Tuesday Kicks: Galaxy must win in Honduras Thursday to stay alive in the CONCACAF Champions League

*They know that after Morelia beat Alajuelense Tuesday. Here are the standings in the group. Their opponents Thursday haven’t won a game in the competition.

*The Chivas USA reserves won today. Woo hoo!

*The U.S. Futsal National Team, which includes four players who play at Torrance’s South Coast Soccer City, was “pulverized by Iran” after earlier losing 7-0 to Uruguay in a tourament in Brazil. Steady on Tehran Times!

*The U.S. Men’s National Team will face Slovenia Nov. 15.

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Tuesday’s Column: MLS celebrates a sweet 16

i-31e7d91bb6928cc9e7d34d84461c895b-kaseycrowd.jpgDid fans like these in Seattle and players like Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller make this the best-ever MLS season (AP Photo)?

It was while watching the uninspiring Galaxy-Chivas USA game Sunday that I realised just how good much of the rest of this MLS season had been this year by comparison, especially games like the Seattle Sounders-San Jose Earthquakes contest I witnessed 24 hours earlier.

The 1996 Major league Soccer season will always stand out for me simply because it was the first and American fans had waited so long for the return of top flight soccer.

The attack-oriented 1998 Galaxy team will always retain a soft spot in my heart simply because many of the games were just so much fun to watch.

But the 2011 MLS season overall may have been the best yet, which is the case I make in today’s column.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

Updated

The Galaxy are reportedly close to adding another stop (or two) on their end of season tour and David Beckham is reportedly close to staying another year with the Galaxy.

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Oh yeah, the Galaxy beat Chivas USA (again)

I had the feeling this supposedly intense season-ending derby would come off as an afterthought.

And both teams played like it.

The Galaxy’s unbeaten home record aside there was little at stake for either team in this perfunctory performance unless you like counting shutouts or watching an old warhorse like Gregg Berhalter finish out a career.

The Galaxy can be excused; frankly they’ve got more important things to worry about. And Chivas USA lacked the passion to play above their station and rescue something from their season.

I opted for the comfort of the couch Sunday evening over the press box and almost fell asleep. Roll on the playoffs.

Staff Writer Phil Collin got paid to be there and filed this story.

Watch:

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Sunday Superclasico gameday

i-1a6f57faf5641c81f1aad7ae4f788a4a-clasicosmall.jpg(Graphic courtesy Angel City Brigade member Mike Gray)

The warm-up to today’s Galaxy-Chivas USA main event (live at 6 p.m. on ESPN) ended in a 1-0 win last night for the Chivas USA supporters group due to a defensive error, I’m told.

Who knows whether that portends anything when it comes to today’s almost sold out derby, which in one respect doesn’t mean a thing.

But in the purest sense of a SuperClasico it means everything when it comes to bragging rights between rival fans until next season.

Chivas USA are out of the playoffs, while the Galaxy will no doubt parade their already won Supporters’ Shield around the field at game’s end regardless of the result.

But the trophy will undoubtedly feel a little less significant if they surrender victory and their unbeaten home record to their closest geographic rival at the final hurdle.

The Galaxy know that:

So allow me to quote the ACB coach before Saturday’s game:

“Good morning maggots. It is I, your coach. I woke up this morning and looked outside and saw the sun rise. I saw a baby bird be fed by its mother. I saw an old man cry. I saw life before me. And I realized that all that crap is useless unless we win today. Winning is everything. Fifty years from now, when you are senile and a waste of space you can comeback to this moment, when you won.”

Inspiring, no? Well, apparently not since victory evaded the ACB.

Still, the Goats fell to the Galaxy earlier in the season.

Will that happen again later today?

Enjoy the game.

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Friday Kicks: Fall in France & more

*You know what they say about Paris in the spring, but what about fall in France?:

CHICAGO (AP) — The U.S. soccer team will play an exhibition at France on Nov. 11, the first meeting between the nations in 32 years.

