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Galaxy-LAFC rivalry captures Los Angeles’ passion for soccer

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Although the wordless billboards went up quietly this week on the streets around Los Angeles FC’s Banc of California Stadium, their message to the city is loud and clear.

Some of the huge signs show imperious LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic running into LAFC’s Latif Blessing, sending the smaller man flying. In others, Zlatan is making a saucy gesture toward LAFC’s Carlos Vela, or perhaps celebrating in his fellow superstar’s face.

Each of the photos captured a triumphant moment for Zlatan and the Galaxy during the first four editions of El Trafico, the increasingly outstanding rivalry series between Major League Soccer’s two Los Angeles clubs. LAFC’s fans have the best team in the league this season, but it has never beaten the Galaxy – and those fans will have to walk past these trolling provocations around their home ground before the latest edition of the LA derby Sunday night.

“I thought it was funny,” Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget said after he saw the billboards on social media. “That stuff gets us going. It’s just good for the city, man. Even though they’re probably a little bitter about it.”

A rivalry that didn’t exist 18 months ago has grown into one of the highest-profile matchups in the league, drawing rowdy crowds and attracting international attention for the intensity and quality of the first four games.

The Galaxy are the only five-time champions in MLS history, while their crosstown foes are a model expansion franchise with a lavish new stadium near downtown LA. Multicultural Los Angeles has loved and embraced soccer for decades, but having two successful professional franchises has amplified that passion, turning each of these rivalry games into something special.

“Ever since the first game, this rivalry has grown so organically,” Lletget said. “You’ll see on Sunday, the intensity is as if you’re in a derby in Europe. It’s pretty crazy.”

Although the Galaxy (13-11-2) are in third place in the Western Conference, they’re a whopping 20 points behind LAFC (19-3-4), which is running away with MLS’ best record during a spectacular second season.

But LAFC is 0-2-2 against its biggest rivals, making this final regular-season meeting even more urgent for the newcomers in black and gold.

“It’s the derby,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “It means more. So far, with all the things we’ve done, we haven’t beat them.”

Thrilling finishes, spectacular goals and bad-tempered play have been in abundance ever since this rivalry began with Zlatan’s electrifying two-goal MLS debut during the Galaxy’s comeback victory in March 2018.

Ibrahimovic and Vela have scored a whopping six goals apiece in the four El Trafico games, doing everything that’s expected from arguably the league’s two best players. Their last meeting was dominated by the superstars, with Ibrahimovic’s hat trick besting Vela’s brace in a 3-2 victory for the Galaxy on July 19.

“When you play against the other team of the city, you always want to do your best,” said Vela, who already has 26 goals and 15 assists in a historically prolific season. “You want to win. You want to show you are better than the other team of the city, and it’s a good chance to show how good we are this season. I hope we can finally get the three points.”

The rivalry is new, but the fan bases’ animus is older.

Galaxy supporters look down at LAFC for its brief history and an empty trophy case, but also because LAFC’s fan base includes many hard-core supporters who switched allegiances from Chivas USA, which dissolved in 2014 after a dismal decade sharing the Galaxy’s stadium.

But LAFC fans love to point out the Galaxy technically aren’t from Los Angeles, and never have been. They’ve been based in Carson, a suburb due south of downtown LA, since 2003 after spending their first nine years of existence at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

“The intensity comes by itself, because it’s two teams from the same city,” Ibrahimovic said. “Rivals. I think it comes automatic, the intensity of this game.”

Banc of California Stadium will be intense from the moment LAFC’s 3252 supporters union starts rocking the North End a couple of hours before kickoff. Ticket prices on the secondary market for Sunday’s game skyrocketed in recent days, with few single seats under $200 and the high-end tickets topping $1,500.

Along with a national television broadcast, fans at home can watch a streaming comedic commentary program synced to the match by Funny or Die, the comedy website co-founded by LAFC minority owner Will Ferrell.

What’s more, both sides of this derby are getting serious reinforcements before this edition.

Sunday’s game will be the first El Trafico for Cristian Pavon, the speedy Argentine forward who arrived earlier this month and immediately took a major role in the Galaxy’s attack. It could also mark the LAFC debut of Brian Rodriguez, the promising Uruguayan designated player whose paperwork cleared just in time to make him available to Bradley this weekend.

“Games with the Galaxy take on an extra dimension,” Bradley said. “We know that. We’ve had really good moments against them, but we haven’t won yet, and so that’s something that doesn’t need discussing inside our team. Everybody knows.”

More AP Sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Bundesliga: Takeaways from Week 29

Bundesliga takeaways
Photo by Bernd Thissen/Pool via Getty Images
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Two teams with American players going in two very different directions met Sunday in Gelsenkirchen.

Werder Bremen beat Schalke 1-0 via a wonderful Leonardo Bittencourt goal to give it plenty of hope of avoiding its first relegation in nearly 40 years.

[ Bundesliga: Fixtures, box scores ]

The win also gave plenty of misery to Schalke, who looks absolutely rudderless. David Wagner’s men are winless in 11 league outings with five draws and a total of three goals scored. Three of those losses have come to teams currently ranked 13th and lower on the table.

Schalke has produced nine shots on target in its four matches back from the break, with Weston McKennie’s diving header its only goal in 430 minutes. Next on the docket is a trip to Union Berlin before finishing with Bayer, Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolfsburg, and Freiburg.

[ MORE: USMNT mid McKennie wears black armband ]

Bremen, on the other hand, can move level on points with 15th place Mainz by beating Eintracht on Wednesday.

There are still tough matches on the docket including Wolfsburg and Bayern — the latter of whom may have already won the league by that June 16 home match — but Eintracht, Paderborn, Mainz, and Koln… there are points to be had there.

Also encouraging: American forward Josh Sargent has started all three matches of Bremen’s unbeaten run. He’s getting valuable experience and mettle for a 20-year-old, even if the direction has been, “Run around like a maniac and make lives miserable.”

Sargent is covering the entire field from his striker position, and he’s being noticed by defenders. He drew five fouls in 70 minutes, won 10-of-17 duels, and posted two tackles, an interception, and a clearance (Sofascore).


Player of the Week: There’s little question here. Jadon Sancho’s return to the Starting XI was an unqualified success as the English winger collected his first hat trick in a 6-1 win over Paderborn.

It was 0-0 before Thorgan Hazard opened the scoring, but Sancho had shown signs of life even while kicking off first half rust.

Sancho went 90 minutes in getting his three goals (57′, 74′, 90’+1), completing three of his four take-ons while passing at an absurd 92 percent given he plays much of his match in the final third.

[ MORE: Sancho honors George Floyd after scoring ]

Additionally, Sancho registered five key passes, two of which were classified as big chances by Sofascore.

He’s one of four players in Europe’s top five leagues to have double digit goals and assists (Alassane Plea, Serge Gnabry, and Lionel Messi). His price tag, rightfully, is going to be absolutely nuts, pandemic or not.

Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund recap and video highlights
(Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

BEST XI

Hradecky (Bayer)

Hakimi (Dortmund) — Torunarigha (Hertha) — Bender (Bayer) — Angelino (Leipzig)

Klaassen (Bremen)

Sancho (Dortmund) — Bittencourt (Bremen) — Thuram (Gladbach)

Plea (Gladbach) —  Lewandowski (Bayern)

Notes:

  • Klaasen joined Hoffenheim loanee Kevin Vogt in locking down the midfield against Schalke. Yes, we exhaustively covered Schalke’s offensive ineptitude but their steely performances won the day.
  • Thuram and Plea are a dynamic duo with power and skill. Plea is now one of the referenced four players with double-digit goal and assist seasons this year, while Thuram is likely to meet him there.
  • Twenty-two year old German youth international Jordan Torunarigha was very strong, making nine clearances, two blocks, an interception, and two tackles while passing at 85 percent.

SCORES

Freiburg 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen — RECAP
Mainz 0-1 Hoffenheim — RECAP
Hertha Berlin 2-0 Augsburg — RECAP
Schalke 0-1 Werder Bremen — RECAP
Wolfsburg 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt — RECAP
Bayern Munich 5-0 Fortuna Dusseldorf — RECAP
Borussia Monchengladbach 4-1 Union Berlin — RECAP
Paderborn 1-6 Borussia Dortmund — RECAP
Koln 2-4 RB Leipzig — RECAP


UPCOMING FIXTURES (Full season schedule here)

Week 24 reschedule
Werder Bremen v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 2:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

Week 30
Freiburg v. Borussia Monchengladbach — 2:30 p.m. ET Friday
Bayer Leverkusen v. Bayern Munich — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
RB Leipzig v. Paderborn — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Mainz — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Fortuna Dusseldorf v. Hoffenheim — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha Berlin — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Werder Bremen v. Wolfsburg — 7:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Union Berlin v. Schalke — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Augsburg v. Koln — Noon ET Sunday


STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 28 20 4 4 81 28 53 10-2-2 10-2-2 64
 Borussia Dortmund 28 17 6 5 74 34 40 10-3-1 7-3-4 57
 RB Leipzig 28 15 10 3 70 29 41 7-6-1 8-4-2 55
 Mönchengladbach 28 16 5 7 53 34 19 9-2-3 7-3-4 53
 Bayer Leverkusen 28 16 5 7 53 36 17 7-4-3 9-1-4 53
 VfL Wolfsburg 28 11 9 8 40 34 6 4-6-4 7-3-4 42
 1899 Hoffenheim 28 11 6 11 39 48 -9 6-1-8 5-5-3 39
 SC Freiburg 28 10 8 10 38 40 -2 6-2-5 4-6-5 38
 FC Schalke 04 28 9 10 9 34 45 -11 5-6-3 4-4-6 37
 Hertha BSC Berlin 28 9 8 11 41 50 -9 4-3-7 5-5-4 35
 1. FC Köln 28 10 4 14 44 52 -8 6-3-5 4-1-9 34
 FC Augsburg 28 8 7 13 40 54 -14 5-4-5 3-3-8 31
 1. FC Union Berlin 28 9 4 15 33 48 -15 6-2-6 3-2-9 31
 Eintracht Frankfurt 27 8 5 14 44 52 -8 6-4-4 2-1-10 29
 FSV Mainz 05 28 8 4 16 37 61 -24 4-2-8 4-2-8 28
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 28 6 9 13 31 53 -22 4-4-6 2-5-7 27
 Werder Bremen 27 5 7 15 29 59 -30 1-3-9 4-4-6 22
 SC Paderborn 28 4 7 17 31 55 -24 2-2-10 2-5-7 19

Serie A fixtures set for remainder of 2019-20 season

Serie A fixtures
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Serie A’s season will play out in 124 matches over 43 days between June 20 and Aug. 2.

The final day will see the two leaders in massive matches against traditional powers, as current leaders Juventus host Roma and second-place Lazio visits Napoli.

Those leaders also know when their final showdown with each other will take place. Lazio’s visit to Juventus is the only match on July 20.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Juve is seeking its ninth-straight scudetto and leads Lazio by one point, with the second-place side boasting a better goal differential by nine. Lazio beat 10-man Juve 3-1 in December.

The Coppa Italia semifinal second legs and final will be played in the week prior to Serie A’s resumption.

Napoli leads Inter after one leg in Milan, while Milan and Juve drew 1-1 at the San Siro. Juve had its four Coppa run broken by Lazio last season.

June 20
Torino v. Parma
Verona v. Cagliari

June 21
Atalanta v. Sassuolo
Inter Milan v. Sampdoria

June 22
Lecce v. Milan
Fiorentina v. Brescia
Bologna v. Juventus

June 23
SPAL v. Cagliari
Verona v. Napoli
Torino v. Udinese
Genoa v. Parma

June 24
Atalanta v. Lazio
Inter Milan v. Sassuolo
Roma v. Sampdoria

June 26
Juventus v. Lecce

June 27
Brescia v. Genoa
Cagliari v. Torino
Lazio v. Fiorentina

June 28
Milan v. Roma
Napoli v. SPAL
Sampdoria v. Bologna
Udinese v. Atalanta
Sassuolo v. Verona
Parma v. Inter Milan

June 30
Torino v. Lazio
Genoa v. Juventus

July 1
Bologna v. Cagliari
Inter Milan v. Brescia
Lecce v. Sampdoria
Fiorentina v. Sassuolo
SPAL v. Milan
Verona v. Parma

July 2
Juventus v. Torino
Sassuolo v. Lecce
Lazio v. Milan

The Turin Derby (Alessandro Di Marco/ANSA via AP)

July 5
Inter Milan v. Bologna
Sampdoria v. SPAL
Cagliari v. Atalanta
Brescia v. Verona
Udinese v. Genoa
Parma v. Fiorentina
Napoli v. Roma

July 7
Lecce v. Lazio
AC Milan v. Juventus

July 8
Genoa v. Napoli
Fiorentina v. Cagliari
Atalanta v. Sampdoria
Bologna v. Sassuolo
Torino v. Brescia
Roma v. Parma

July 9
SPAL v. Udinese
Verona v. Inter Milan

July 11
Lazio v. Sassuolo
Brescia v. Roma
Juventus v. Atalanta

July 12
Genoa v. SPAL
Parma v. Bologna
Fiorentina v. Verona
Cagliari v. Lecce
Udinese v. Sampdoria
Napoli v. Milan

July 13
Inter Milan v. Torino

July 14
Atalanta v. Brescia

July 15
Sampdoria v. Cagliari
Bologna v. Napoli
Milan v. Parma
Lecce v. Fiorentina
Sassuolo v. Juventus
Roma v. Verona
Udinese v. Lazio

July 16
Torino v. Genoa
SPAL v. Inter Milan

July 18
Verona v. Atalanta
Cagliari v. Sassuolo
Milan v. Bologna

July 19
Parma v. Sampdoria
Genoa v. Lecce
Fiorentina v. Torino
Napoli v. Udinese
Brescia v. SPAL
Roma v. Inter Milan

July 20
Juventus v. Lazio

(Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

July 21
Atalanta v. Bologna
Sassuolo v. Milan

July 22
Parma v. Napoli
Torino v. Verona
SPAL v. Roma
Lecce v. Brescia
Inter Milan v. Fiorentina
Sampdoria v. Genoa

July 23
Udinese v. Juventus
Lazio v Cagliari

July 26
Milan v. Atalanta
Roma v. Fiorentina
Juventus v. Sampdoria
Cagliari v. Udinese
Verona v. Lazio
Brescia v. Parma
SPAL v. Torino
Napoli v. Sassuolo
Bologna v. Lecce
Genoa v. Inter Milan

July 29
Fiorentina v. Bologna
Verona v. SPAL
Udinese v. Lecce
Parma v. Atalanta
Lazio v. Brescia
Inter Milan v. Napoli
Cagliari v. Juventus
Torino v. Roma
Sampdora v. Milan
Sassuolo v Genoa

Aug. 2
Genoa v. Verona
Juventus v. Roma
Atalanta v. Inter Milan
SPAL v. Fiorentina
Bologna v. Torino
Napoli v. Lazio
Lecce v. Parma
Milan v. Cagliari
Brescia v. Sampdoria
Sassuolo v. Udinese


How to Watch Serie A

  • When: Begins June 20
  • TV Channel: ESPN
  • Stream LiveVia ESPN+

German federation explains review of players who honored George Floyd

George Floyd tributes in soccer
Bernd Thissn/Pool via AP
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BERLIN — The German soccer federation has defended its decision to assess whether four young Bundesliga players who made gestures in solidarity with George Floyd over the weekend must face sanctions.

The DFB also said on Monday that Jadon Sancho’s booking for removing his jersey to reveal a T-shirt with the demand “Justice for George Floyd” had nothing to do with the message — rather, the yellow card was issued because the 20-year-old England forward broke a rule that says players who celebrate goals by taking off their jerseys or lifting them over their heads must be booked for “unsporting behavior.”

Borussia Dortmund teammate Achraf Hakimi, 21, who displayed the same message after scoring in the same game on Sunday, was not booked because he did not lift his jersey over his head.

The DFB control committee is looking into their gestures and those made by Schalke’s 21-year-old American midfielder Weston McKennie and Borussia Monchengladbach’s 22-year-old French forward Marcus Thuram to see if the four players broke laws that prohibit players from displaying “political, religious or personal slogans.”

