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MLS Rewind: Bruce’s big dilemma, refs (again) + TotW & PotW

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“BETTER” WITHOUT KEANE?

“Better” in sports is an unbelievably misleading word. The LA Galaxy aren’t “better” without 2013 MLS MVP and scorer of 75 goals (to go along with 43 assists) in 111 career MLS games. Of course they’re not. (Same goes for Nigel de Jong as well, probably.)

But there’s no denying that over the last four games — and the last two in particular — in which Keane hasn’t played a single minute due to knee surgery, have seen Bruce Arena’s side strike a much healthier balance between their attack and their defense, resulting in two of the best overall performances we’ve seen in MLS 2016 thus far.

[ MORE: Check out previous editions in the MLS Rewind archive ]

Three tactical adjustments have been made in Keane’s absence. In no particular order, they are: 1) Giovani dos Santos has taken up Keane’s free-roaming, play-making role which suits him much more than being shunted out wide as a winger; 2) Mike Magee’s place in the starting lineup offers the kind of defensive cover that Dos Santos isn’t capable of providing, whether on the left or right; 3) Gyasi Zardes’s deployment through the center has shown that he’s more productive as a striker than as a winger. As a result, the Galaxy are humming right along with near-perfect, best evidenced in Saturday’s 5-2 dismantling of previously-unbeaten Real Salt Lake.

On point no. 2, below is the combined passing-and-defensive-actions diagrams for Juan Manuel “El Burrito” Martinez and Demar Phillips (left), and that of left back Chris Wingert (right), who combined to play all 90 minutes up and down RSL’s left wing, where Magee was ever-present in assisting right back A.J. DeLaGarza. You’ll notice that they 1) are all three pushed extremely wide, and 2) combine to complete all of one pass into the Galaxy’s penalty area. The left wing is a total non-starter for RSL in this one, though the absence of Joao Plata and his ability to operate in the space between the full back and center back on either side was undoubtedly a big miss.

RSL

Keane’s return from injury is approaching (he was originally pegged with an early-to-mid-May return date), at which point the Galaxy will undoubtedly be a more talented side on paper, but not necessarily one that fits together and functions at its very best.

Someone from the above list of attackers is headed to the bench upon Keane’s return — not even Arena could get away with sitting a player with more goals and assists combined than games played in his MLS career. It’s easiest to say, “well, Magee is the ‘worst’ player of the bunch, so it should obviously be him,” but it should be one of Zardes or Dos Santos instead.


REFEREEING GAFFES AT CRITICAL MASS

Let’s talk about MLS’s gigantic, growing refereeing problem, because that seems to be what MLS and the Professional Referee Organization want us to do at the end of every MLS weekend.

MLS’s mandate for its referees to officiate games in a stricter manner in an attempt to rid the game of dangerous challenges, thus seeing the number of red cards handed out increase a fair bit over the first month of the season, has been met with plenty of opposition and disdain thus far in 2016. In defense of the league and PRO, though, whether you believe it to be a necessary venture, at least it indicates the two organizations, which work together hand in hand, have considered a course of action to improve the league’s standard of play and protect its players.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Being proactive is typically a good thing, and this instance is no different. What’s not so great, however, were a pair of blown calls on Sunday that saw the league’s two nationally televised games decided (to varying degrees) by something out of the hands of the 22 players on the field.

Major League Soccer – Week 7

Result Recap & Highlights
Impact 0-2 Toronto Recap, watch here
Union 2-0 NYCFC Recap, watch here
DCU 3-0 NE Revs Recap, watch here
Rapids 3-1 Sounders Recap, watch here
Crew SC 1-0 Dynamo Recap, watch here
Whitecaps 3-0 FCD Recap, watch here
Galaxy 5-2 RSL Recap, watch here
Quakes 1-0 SKC Recap, watch here
Red Bulls 3-2 Orlando Recap, watch here

Referee Jair Marrufo failed to simultaneously award Sporting Kansas City a penalty and show San Jose Earthquakes defender Andres Imperiale a red card when he quite clearly slid through the legs of Dom Dwyer, coming nowhere near the ball in his last-ditch challenge (WATCH HERE). Less than five minutes later, Marrufo (correctly) awarded the Earthquakes a penalty when Tim Melia brought Simon Dawkins down with with contact that was no greater and no less than occurred on the other end of the field. Chris Wondolowski converted the spot kick, and the ‘Quakes won the game 1-0.

