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Van Gaal delivers trophy but is likely to be fired by Man United

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LONDON — Minutes after Louis Van Gaal and Manchester United won the 2015-16 FA Cup rumors about his future at Old Trafford continued to rumble on.

Van Gaal, 64, is widely expected to be fired by United in the coming days as reports from AS in Spain and the Daily Telegraph in the UK state that Jose Mourinho is waiting in the wings to replace his former mentor.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

His United players dug deep to win the clubs first trophy since 2013 but this encounter depicted the struggles United have had this season as they struggled to break down Palace and prodded and probed without much creativity in the final third. That has become commonplace under Van Gaal and it seems as though his era is coming to an end.

They went down to 10-men, battled back from falling 1-0 down and when Jesse Lingard‘s stunning volley in the 111th hit the back of the net the usually somber Van Gaal jumped from his seat and celebrated like a madman.

“It is fantastic to win this title for the club, for the fans, and also for me because I now have won the cup in four countries, and not many managers have done that,” Van Gaal said afterwards when speaking to the BBC.

[ VIDEO: Lingard’s screamer wins it for United ]

Not many managers have divided opinion so much about their futures, either. With Ryan Giggs, Van Gaal’s assistant, waiting in the wings to take over or the club potentially turning to Mourinho, it seems as though Van Gaal is set to leave.

“Thank you for your congratulations!” said Van Gaal, sarcastically, as he walked out of his combative press conference with the FA Cup in hand. It may the last time we see him in an official capacity as Manchester United boss.

Van Gaal blamed injuries and issues with being able to bring the players he wanted to the club due to complications with transfer fees. He also flatly refused to talk about speculation regarding his future, even though news was breaking during his press conference that Mourinho will replace him.

“I show you the cup. I don’t discuss it with my friends of the media who already sacked me for the last six months,” Van Gaal said. “Which manager can do that? What I have done?”

Pressed again and asked if this would be the perfect way to leave United, with a trophy and on a high, Van Gaal simply said: “I don’t want to talk about leaving the club.”

Even though he led them to glory on Saturday, he will have to start thinking about it, and seriously. His press conference summed up his tenure at Old Trafford so far. Jumbled, full of defensive comments protecting his record and a few excuses scattered in. It was classic Van Gaal as his prickly relationship with the media continues until the bitter end.

The Red Devils have now won 12 FA Cups, equaling Arsenal’s record, but what does winning an FA Cup mean (their last FA Cup success came in 2004) to a club like Manchester United when it is so used to challenging for the Premier League and UEFA Champions League?

Stephen Ward and his friend Nicholas Short are season ticket holders at Old Trafford. They’ve been unimpressed with the way this season has gone but they were excited before the game as they sipped on cans of beer on a sidestreet just off Wembley Way.

“A club like Manchester United, a club of this size should be in the final of this competition more than it has been in recent years. It’s been a while, some would say that the opposition go into today as underdogs. They will give Man United a game but Man United will get that trophy back today,” Ward said. “It means a lot to Manchester United fans to get a trophy today. I genuinely believe that. The club is going through a change. It has had, in recent times, tough times compared to the last decade or so but it will bounce back and it starts today.”

John O’Dowd and his son Sean were stood on a balcony in a shopping mall in the Wembley complex. They were leaning against the handrail, taking in the sights as United’s fans poured into Wembley.

Should Van Gaal stay?

“I don’t want him to. No disrespect to him but we need a fresh person at the top,” O’Dowd said.

Earlier this week Van Gaal stated United’s fans expectations were “too high” amid widespread disappointment at finishing fifth in the Premier League and missing out on a spot in next season’s Champions League.

“I would say they we should still be aiming for top four. Not win it. But top four comfortably,” O’Dowd said. “I don’t want to celebrate just making the top four. This lad here (points to his son, Sean) within about eight years of him supporting the club we won two European Cups and went to another final. We are brought up on that success. We have expectations like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich… we are up there.”

Outside of the bubble United’s fans live in, even outsiders felt like the Dutchman’s time was up.

Speaking to two Crystal Palace fans in their fan zone area as they sipped on beers, they agreed that Van Gaal “just isn’t a Manchester United manager.” Amanda and Richard Clark explained why.

“He’s got a philosophy and I just don’t think it is suited to English football,” Richard said.

“He’s gone,” Amanda said when asked if Van Gaal would be fired even if he won the trophy. “I think they would’ve been better sticking with [David] Moyes, but this is where their expectations come in. Fergie was a one-off.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United salutes the fans after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Well, as we all know, Van Gaal did guide United to the FA Cup and delivered a trophy in his second season in charge but it seems like it is too little too late.

He has been stubborn and forthright during his time in charge as the former Ajax, Bayern Munich and Barcelona manager has weathered storm after storm with fans, pundits and former players sticking their oars in and condemning the patient style of play he prefers. His time is almost up.

The feeling that he’s still walking on thin ice remained even when he had the FA Cup in his hands. When a replay was shown on the big screen in the stadium of Van Gaal lifting the trophy, some of United’s fans booed. Throughout the game United’s fans were subdued and seemed unimpressed with their teams play and after he lifted the trophy aloft, Van Gaal was shown hugging United’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward. It wasn’t a particularly warm embrace and in the coming days we will find out if Van Gaal has been ousted by Woodward, the man who gave him a huge three-year contract back in 2014 and entrusted him with nearly $400 million in transfer funds to rebuild this dynasty.

