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Report: Ibrahimovic to sign with MLS next week, LA Galaxy likely landing spot

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It appears Zlatan Ibrahimovic will finally be taking his talents to the United States.

According to a report from ESPN FC, Ibrahimovic has played his last game for Manchester United, with the club ready to let the Swede out of his contract in order for him to sign in Major League Soccer. While it’s not 100 percent clear where Ibrahimovic will end up, the report states the Galaxy are the leading contenders for his services.

UPDATE: Man United confirmed that Ibrahimovic’s contract has been mutually terminated.

[READ: International preview, what to look forward to this week]

Ibrahimovic certainly comes to the U.S. with a rich pedigree, with a room full of trophies from several countries.

But there are questions hanging over Ibrahimovic. The 36-year-old is coming off a torn ACL and whether he’s healed now, 12 months since the injury, he’s made just five appearances for Man United this season, with four of them coming off the bench.

With many MLS clubs moving towards signing younger, up and coming talents, especially from South America, can Ibrahimovic keep up in a physical league, coming off a major injury and at his age? It’s likely he can make an impact, but considering the kind of money he’s likely to be on, it will be tough for him to be worth it without bringing an MLS Cup.

If he does sign with the LA Galaxy, it would be a massive statement back to their new noisy neighbor in LAFC, after the expansion club made waves signing Carlos Vela as a Designated Player and Bob Bradley as head coach. Ibrahimovic will have to quickly gel with Sigi Schmid’s squad, including with Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos in midfield.

LA Galaxy to unveil third Designated Player on Thursday: Will it be Omar Gonzalez?

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The two-time defending champions will make it official tomorrow, and if previous reports are any indication, the announcement will be more reassuring than surprising. After having the likes to Kaká, Frank Lampard, and Giovani Dos Santos linked with their third Designated Player position, the LA Galaxy are expected to announce a contract extension for former MLS Defender of the Year and reigning MLS Cup Final MVP Omar Gonzalez, a deal that will claim that final cap-defying spot.

To be clear: The Galaxy made no mention of Omar in their release on Wednesday, an advisory that noted their third Designated Player will be unveiled at noon Pacific on Thursday. And given the timing in the calendar and the stature of the club in question, it’s no Gonzalez will be the man who stands at the podium.

However, if you’re betting against the big U.S. international being announced tomorrow, you’ve either got a guy on the inside or have a dangerously low regard for your money. Gonzalez is the big favorite here.

We talked about Gonzalez’s Designated Player potential before. It’s an intriguing debate. To what extent do defenders justify these scarce DP spots? And is Gonzalez one of those players? Does the fact that he plays for the Galaxy — a team with more stars on their radar than any other MLS team — chance how you evaluate their potential re-signing of Gonzalez?

Tomorrow we’ll find out if those questions become more than hypotheticals.

 

MLS Preview: Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy

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  • Portland on a 13-match unbeaten run
  • Galaxy have allowed eight goals in their last two games
  • LA took nine of nine points from Portland last season

Remember that one time Caleb Porter lost a Major League Soccer game? Unless you’re a Timbers or Montréal Impact fan, you might not, because that single loss came in the season’s second round, before narratives around the league’s two most surprising teams became entrenched. But now, three-and-a-half months into the season, that March meeting at JELD-WEN looks like one of the more important games of the young season. The East-leading Impact remain the only team to derail Portland, while the Timbers have a 13-match unbeaten run.

If Portland’s to catch FC Dallas’s record of 19 without a loss (set in 2010), they’ll have to navigate a six-match stretch that includes four road games and two meetings with the defending champion Galaxy. But for a team that’d only won two road games in their MLS history coming into the season, games away from JELD-WEN suddenly pose surprisingly few fewer concerns. The Timbers have MLS’s only unbeaten record away from home (2-0-6).

The Galaxy games, however, could reintroduce an element Portland hasn’t dealtwith since the beginning of their run: Doubt. Coming into the year, the Timbers needed to prove their new coach’s concepts would lead to results, something that became evident by the middle of April. Since then the team has pushed on, become a confident, efficient team that’s as capable of opportunistic wins as impressive results. Yet although the Timbers have proved themselves against conference leaders (FC Dallas), league stalwarts (Dom Kinnear’s Houston), and some of the league’s most talented squads (Sporting Kansas City), the one true benchmark remains.