McKennie was the first to make a statement when he wore an armband with the handwritten message “Justice for George” around his left arm on Saturday.

Thuram on Sunday took a knee after scoring in Borussia Monchengladbach’s win over Union Berlin.

Sancho and Hakimi followed suit later Sunday.

Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died on Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee for several minutes on his neck. Three other officers were also at the scene. Chauvin has been charged with murder and all four were fired.

DFB president Fritz Keller on Monday showed his respect and understanding for McKennie, Thuram, Sancho and Hakimi’s gestures.

“If people are discriminated against on the basis of their skin color, it is unbearable. If they die because of their skin color, then I am deeply distraught,” Keller said in a DFB statement. “The victims of racism need all of us to show solidarity.”

Keller referred to meetings with victims of discrimination and representatives of organizations that have faced anti-Semetic, anti-Muslim or racist hostility, and said the DFB and German soccer was showing its clear rejection of all forms of racism, discrimination and violence.

Keller also praised both male and female players for taking a stand and showing their solidarity.

“I’m proud of them. I can completely understand the actions from the weekend. Nobody can be indifferent to what happened in the United States,” Keller said.

Former Mainz forward Anthony Ujah was just given a warning by the DFB in 2014 in regard to the ban on political statements when he displayed a T-shirt with Eric Garner’s name and the words “can’t breathe” and “justice,” in reference to Garner’s death after a police officer placed him in what appeared to be a chokehold.

Now playing for Union Berlin, Ujah on Thursday tweeted a picture of his protest from the time, but with Floyd’s name typed above in bold.

Floyd also said “I can’t breathe” before he died.

“If the DFB’s control committee wants to investigate, then I have to ask myself if we all have the same values,” Union sporting director Oliver Ruhnert said. “It’s about a global issue here: The no to racism.”

Leipzig doubles up Koln behind Werner’s 25th

Koln v. Leipzig recap and video highlights
Photo by Ina Fassbender/Pool via Getty Images
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Timo Werner hit 25 goals for the first time in his Bundesliga career and Christopher Nkunku continued his fine season as RB Leipzig overcame hosts Koln 4-2 in a Monday thriller.

Leipzig moves third with the win, moving onto 58, after Patrik Schick scored his ninth goal in 18 league matches to open the contest. Dani Olmo also scored for the victorious visitors.

[ Bundesliga: Fixtures, box scores ]

Jhon Cordoba and Anthony Modeste scored for Koln, whose top six hopes take a big hit. The Billy Goats remain 11th and are now closer to the drop zone than sixth.

Only Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich has scored more league goals (29) than Werner.

[ MORE: Sancho honors George Floyd after scoring ]

A great early save from Timo Horn on Timo Werner preceded Koln’s opener.

Elvis Rexhbecaj timed his run well and knifed to the near post, where he shot through the legs of Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.

The ball hit the post and skittered into the box and Gulacsi could only get a piece of Cordoba’s left-footed attempt.

Leipzig leveled when Upamecano dribbled up the heart of the pitch before finding Man City loanee Angelino on the left for a perfect cross and Schick header. Angelino had an exceptional day on the left flank.

Leipzig took its lead in the 38th minute with a deft finish from Nkunku, who took Konrad Laimer’s perfect feed and popped it over a charging Horn for 2-1.

Werner finished off a lightning counter as Gulacsi collected a free kick and hit a perfect punt to the league’s second-leading scorer.

That was far from the end of the fun.

Modeste hit an absolute hammer to make it 3-2, but Leipzig restored the two-goal advantage when Olmo hit a seeing-eye shot through the traffic to cap three goals in seven minutes between the two sides.

French striker Modeste won a penalty that was denied by VAR with under 20 minutes to play, he then missed wide after beating the keeping one 1v1 break with four minutes to play.

Americans Abroad: American midfielder Tyler Adams continued his streak of playing in every Leipzig match since the break when he came off the bench just before the hour mark.

Adams hit 94 percent of his 18 passes, drawing three fouls, making an interception, and winning three of four duels.