue speculated that the relative lack of “Carolina” encompassing names is potentially due to the possibility of an expansion bid from Raleigh down the road, and a Carolina team would potentially provide an unnecessary roadblock to that future prospect. There is a clear lack of region-encompassing names in Major League Soccer, with “New England Revolution” the only example, and there’s no real reason to break that mold with another potential bid city down the road.

Which name is your favorite? What would you have gone with if you could name the club?

LIVE, UCL: Two knockout spots remain; Man City, Tottenham in play

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Two more spots in the knockout round remain unclaimed as the final day of group stage play begins on Wednesday.

Groups C and D both require a second team to progress through to the Round of 16, with five teams still in the mix.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Manchester City has already won Group D, but the remaining three teams Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, and Atalanta all remain in contention for the second spot. Shakhtar currently sits second and has a home match with Atalanta, while Dinamo Zagreb host Man City in Croatia. Both those games feature in the early 12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Group D, meanwhile, has a pair of sides vying for the last spot. Atletico Madrid has a point advantage, currently sitting in second with a home match against already eliminated Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, hosts group winners Juventus in Germany.

Elsewhere, Tottenham Hotspur has already locked up a spot in the knockout stage, locked into the second spot in Group A, and they finish out the group stage with a visit to confirmed group winners Bayern Munich. Jose Mourinho told the press he forbid his players from watching any footage of the 7-2 defeat to Bayern to begin group stage play, and is resting “a few players” ahead of the festive Premier League fixtures.

Finally, Group A has already been decided with Real Madrid confirmed to finish second behind winners Paris Saint-Germain, but the two still have to complete the fixture list. Madrid heads to Belgium to take on Club Brugge, while PSG hosts Galatasaray. The Spanish side is most likely to rest players, with a weekend visit to Valencia coming up on Sunday followed by a midweek El Clasico that was rescheduled from earlier in the season.

Below is the full schedule for the last UCL games on Wednesday, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted, and you can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.

Wednesday Champions League action

Group A

Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray

Group B

Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiakos v. Red Star Belgrade

Group C

Dinamo Zagreb v. Manchester City (12:55 p.m. ET)
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta (12:55 p.m. ET)

Group D

Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus