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Three things we learned from LAFC-Seattle (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): The Seattle Sounders are headed back to MLS Cup for the third time in four years after knocking off the best regular-season team in MLS history, Los Angeles FC, Tuesday night in the Western Conference final. The Sounders went into Banc of California Stadium and shocked the world with a stellar team performance, most notably from their backline and center forward Raul Ruidiaz, who scored twice on the night. Midfield maestro Nicolas Lodeiro bagged Seattle’s other goal as the Sounders scored three unanswered after Eduard Atuesta opened the scoring in the 17th minute. Should Atlanta United advance past Toronto FC in Wednesday’s Eastern Conference final, Seattle will play for MLS Cup away from home for the third time during their stellar run.

[ VIDEO: Every touch from Christian Pulisic v. Burnley ]

Three things we learned

1. Time to recognize Ruidiaz among elites: Josef Martinez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (rightly) have each received plenty of plaudits for their prolific goal-scoring records as center forwards, but Ruidiaz should be mentioned in the same breath as some of the best to ever do it in MLS. He’s not even two seasons into his time in Seattle, but the Peruvian international has displayed a ruthless nose for goal while also contributing to the Sounders’ attack in ways the aforementioned no. 9s rarely do.

If you watch the below clip, you’ll see Joevin Jones picking up the assist and Lodeiro finishing with pinpoint precision, but what you won’t see is Ruidiaz’s turn out of trouble on the other side of midfield and his subsequent dribbling into the final third before laying the ball off to Jones. The Sounders defense was set up to absorb lots of pressure, but providing them these moments of respite, let alone getting the goal, were so important to Brian Schmetzer’s gameplan.

Then there’s the other part of his no. 9 duties — the lethal finishing touch — that makes him a potential game-winner every time he steps on the field.

2. LAFC start slow again. This time, they never recovered: LAFC needed a good 10 minutes to wake up before putting five past the LA Galaxy last week. Again on Tuesday, Bob Bradley‘s side started sluggishly and found itself on the back foot for the opening 15 minutes. Then, almost as if on cue, the Black and Gold sprang to life with Eduard Atuesta’s stunning free kick.

Only this time, unlike when they faced the Galaxy, LAFC’s period of control was short-lived. Seattle, a group that’s been through the rigors of the playoffs together, stuck to their low defensive block and soaked up the pressure in low-leverage areas of the field and got out on the counter-attack at every opportunity. It paid immediate dividends.

LAFC’s greatest strengths lie in their forward and midfield lines, which makes it hugely important to pick the right pass immediately after winning the ball back. Fortunately for Seattle, Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson are two of the smartest players in the league and they make the right decision nine times out of 10. This gives the likes of Ruidiaz, Lodeiro and Jordan Morris a few extra looks every game. Once you bypass the first wave of pressure from the LAFC midfield, their defense is highly suspect.

3. Rossi moved to the left too late: For 45 minutes, Diego Rossi — and Carlos Vela, to a large extent — were anonymous, inconsequential figures. Brad Smith customarily tore up and down the left side of Seattle’s attack, pinning Rossi deeper and deeper as the first half wore on. Bradley switched the Uruguayan to the other side of the field at halftime, and his impact was immediate.

The knock-on effect with Vela is obvious, as each of LAFC’s attacking stars operates best when linking directly or indirectly with one another. Whether playing on the right or through the middle, Rossi frees up Vela, either with their combined movement and passing or the attention he commands as a goal threat himself.

Schmetzer got his tactics spot-on, while Bradley whiffed with a thoroughly curious decision to deviate from something that worked to devastating effect for seven months.

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Man of the match: Raul Ruidiaz

Goalscorers: Atuesta (17′), Ruidiaz (22′, 64′), Lodeiro (26′)

Griezmann’s second half brace saves Barcelona from shock upset in Ibiza

Barcelona survives Copa del Rey scare
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Like a college kid on Spring Break, Barcelona vastly underestimated the power of Ibiza.

One of the biggest clubs in the world had loads of trouble in its Copa del Rey Round of 32 meeting at UD Ibiza on Wednesday.

Barcelona barely got past the third-tier side thanks to two Antoine Griezmann goals and a comeback 2-1 win at the Estadi Municipal de Can Misses.

UD Ibiza playing in a 5,000-seat stadium, took a ninth-minute lead and had more shot attempts as late as the 65th minute. New manager Quique Setien was left to sweat it out.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Somewhat fitting that a man named Pep got the early goal. Josep Caballe Martin has more yellow cards than goals in Segunda B this season.

Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, and an injured Luis Suarez were among the players left behind, but this wasn’t a massively depleted Barcelona side. Arturo Vidal and Jordi Alba were brought off the bench.

Frenkie de Jong set up Griezmann for a 72nd minute equalizer, and Griezmann added his second off an Alba feed in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

Watch Live: Man Utd v. Burnley; Spurs v. Norwich; Leicester v. West Ham

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The race for the Premier League’s top-four resumes with as many as three genuine contenders for Champions League qualification in action, all at home, all against bottom-seven competition, on Wednesday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

The day’s late game, to be shown live on NBCSN, features fifth-place Manchester United hosting Burnley at Old Trafford. Elsewhere, eighth-place Tottenham Hotspur will host Norwich City and third-place Leicester City will host West Ham United.

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

The schedule for the three games on Wednesday is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


3:15 p.m. ET: Man United v. Burnley — NBCSN [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur v. Norwich City — NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:30 p.m. ET: Leicester City v. West Ham United — NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Police enter headquarters of Spanish club Malaga

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MALAGA, Spain (AP) Police entered the headquarters of Spanish club Malaga on Wednesday to seize documents related to a court case involving the second-division team.

[ MORE: Christian Eriksen holds talks with Levy; Inter “still confident” ]

Authorities did not release further details because the search-and-seizure action was part of an investigation being conducted under secrecy.

Police would not confirm Spanish media reports that the action was about a case in which Qatari owner Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani is being sued by minority owners over alleged administrative irregularities.

[ MORE: Levy reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale ]

Al-Thani took over the club in 2010.

Malaga last month fired coach Victor Sanchez del Amo after an intimate video was released online.

The team from southern Spain is 16th in the 22-team second-division standings.

Bale’s agent denies loan reports; ‘not many clubs can afford him’

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Gareth Bale‘s agent Jonathan Barnett has called recent reports claiming the Real Madrid superstar could be loaned elsewhere “ridiculous” on the basis that “there are not many clubs that can afford him anyway.”

[ MORE: Daniel Levy reportedly met with Real Madrid about Bale ]

Bale has reportedly been unhappy in Madrid and at odds with manager Zinedine Zidane, leading to months of speculation that he could leave the Santiago Bernabeu. However, due to his nearly $600,000-per-week wages, very few — if any — clubs in the world can afford his wages, let alone the transfer fee required as well.

Therefore, a loan move would seem to make sense, only Barnett seems to be offended that a player of Bale’s caliber would ever be discussed as a loan candidate — quotes from the BBC:

“Why would one of the best players on Earth go on loan? That’s ridiculous. At the moment, he is going to be playing football for Real Madrid and he has got two and a half years left on his contract.

“He is happy and hopefully he will win a couple of more things with Real Madrid.”

“Things can change, but loans are ridiculous and there are not many clubs that can afford him anyway.”

Bale’s contract runs through the summer of 2022. He has scored just two goals in nine league games this season.