Not even four hours later, Hilario Grajeda failed to show Karl Ouimette a red card of his own after the New York Red Bulls defender swiped the legs of Orlando City SC striker Cyle Larin right out from under him with the two racing into the Red Bulls’ penalty area, and an obvious goal-scoring opportunity upon them (WATCH HERE). Orlando City held a 1-0 lead at the time and would have enjoyed a man advantage for the game’s final 27 minutes. Instead, Ouimette stayed on the field (he later scored an inconsequential own goal), the Red Bulls equalized two minutes later, scored again four minutes after that, and went on to win the game 3-2.

After each game’s final whistle, neither referee had any desire to explain their calls — or, non-calls, as it were — that drastically changed the course of two otherwise enjoyable games of soccer (UPDATE).

No accountability for their shortcomings, which is perhaps MLS’s greatest shortcoming with regard to its referees: Marrufo and Grajeda, along with every other ref who erred in costly fashion this weekend and last weekend and the weekend before that and so on, will be right back out there (mis-)managing MLS game next weekend and the weekend after that and so on. PRO general manager Peter Walton will do a controlled interview with some online or television outlet in the coming days or weeks, insist the organization is committed to raising its standard, and we’ll all go back to living our everyday lives.

Expect to see the exact same mistakes in the coming weeks and months, though, and to find yourself wondering yet again, “why did I commit that much of my afternoon/evening/weekend to watching MLS when the guys with the whistles are always the stars of the show?” For a league that’s incredibly brand- and market-conscious, you’d think MLS would move quickly to fix something that’s bound to cost it viewers — and ultimately dollars — if unchanged.

If it’s a solution to the problem that you’re looking for, Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath offered up a pretty good one last week: instead of signing aging foreign players at the end of their playing careers, commit some of that money to recruiting quality refs who have called games at the highest level in order to increase the standard of refereeing, because the quality of play has improved leaps and bounds while the men in the middle of the field seem to have stagnated and/or regressed badly.


TEAM OF THE WEEK

Goalkeeper: David Ousted (Vancouver Whitecaps)

MLS GK

Defenders: Ashley Cole (LA Galaxy), Drew Moor (Toronto FC), Tim Parker (Vancouver Whitecaps)

MLS DF

Midfielders: Emmanuel Boateng (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC) Will Johnson (Toronto FC)

MLS MF

Forwards: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

MLS FW


PLAYER OF THE WEEK

No single player in MLS can take over a game the way that Sebastian Giovinco can do, and so regularly does. With his 22-goal, 16-assist 2015 season still fresh in everyone’s memory, Giovinco is the focal point of every opposition’s defensive gameplan (this was the case last year as well, to little avail), which limits the number of touches, space and chances that come the Atomic Ant’s way during a given game.

So what, the 29-year-old Italian said this week, as he carved up the Montreal Impact for two goals, three massive road points and a bit of revenge for last season’s playoff elimination and embarrassment. A sign of a truly great player is the ability to do a lot with very little, and Giovinco continues to do that week in and week out. His 81st-minute insurance goal was as ruthless as it was comforting for TFC fans.

Guardiola: ‘We’re here to win the Champions League’

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Pep Guardiola has put down a marker as Manchester City beat Real Madrid to reach the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

He now wants his Manchester City side to go on and reach the holy grail and win the Champions League, the trophy their Abu Dhabi owners crave above all others.

Man City beat Real Madrid 2-1 in their Round of 16 second leg, and 4-2 on aggregate, as Guradiola outwitted Zinedine Zidane over two legs to set up a winnable quarterfinal against Lyon in Lisbon, Portugal next Saturday.

Asked by BT Sport after the game what this win against Real Madrid means for Man City and their mentality, Guardiola did not play down their chances.