The game was announced today and will be played at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, the site of the 1998 World Cup final. The U.S., 1-3-1 under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann, also plans to play in Europe on Nov. 15, the last FIFA fixture date of the year.

The nations played twice in 1979, with France winning 6-0 at East Rutherford, N.J., on May 2 and 3-0 in Paris on Oct. 10.

France is preparing for next year’s European Championship, and the U.S. is getting ready for the start of World Cup qualifying in June.

*Continuing the French theme, it looks like David Beckham’s French pursuers are serious.

*Injury-plagued midfielder John Thorrington of the Palos Verdes Peninsula) is crediting the cold waters of British Columbia for helping him come back and immediately lead the Vancouver Whitecaps to two consecutive wins.

*In terms of crowd size this will be the biggest MLS game of the weekend and coincidentally a game some think is the biggest club game in the world is set for 4:30 a.m. Saturday (live on ESPN2).

Other games I won’t miss this weekend include: Colorado-Real Salt Lake at 7:30 tonight on ESPN2, Red Bull New York at Sporting Kansas City (1 p.m. Saturday Telemundo) and the local Galaxy-Chivas USA derby on Sunday (live at 6 p.m. on ESPN).

I’ll have more on the SuperClasico this weekend.

*If college soccer is your thing the pick of the local games may well be women’s match-up between No. 5 Pepperdine, in the top five nationally for the first time since 2003, and Loyola Marymount in Westchester at noon Sunday. The undefeated Waves are 10-0-4 and sit atop the West Coast Conference standings at 2-0. Loyola Marymount is 6-5-2 overall and 0-1-1 in conference play.

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Kasey Keller’s Los Angeles connections

i-ee6964d00d5ce04abff14b3a33bac3f6-838046523c.jpgSafe hands: Allstate had nothing on Kasey Keller when he was in the U.S. National Team goal (AP Photo).

One of the greatest performances of Kasey Keller’s outstanding goalkeeping career came before just 12,298 fans in February 1998 at the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

And I was there, as a fan, in the stands.

I remember being amazed that so few people showed up to watch Romario and the the rest of the Brazilian team as I walked around the virtually empty stadium.

Even more amazing though was Keller’s game-winning performance.

Preki may have come on a as a sub to score one of his trademark screaming winners from outside the box, but he wouldn’t have had that opportunity without Keller making almost a dozen saves including three efforts from Romario that left the Brazilian shaking his head.

If I recall the Brazilian called it the greatest goalkeeping performances he had ever seen in person and I too felt privileged to witness it – and agree.

Now Seattle will pay tribute to Keller Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes in front of what should be on of the largest crowds to witness an MLS game ever (7:30 p.m. Fox Soccer).

Fortunately for us in Southern California we have perhaps two more chances to see Keller in person before he calls time on his career – when the Sounders play Chivas USA Oct. 22 at Home Depot Center in the Goats’ regular season finale and a possible playoff game against the Galaxy.

I don’t think Keller was given his due by European coaches and he should have had the opportunity to play for bigger clubs in bigger competitions.

For my money, the world-class Keller was the closest any American player came to challenging Landon Donovan for the title of best U.S. player ever and without him in the net the U.S. would never have pulled off some of the results it did under the likes of Bruce Arena and Steve Sampson.

Associated Press Sports Writer Tim Booth has more on Keller’s career and the game:

TUKWILA, Wash. (AP) — Kasey Keller’s ready to go, ready to spend weekends on the golf course or, on the occasional hot day in the Pacific Northwest, water skiing around Lake Washington.

Or even something more simple, like a Friday night dinner out with family and friends without the worry of a game the next day.

Those hours of sitting around and making sure his mind is singularly focused on the 90 minutes in which Keller must be the best player on the pitch have been wearing after two decades of being in the argument about the greatest American goalkeeper of all time.

So it comes without hesitation that Keller is reaffirming this is it, that when the Seattle
Sounders FC season ends sometime in November — whether it’s following another early Seattle playoff exit or after an MLS Cup title — so too does his storied career.

The buildup to the conclusion begins on Saturday night when Seattle plays its final regular season home game against San Jose and Keller gets feted by a crowd that’ll likely top 60,000, most there to honor Keller’s lengthy career.

“I’m not too worried about the emotional side of stuff. I think that’s one of the things
that’s been cool about this year is I’ve known this the whole time,” Keller said. “You always think you have a long way to go and now it’s getting close, but if I felt I wanted to keep playing I would have kept playing. … I look around and see how many guys are playing at a level at soon-to-be 42. Not many, if any, so you can’t keep pushing it. You know at some stage you’re going to fall off that cliff.”

It’s a testament to Keller’s performance in his final year that questions are still being
asked about whether he’s at all reconsidering a retirement that was first announced nearly a year ago. He leads the MLS in victories with 16, is fourth in saves and, among keepers with at least 20 games this season, is tops in save percentage and second in goals against average.

No matter what happens in Seattle’s final two league matches, it’s the most successful regular season in the Sounders’ three years.

And that’s just what Keller’s done in MLS play. He helped Seattle win a third straight U.S.
Open Cup title by pitching shutouts in the semifinals and championship match, and pitched in with victories in the CONCACAF Champions League to help Seattle advance from group stage with one game remaining.

It’s all added up. Another 39 games total this season with a handful more to come, on top of a career that’s already spanned roughly 700 matches before this season began. The career clicker started nearly 20 years ago when Keller became the first American player to play in England on a U.S. passport after joining Millwall.

He was the first American keeper to start in the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and just the second American to captain a club in Germany’s Bundesliga, in a career that featured stops at Leicester City, Tottenham and Fulham in England; Rayo Vallecano in Spain; and Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany.

And all that time playing for some of the top clubs in Europe doesn’t delve into his 102 caps for the U.S national team and a trio of World Cups.

But exerting himself for one final year — and a third season overall — in Seattle was worth it for Keller. He got to witness the resurrection of the Cascadia rivalry with Portland and Vancouver at the highest level of soccer in North America and helped claim the Cascadia Cup with victories on the road in Vancouver and Portland.

He helped Seattle become the first club in more than 40 years to win three straight Open Cup titles.

And he’ll enter retirement still considered one of the top goalkeepers in America.

His longevity still stuns those he’s around.

“I was watching him (Wednesday) warming up and I said to one of the assistants, ‘Can you imagine doing that for 25 years?’” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “Falling over like that for 25 years and getting up again and doing it every day and saying, ‘This is fun.’ To me, that’s absolutely amazing and I think it’s been great what he’s done.”

Keller will be honored on Saturday night against San Jose before the largest crowd for an MLS game in Seattle’s brief history and possibly just the seventh regular season crowd in league history to top 60,000. The entire upper bowl of CenturyLink Field is being opened for Saturday’s match, and as of midweek more than 59,000 tickets had already been sold.

Asked if he’s even been honored by a throng that large, Keller chuckled.

“I’m very proud and humbled by the way the response has been from Day 1,” Keller said.

The Sounders are keeping the celebration muted until after Saturday’s match is complete. This won’t be his final appearance at home — the Sounders are guaranteed of at least one home playoff match — but this is the opportunity to honor Keller.

The massive crowd is partly due to a ticket promotion from earlier in the year that included games against New York and Seattle’s lone exhibition against Manchester United. But roughly 14,000 additional seats were sold beyond the ticket promotion specifically for Keller’s regular season home finale.

At whatever point of the playoffs Keller’s career ends, he won’t be removed from the game for long. He still mentions everything from commentary to coaching as potential future options. No matter the avenue, he’ll remain connected, even if he’s no longer in net.

“What I will miss is the feeling after a good result,” Keller said. “Because before, it’s all
a pain … during, it’s even worse as a goalkeeper. It’s when it’s over and you’ve helped your team be successful, that is the feeling that I’m going to miss. Everything else in between there, no.”

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Could Galaxy striker Keane miss the MLS playoffs?

Maybe – or at least some of the post-season.

Robbie Keane arrives back from Ireland at LAX tonight and will be evaluated by team doctors tomorrow, a club spokesman said. He strained a thigh muscle – specifically the adductor for you medical professionals out there – by playing the entire 90 minutes last Friday against Andorra.

Initially it was feared Keane would be out at least four weeks, but it could be even longer than that and his national team coach is furious with the behavior of his captain and leading scorer because it could put Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2012 through a relatively easy two-game playoff series in jeopardy..

Wait until Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena gets ahold of him; the MLS playoffs start for the Galaxy in about four weeks and Keane had been acquired specifically to provide the firepower to bring the Galaxy an MLS Cup.

Galaxy officials said Thursday that athough he will be listed as questionable for Sunday’s derby against lowly rivals Chivas USA (only because team docotrs have yet to evaluate Keane) he will miss the game and so could several other players.

With the Supporters Shield wrapped up the game is largely meaningless, although the Galaxy will hand out team awards and won’t want to yield their unbeaten home record in their final regular season game of the season at Home Depot Center.

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Galaxy defender Berhalter retires

i-f58d5f237008ad2fc7d3050e037bf815-Berhaltercelebrate.jpgGood time Gregg: Gregg Berhalter, seen here celebrating a Galaxy goal with David Beckham and Todd Dunivant, has played a major role on and off the field in the Galaxy’s exemplary defensive record in recent years; they have conceded fewer goals during his three years with the club than any other MLS franchise (Daily Breeze file photo).

In a widely expected move, veteran Galaxy central defender Gregg Berhalter, 38, who became an assistant coach this year and was restricted to just eight MLS appearances this season through injury, has announced his retirement effective at the end of the season.

Berhalter made 44 international appearances for the U.S., debuting shortly after the 1994 World Cup and going on to spend the bulk of his club career in Holland and Germany.

“I am proud to have been able to play for my country at the highest level as well as to play for all of the clubs that I have,” Berhalter said. “I have enjoyed every minute of my three years with the Galaxy and will cherish the time that I have been able to spend with my teammates and the staff here with the club.

“This was not an easy decision for me to make but I feel that the timing is right for me to close this chapter of my career and begin to focus on the next stage as I look to continue my career in coaching.”

In LA the influential Berhalter combined with rookie Omar Gonzalez in 2009 to transform a defense that had shipped 62 goals the previous year into one of the stingiest in the league, allowing just 31 goals and helping the club set a then club-record 12 shutouts.

That defensive stability has become a hallmark of the team ever since with or without Berhalter in the lineup.

He missed the last two months of the 2010 campaign because of injury, too.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Gregg, first with the national team and now for the last three years with the Galaxy, and he has played a pivotal role in the success that we have had in that time,” Galaxy General Manager and Coach Bruce Arena said. “The combination of his ability, work ethic, leadership and professionalism has helped him become the player that he is and we will miss his presence on the field next season.”

Berhalter played in two World Cups with the U.S.

Berhalter, who has been out since injuring his right foot Aug. 25, will be honored following the Galaxy’s regular season home finale Sunday against Chivas USA.

.

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U.S. Soccer Prez Gulati backs “innovative” Klinsmann

i-517a0399898dfc515af1e1ae0c810751-ecuadorjurgen.jpgU.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati sees innovation first, not losses, for the national team so far under new Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, seen at right Tuesday night directing things from the bench in New Jersey. Associated Press Sports Writer Ronald Blum has the full story in the wake of last night’s loss to Ecuador:

HARRISON, New Jersey (AP) — Jurgen Klinsmann has been backed by his boss at the U.S. Soccer Federation as he focuses on long-term changes rather than short-term results.