There is something different about the Galaxy. Two-time league champions, managed by the league’s best coach of all time, possessing transcendant talents like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, Los Angeles is a unique challenge no matter the circumstances. The MLS embodiment of Atreyu’s mirror, LA engender doubts in anyone, not just the Timbers. Even without Omar Gonzalez, away on national team duty, the Galaxy are capable of presenting a greater challenge than any team in Major League Soccer. Even if they only sit fifth in the West, if LA decides tonight meeting in Carson’s a big game, recent history says they’re likely to win it.

Whether the Galaxy are capable of flipping the switch right now is a point of concern. Two weeks ago, the team was routed in New England, an embarrassing 5-0 loss that failed to serve as a wakeup call ahead of last week 3-1 defeat in Utah. Without Gonzalez, the team’s allowed eight goals in two games, terrible form to carry into a match against one of the league’s best attacks.

Unfortunately for the Timbers, their weaknesses play into LA’s greatest strength. Depleted by injuries at the back (having lost and Mikael Silvestre and David Horst while Futty Danso left Saturday’s win over Dallas), Portland will be particularly susceptible to a league best counter attack that’s buttressed back-to-back titles. Will Johnson and Diego Chara have done a great job protecting their center backs from other team’s counters, but other teams don’t have Donovan pulling the strings, Keane making the runs. Particularly away from the snug confines of JELD-WEN Field, Portland could see their vulnerabilities exposed.

There is, however the case to be made for Johnson and Chara. As well as the help they get from Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, the support they receive as an outlet from Michael Harrington, as well as the disaster insurance that is right back Jack Jewsbury. Look beyond the drawbacks of Pa Modou Kah and Andrew Jean Baptiste and you see a complete picture that explains why a defense that was seen as a preseason liability has yet to pose a significant problem. The pieces around the men in the middle are compensating for the issue.

And against an LA central midfield that’s failed to assert itself this year — one that will be without Marcelo Sarvas (suspended, yellow card accumulation) — Portland may be able to claim another result. Without his partner, Juninho will need to find the form he carried through the middle of last season. Given his talents, that only seems like a matter of time, but unless he can pick up his game against a Timbers system that sends numbers at opponents with each change of possession, the Galaxy will have a difficult time springing those nightmare-inducing counters.

Regardless of who wins, we’re like to learn something tonight at StubHub Center (10:30 p.m. EDT kickoff). If Portland wins and climbs to the top of the West, they’ll send another notice to the rest of the league, claiming as validating result against the league’s standard-bearers. And if LA derails a team that carries a 13-match unbeaten into Carson, it will be affirm their place as the league’s true litmus test, rendering any contenders’ progress irrelevant until they’re tested against the defending champions.

Other notes: Omar Gonzalez will miss tonight’s match while on international duty. José Villarreal is also gone, with the U.S. U-20s, while Portland will be without Rodney Wallace, returning from international duty with Coast Rica … Los Angeles took all nine points from Portland last year, scoring five times in the team’s last meeting … Portland have never earned a point in Carson … Brian Rowe got the start last week in Utah. Few Galaxy fans would be upset if he keeps the struggling Carlo Cudicini on the bench … Todd Dunivant returned to full training this week. He could start only his third game in nine … Portland’s unbeaten run is the 10th-longest in MLS history … The run leaves Porter tied with Tom Soehn for the longest streak for a first-year head coach. Soehn did the same with D.C. United in 2008.

Landon Donovan goal, assist lead LA Galaxy past Sporting KC

2012 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy
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When Sporting Kansas City came out with their typical intensity, viewers were in for an early show at Home Depot Center, last year’s first place finishers in the East intent on going toe-to-toe with MLS’s two-time defending champions. But with Sporting making no changes from the team that played in New Jersey mid-week, you also knew they were likely to get caught. Eventually they’d slow down. Eventually they’d fade. Eventually their quick turnaround would catch up with them.

And two times on Saturday, it did. In the first half, Los Angeles’s league-best counterattack was on display while halting Sporting’s scoreless streak at 546 minutes, Marcelo Sarvas easily tapping in a Landon Donovan pass sent across the six. In the second half, another counter doubled LA’s lead, with Donovan recording his first goal of the year to give the Galaxy their 2-0 win.

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The final score could have been much worse. As Donovan noted post-match, the Galaxy’s early execution in the final third was lacking, players like Jack McBean one touch away from ending Kansas City’s streak much earlier. By match’s end, the Galaxy were countering at will, with one standout chance ending when Robbie Keane embarrassingly dribbled into Jimmy Nielsen, killing a one-on-one.

Although Kansas City entered the much-hyped showdown unbeaten in five, the game only highlighted the gap between the Galaxy, who again looked like the best team in the league, and Sporting, a team that’s failed to meet expectations in recent postseasons. In a game billed as a battle of powers, Kansas City were decidedly the less powerful, their early energy fading proving ultimately ineffectual.

Kansas City finished the match with only two shots on goal. According to ESPN stats guru Pete Carr, they were held to a season-low three completed crosses. In the first half, they only had three touches in the Galaxy penalty area (LA had 17). The match’s was more lopsided than its final score.

Fatigue was certainly a factor, the Galaxy on full rest while Kansas City was playing their second match in four days, but it’s not too naïve to note teams have to face a number of challenges on their way to championships. Sometimes they’re injured. Sometimes they’re fatigued. Other times it’s bad luck. Often the ability to overcome a particular hurdle is less important than the willingness to transcend any hurdle. Kansas City has yet to get to that point.

Having won two straight titles, LA’s clearly there, though on a night when Landon Donovan notched a goal and an assist, it’s worth nothing what obstacles they’ve already overcome this season. They were famously without their captain throughout the preseason, and they’ve also elected to keep their third designated player spot open until the summer, declining to immediately replace David Beckham. These aren’t the same, enormous challenges they faced last year after a slow start highlighted the absence of Omar Gonzalez, but most teams in the league would be seriously derailed after a shakeup within their top talent (look at Seattle).

After Saturday’s win, LA has 11 points in six games, good for second in the West. They also have a productive Donovan, something that wasn’t necessarily the case during his season’s first appearances. Playing in midfield while Keane and McBean started up top, Donovan was the key to LA’s decisive counterattacking, both springing the team out of their end as well as making long runs to join the attacks. Although he confessed post-match that he was tired while running onto his goal, Donovan looks to have shaken off the rust.

It was all part of one of the most convincing team performances of the season, one that should give pundits pause before filling out their weekly rankings of power. Dallas has the league’s best record, and teams like Houston and Sporting have more points, but is there really any doubt which team is Major League Soccer’s best? After Saturday, there shouldn’t be.

Two more years: Keane confirms contract extension with LA Galaxy

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A skeptic that points to Robbie Keane’s age as reason to be wary of re-signing the Ireland international must not have watched enough Galaxy games last season. With 16 goals in 28 games (and an even stronger showing in the playoffs), Keane put in a MLS Best XI season, with many lauding him as the league’s best player after his return from the summer’s European Championships.

That’s why, even at 32 years old with one year remaining on his previous Galaxy deal, Keane’s contract extension is more likely to be a point of applause than concern, especially with David Beckham’s silhouette shrinking in the sunset (and Landon Donovan threatening to follow).

Yesterday on Sky Sports, Keane confirmed his new deal, saying the extension had been offered at the end of the season, and as of two days ago, he’s signed it.

“I had another year left and they offered me a new contract at the end of last season so I’ve just signed a new two-year contract two days ago.”

Obviously, this is good news for Galaxy and fans, though Keane’s age shouldn’t be completely discounted. By the end of this deal, he’ll be five months past his 35th birthday. There’s room for Keane to regress a little and still be worth his Designated Player slot, but there’s also the possibility Keane will have to start making adjustments as he enters the last phase of his career. How effective he is at accounting for those additional years will dictate whether the final season of this extension proves worth it.

Regardless, this deal was a must for the Galaxy. With only one year left on Keane’s deal, now was the time to re-up. Even with the risk, two years is the perfect length.

Keane also downplayed the likelihood he’ll be playing elsewhere this winter, saying fitness and a long year make rest a priority:

“It’s been a long season, with the Euros and what have you so I’ve a few little niggles that need to be sorted out so I don’t think at this moment in time it would be right for me to go anywhere.”

Again, this is good news for Los Angeles. With Donovan still not guaranteed to be with the team at the beginning of training camp. having an attacking focal point in the team from day one should help the Galaxy as they try to avoid last year’s slow start.