Everything is pointing to Mourinho taking over and Van Gaal being fired.

Van Gaal delivered a trophy but he couldn’t deliver consistent success as the Red Devils aim to get back to the heights of the Sir Alex Ferguson era. Now it seems like Mourinho, a former apprentice of Van Gaal, will be handed the reins. Let’s see if he will fare any better as United’s lofty expectations will likely see them appoint a fourth manager in the last three years.

Van Gaal’s reign has been a rollercoaster which has delivered one top four finish, an FA Cup and plenty of ups and downs. It seems like it will end on a high but ultimately, as it has been for quite some time, it’s all over for LVG.

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
AP Photo/LM Otero
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Eleven to go: Ranking obstacles on Liverpool’s unbeaten path

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Liverpool has won all five of its matches since the last time we evaluated its path to an unbeaten Premier League season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Those matches were ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 10th, and 4th on our first rankings of obstacles to immortality, so very little of the heavy lifting has been conducted.

Let’s get something out of the way: If Liverpool is unable to overturn their first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, you can probably etch that zero in the league loss column into stone.

That said, many expect the Reds to overcome that 1-0 disadvantage from Madrid, so here’s where we slot the difficulties moving forward.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

9. Newcastle away, time TBD May 17 — We’re now calling this the easiest date left. Klopp’s men aren’t going to lose an unbeaten season at the altar just because Steve Bruce bunkers down. St. James’ Park is a hassle, but

8. Watford away, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday Klopp probably feels like he’s already playing with house money in the FA Cup, so there’s no reason to think he’ll hand any priority at all to the following FA Cup meeting with Chelsea.

7. Bournemouth home, 7:30 a.m. ET March 7 Situated between Chelsea in the FA Cup and the home UCL second leg versus Atleti, it’s not easy…  but the Cherries have given us less reason to believe they’ll threaten the Reds than any other team besides Newcastle.

6. Aston Villa home, 11:30 a.m. ET April 12Dean Smith‘s desperate Villans will have Villa Park rocking before Liverpool’s possible UCL quarterfinals 2nd leg days later.

5. Burnley home, 7:30 a.m. ET April 25 — Taking place just before a possible UCL quarterfinal first leg, Burnley will try to trouble the Reds in a similar manner to West Ham.

4. Chelsea home, time TBD May 9 — Both the Blues and Reds could be coming off UCL semifinal second legs. Don’t forget that Chelsea took the Reds to the wire in the UEFA Super Cup despite it being very early in Frank Lampard‘s tenure.

3. Arsenal away, time TBD May 2 — Both sides may be days away from needing a result to qualify for the UCL or UEL final.

2. Everton away, 4 p.m. ET March 16 — This may as well be the only match left on the Toffees’ docket that matters more than another, as Carlo Ancelotti and his men know the message they could send regarding the building up of Everton.

Not only that, but Everton has nothing else left to circle, no other competitions, nothing.

1. Man City away, 11:30 a.m. ET April 5 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.

Champions League: Chelsea, Napoli aim to slow Lewandowski, Messi

UEFA Champions League preview
Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images
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Four of the most dangerous attacks in Europe begin their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For Chelsea that means trying to find a way to limit the damage of away goals when Bayern Munich visits Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that means trying to slow lethal Robert Lewandowski. The 31-year-old Polish striker has scored 38 times in 32 appearances this season.

Here’s Frank Lampard, via Football.London:

Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he’s been consistently in Europe for the last, how many years, I don’t know,” Lampard said. “Everything about him, from a distance, from afar, is just top class. Having the opportunity to watch a lot of Bayern in build-up to this game, that shines through. Of course, he’s going to be a huge threat. He’s not the only threat but he is a spearhead.”

Lampard points to the Blues work without the ball and away from it that will determine whether they can limit Lewandowski and Bayern.

“We traveled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball,” he said. “We’ve had games like that this year in the league as well. But the levels have to go up.”

The Blues won’t have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and N’Golo Kante, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally available after a long injury absence. Pedro may play.

[ MORE: JPW’s score predictions ]

Tuesday’s other first leg sees Napoli hosting Barcelona, which means Gennaro Gattuso trying to find a way to cool down Lionel Messi.

The world’s top player scored four goals at the weekend and had six assists in his three previous La Liga outings.

Another player who’s helped Barcelona reclaim the league lead will be critical to controlling the midfield against Napoli, and that’s Frenkie de Jong.

The 22-year-old has had fits and starts at Barca, especially this month. He admits that he’s had an odd time adjusting to Messi, the teammate, though it hasn’t been part of the problem. From FCBarcelona.com:

“When I began training with him it was strange, because when I was 12, still in secondary school, I used to watch a lot of football. He was already the best in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or back then, so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it.”

Napoli boss Gattuso was a bit more effusive when addressing Messi, via Football.Espana:

“I have read whether to make a cage or not, but we need the collective game to combat someone like him, and it is not just him,” Gattuso said. “He is the best in the world, for how he has lived his entire career. He is always perfect, never a misplaced word, he is an example for everyone. He does things that I only see on the PlayStation. He has an incredible quality and for years he has been the best of all-time.”

Both matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.