“It’s a growing process,” USSF president Sunil Gulati said before Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss to Ecuador.

After the former German star and coach replaced Bob Bradley in late July, the Americans drew 1-1 with Mexico and lost to Costa Rica and Belgium 1-0 before last weekend’s 1-0 win over Honduras. When Bradley took over from Bruce Arena after the 2006 World Cup — when talks between Gulati and Klinsmann failed to reach an agreement — Bradley won 10 of his first 11 matches.

“He certainly felt more pressure about results than Jurgen feels,” Gulati said before the
match, clearly comfortable with stumbles in Klinsmann’s first few friendlies.

“Part of the attraction, obviously, is he’s an innovative guy and wants to try things, not
necessarily only things that have a 50-year track record of success, but some new things. So that always takes a little time for everyone — staff, coaching staff, players, leadership — and everyone’s adjusting.”

Ecuador won as second-half substitute Jaime Ayovi beat defender Tim Ream to a cross and scored in the 79th minute. Ream, a young but relatively inexperienced center back, received his first minutes with the national team since the 2-1 loss to Panama during the opening round of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June.

The Americans have gone 23 games without scoring more than two goals, since beating Australia 3-1 in their last warmup before the 2010 World Cup.

“It’s a growing process and, obviously, also a couple of knocks that you have to accept,”
Klinsmann said.

He is trying new formations, new assistants and a new fitness staff. He’s also working with
Gulati, USSF chief executive officer Dan Flynn and youth technical director Claudio Reyna on planning for next year’s Olympics, where players are mostly limited to 23 and under.

Klinsmann estimates about one-third of his 2014 World Cup squad will come from the Olympic team. He expects forwards Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury; midfielder Danny Williams; defender Timmy Chandler; and goalkeeper Bill Hamid to make the London squad.

“Hopefully they get a great experience if everything goes OK with the qualifiers in March,”
Klinsmann said.

Gulati said the USSF might announce an Olympic coach within a month and left open the
possibility that Tab Ramos could move up. Ramos, a former national team standout, has been interim coach of the under-20 team since Thomas Rongen was fired in May. In turn, under-17 coach Wilmer Cabrera could move up to the U-20s.

“A big part of what Jurgen’s challenge will be is how do we influence all of those other
things, like Claudio is working on, so that four, six, eight years from now — player
development issues,” Gulati said. “He’s not going to invent new players under a short period of time.”

Still, Klinsmann has made a few changes to the U.S. lineup.

He gave Oguchi Onyewu his first start since June, and the 6-foot-4 central defender played a strong match. Following knee surgery in October 2009, Onyewu had struggled to regain his form until becoming a regular with Sporting Lisbon this season.

Williams made his second straight start since gaining an American passport last month and Chandler, a fellow German-American, has become the starter at left back. Fabian Johnson, who switched allegiance to the U.S. after starting for Germany in the 2009 European Under-21 final, is expected to make his debut after recovering from a neck injury.

When Landon Donovan (quadriceps) and Jose Torres (foot surgery) return from injuries, there will be heightened competition for midfield spots. And that doesn’t even include Stuart Holden, out until spring following his second knee surgery this year.

Already, Michael Bradley has been dropped to the bench in favor of Williams, Maurice Edu, Brek Shea and Kyle Beckerman. Jermaine Jones and Ricardo Clark weren’t invited to the latest camp.

“That fight, midfield, will really heat up,” Klinsmann said. “So we get some interesting
situations, and for me as a coach, very good options.”

The U.S. will play two games in Europe from Nov. 11-15. One is likely to be against France, which qualified for the European Championship on Tuesday and no longer needs the dates next month for a playoff. The other could be in Eastern Europe.

“Everyone still wants to see wins,” Gulati said. But for now, scores aren’t the priority.

“The first few results haven’t been great,” captain Carlos Bocanegra said. “It’s just
frustrating, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

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