“For us, it is of course important, we beat them twice. Zizou never lost one knockout game. You see the calm and personality they play with, they are good,” Guardiola said. “But we are here to try and win the Champions League. It is just one step. If we think that is enough, we will show how small of a team we are. To win the Champions League you have to beat the big clubs.”

Man City will face one of those big clubs, likely Bayern Munich or Barcelona, in the semifinal stage of the Champions League but first they have to get past underdogs Lyon, who stunned Juventus as Memphis Depay has led the Ligue 1 side to the last eight.

“I spoke to the scouting department and they told me ‘be alert’ and we have eight days, we will enjoy this tonight and tomorrow, then we will start to think about Lyon,” Guardiola said when asked about their quarterfinal opponents.

Man City are the heavy favorites to beat Lyon and they are the bookies’ favorites to win the Champions League overall.

Pep Guardiola has now piled the pressure on his team to prove just how good they are and even without the injured Sergio Aguero, and with Fernandinho playing at center back, they eased past Real Madrid.

Manchester City have fallen at the quarterfinal stage when favorites in each of the last two seasons and Guardiola knows this is their best chance to win their first-ever Champions League trophy as Bayern Munich or Barcelona are very good, but not unbeatable, if they get past Lyon.

Guardiola looks hungry and he badly wants to win the Champions League for the first time since 2011 as he failed to win the trophy at Bayern Munich and in his first three seasons at Man City.

The stars are aligning for Man City to deliver the one trophy Guardiola hasn’t won since he arrived in Manchester in 2016 and the one trophy the club hasn’t won since their Abu Dhabi owners took over in 2008.

In this year, just a month after they overturned UEFA’s decision to ban them from the Champions League for two seasons, success would surely taste even sweeter for everyone connected with Man City.

Lyon shock Juventus, reach Champions League quarterfinal

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Juventus – Lyon was mean to be a straightforward comeback win for the home side to reach yet another UEFA Champions League quarterfinal.

It was anything but as Lyon shocked Juventus to dump Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. out of Europe as Maurizio Sarri’s side continued their poor form since the restart.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions

Juventus won 2-1 on the night, as Ronaldo scored twice but Juve came up one goal short and for the second season running Ronaldo has failed in his quest to lead the Italian giants to the Champions League title.

As for Lyon, who haven’t played in over 5 months as the French league was cancelled in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, they put in a heroic display as they now face Manchester City in Lisbon, Portugal in the last eight on Aug. 15.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Lyon got off to the perfect start in Turin, but it was fortunate, as Houssem Aouar won a very dubious penalty kick as VAR checked the decision but somehow it stood.

Memphis clipped home a delicious panenka to put Lyon 1-0 up and leave Juventus needing to score three goals on the night to advance.

Federico Bernardeschi went close and Anthony Lopes saved well from Ronaldo’s free kick as Lyon sat back and soaked up pressure.

Juventus won a penalty kick before half time, as Memphis handled Miralem Pjanic’s free kick but it look harsh as his arm wasn’t in an unnatural position.

Ronaldo slotted home the spot kick to make it 1-1. Game on.

At the start of the second half Ronaldo smashed home a beauty to make it 2-1 as Juve needed one more goal to advance to the last eight.

Ronaldo was everywhere and he then set up Gonzalo Higuain to head home, but his effort was off target from close range.

And Juve couldn’t find one more goal to send them through as Lyon advanced on the away goals rule and shocked everyone by dumping the Italian champions out of Europe.

3 things learned: Man City v. Real Madrid

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Manchester City – Real Madrid was a fairly straightforward win for the hosts, as they reached the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals by beating the 13-time European champions 2-1 on the night and 4-2 on aggregate.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

Raheem Sterling opened the scoring for Man City after a bad mistake from Raphael Varane was ruthlessly punished. Real’s Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema combined well at times and although Ederson denied them early on, Benzema pulled one back in the first half as Rodrygo’s cross was nodded home by the French striker.

Benzema and Jesus both went close for either team in the second half and the latter made the most of another big mistake from Varane to make it 2-1 and seal Man City’s spot in the quarterfinals for the third-straight season with relative ease.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Etihad, as Manchester City – Real Madrid was an open affair but the hosts always looked in control.


CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DREAM ALIVE FOR MAN CITY

Pep Guardiola is like Indiana Jones entering the desert on his way to reaching the holy grail. Lisbon is now his ‘Canyon of the Crescent Moon’ as Man City have a quarterfinal, semifinal and final between them and footballing immortality. Man City have longed for Champions League glory and given their successful appeal against their two-season UEFA ban, they will now stride into Lisbon, Portugal as the favorites to be crowned champions of Europe. They strolled past Real Madrid and even without the injured Sergio Aguero, you’d fancy them to sweep all before them to reach the promised land. Man City have always found a way to mess things up in the Champions League but this season feels different. They gave up their Premier League trophy easily to Liverpool but it seemed like the Champions League was always the main focus this season. They now face Lyon in the quarterfinals and then their toughest test, likely either Barcelona or Napoli in the semifinals. Guardiola knows the holy grail is within reach as he is closer than ever to finally delivering the trophy Man City’s Abu Dhabi owners have built this whole project to win.


SLOPPY REAL MADRID EXIT WITH A WHIMPER

Missing captain and legendary Sergio Ramos through suspension from the first leg, Real Madrid needed young defender Edgar Militao to step up in is place. They did not need silky smooth defender Raphael Varane to give the ball away early on to give up a cheap and avoidable goal. Although Real recovered from that early error, they failed to get Luka Modric on the ball as much as they wanted to and Eden Hazard and Benzema only showed flashes of promise. Just when it seemed like Real would push hard for a second goal which would have taken the game to extra time, Varane made another big mistake. And that was that. After impressing in La Liga since the restart and winning the Spanish title, Real Madrid looked remarkably subdued as perhaps a few weeks off before this game impacted them. The Kings of Europe will have to wait another year to add another crown to their collection. Manchester City – Real Madrid was historic, as it marked the first time Zinedine Zidane has ever lost a Champions League game in the knockout rounds. The way his team limped out of Europe was surprising and disappointing for Real Madrid.


PEP BEATS ZIZOU, BUT FALSE NINE FAILS

It was a surprise to see Phil Foden start ahead of David Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva in a game of this magnitude but there’s always a method to Pep’s madness. And it isn’t madness, is it? It’s genius. Just like he did in the first leg at Real Madrid, Pep raised eyebrows as he started a central midfielder (Foden this time, Kevin de Bruyne in the first leg) as a false nine. Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling were rampant from each flank early on, putting defenders under pressure in their own box, and that was how they opened the scoring. But Man City then failed to build on that lead and let Real back into the game. Pep changed things around at half time and Jesus looked more comfortable centrally and so too did Foden. It was a small tweak but it got Man City back on track and Guardiola’s tactical nous made the difference, even though Man City were handed the win on a platter thanks to Real Madrid’s shaky defensive display.

VIDEO: Cristiano Ronaldo scores stunning goal for Juventus v. Lyon

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Cristiano Ronaldo amazing goal video? Cristiano Ronaldo amazing goal video.

Yep, we’ve all been here before.

Ronaldo, 35, smashed home an unstoppable shot to put Juventus ahead on the night and level on aggregate against Lyon ini the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg, as the Portuguese superstar scored his second of the game in style.

Season after season, Ronaldo does this time and time again as he’s now scored 37 goals in all competitions for Juventus this season. He’s 35. This just isn’t normal and all of those who doubted Ronaldo’s move to Juventus should watch him deliver week in, week out and be made to eat their words.

As for this game, he turned it on its head as things did not start well for Juventus at all.

After Memphis Depay scored an early penalty kick to put Lyon ahead in Turin, that meant Juventus had to win at least 3-1 on the night to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.

Ronaldo scored a penalty just before half time to make it 1-1 and the comeback was on, then this stunning strike made it 2-1 on the night to Juventus and set up a grand finale.

Watch on in awe as Ronaldo cut in from the right and smashed home with his ‘weaker’ left foot. Safe to say that Ronaldo will have a sore back after carrying Juventus.