Weekly Column: UEFA Champions League Preview

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Two days, two of the biggest club games this year: Bayern Munich-Real Madrid today, Chelsea-Barcelona Wednesday on Fox Soccer and FX respectively.

Wherever you’re going to watch — and a list of soccer friendly Los Angeles-area bars, pubs and restauarants origtinally compiled for the World Cup are at top right on this blog — enjoy the games.

And before you go get primed for all the action in today’s column.

Who do you like? Is an all-Spanish final likely? Or will Bayern Munich or Chelsea (or both) crash the Messi-Ronaldo party?

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MLS Saturday Soccer Preview: Galaxy, Chivas USA face desperate teams today in early must win games

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Trouble is there’s a certain degree of desperation all around.

Let’s face it, if the Galaxy can’t beat lowly and (oh, yes) desperate Portland Timbers (just ahead of them in the Western Conference standings and coming off a shock home loss to Chivas USA), the struggling Galaxy may be coming close to writing off the defense of their MLS Cup early in 2012.

Never mind that the Galaxy are apparently just as desperate and still face a personnel problem at center back (just who is ready to play anyway?) despite acquiring David “short-term solution” Junior Lopes from Chivas USA earlier in the week.

However, the Galaxy will face an opponent sensing that there is no better opportunity than now to beat the reigning MLS champion in a moment of weakness:

The game is live at 7:30 p.m. from Home Depot Center on KDOC and KWHY.

Chivas USA are facing a similarly (oh, yes) desperate opponent in winless Toronto FC (live at 1:30 p.m. on FSN and KWHY), but have an opportunity to equal the club’s longest-ever win streak (don’t get too excited, it’s only three games) if they can prove (and fans will hope they desperately want to) that the result over Portland was no fluke and can continue scoring goals.

Not surprisingly, Chivas USA winger Ryan Smith (who came on at halftime and changed the face of the game with two assists) wants Chivas USA to pick up where they left off:

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The MLS Game of the Season (so far)

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Teenage playmaker: Garden Grove’s Luis Gil, expected to play a huge role in the outcome of today’s early season front runner face-off between RSL and Sporting Kansas City takes on then Philadelphia Union midfielder Kyle Nakazawa (now of the Galaxy) in a file photo from last season (AP Photo).

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The respective conference leaders – unbeaten Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake – face off today in a game already being hyped (or not) as a possible preview of MLS Cup (or not) live at 5:30 p.m. on MLS Live and Direct Kick.

The key players for each team happen to come from Southern California — RSL playmaker Luis Gil and Sporting striker Kei Kamara — whose great start to the season I wrote about earlier this week.

And, of course, Galaxy fans will want to keep tabs on two of the clubs’ biggest rivals that LA doesn’t want to see disappear too far ahead in the distance at this early stage of the campaign.

Here’s more from AP Sports Writer Lynn DeBruin:

SANDY, Utah (AP) — The little kid in Orange County’s Luis Gil emerges when he starts talking basketball, insisting he’s got game and a nasty crossover that can “break some ankles.”

On the soccer field, the Real Salt Lake midfielder is all grown up, even if he’s just 18. “He’s ready,” RSL coach Jason Kreis said of the 5-foot-8, 150-pound Gil. “When he gets called upon, he’s ready to contribute and contribute in a major way.”

That’s what Real Salt Lake will need Saturday in an early-season showdown with the league’s only unbeaten, untied team.

Sporting KC (5-0-0) became only the third team in Major League Soccer history to start a season with five wins. The Galaxy did it in 1998 and 1996, but in the “shootout” era when
there were no ties, although the 1996 team didn’t need a shootout until its ninth game.

The Eastern Conference leader has allowed just one goal so far, and so dominated last week against the Galaxy that goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen didn’t even have to make a save.

Real Salt Lake (5-1-0) sits atop the Western Conference with 15 points, and is seeking its third straight road win and best start in franchise history.

“A lot of people are tabbing this as maybe a future MLS Cup matchup. It’s way too early to
suggest anything like that,” RSL defender Tony Beltran said of the showdown five weeks into an eight-month season. “But it’s a good chance to measure ourselves against a top team, in a very tough place. … It would be a big statement for us as a club and set the tone for the rest of the year.”

Gil thought he’d be in Portland, Ore., this week after being invited to participate in the U.S.
men’s Under-20 national team training camp.

But with star midfielder Javier Morales still questionable because of a hamstring injury, Kreis cancelled Gil’s trip, knowing how valuable the California kid can be.

“He’s an incredibly fast player that up until now hasn’t always shown it,” Kreis said. “That
comes with him taking a little bit more responsibility every single day and every game.”

Gil, a third-year pro after being drafted and traded by Kansas City in 2010, delivered the
insurance goal in a 2-0 win over New York last month and set up another last week that sealed he victory against Colorado.

Kreis figures he needs everything in his arsenal — even the teen who had an opportunity to sign with London’s storied Arsenal FC several years ago — to secure a result in Kansas City.

RSL is just 1-4-2 in Kansas City, having lost 2-0 there last year. Saturday also marks the start of a three-game road stretch, with visits to San Jose and Dallas up next for Real Salt Lake.

Kreis said his team continues to get better on the road, as evidenced by wins this year in Carson and Portland.

“Three years ago we were Jekyll and Hyde,” he said. “We were extremely good at home then were horrible (on the road). We’ve been bridging that gap ever since.”

On Saturday, Kreis will face a club that bears a striking resemblance to his own.

Sporting KC, like Real Salt Lake, is a small-market team built with a solid core of players,
having recently relocated to a new stadium.

“I think we look at them and see ourselves a lot, just the way they push numbers forward, how aggressive they play at home, how much pride they take in defending,” said defender Nat Borchers. “They’ve got some special players as well. It’s going to be tough.”

Kreis called Sporting KC “disruptive” with its different formations and style.

“They put a lot of players in your half of the field who don’t allow you to play or try not to
allow you to play, which can be difficult for us because we like to knock the ball around, like to have possessions in long stretches,” Kreis said. “And against a team like Kansas City, that may not be possible.”

C.J. Sapong, the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year at age 23, and Lawndale’s Kei Kamara (Cal State Dominguez Hills) , who scored the winner last weekend against L.A., lead Sporting KC.

There are plenty of others to watch on a team Kreis said is perhaps the deepest in the
league.

Gil, tabbed by some as this year’s MLS breakout player of the year, said the key against
Sporting KC is playing smart. Gil can do that, even if he’s better known for an amazing first
touch and that speed.

“The thing that impresses me is he’s got such a developed soccer brain at such a young age,” Beltran said. “He’s just a very smart soccer player. He deserves all the success he’s getting. He, in my eyes, is one of the future stars for our national team.”

That will have to wait for now, though it’s still the ultimate goal for a player who has been on everyone’s radar for years — even if he only recently became old enough to vote.

“One of the very first things I heard as a young professional is that there’s not young players and old players; there’s good players and bad players,” Kreis said.

Gil isn’t about to argue with his coach.

“On the field, I really don’t think age is a factor,” he said. “It’s who wants it and who
doesn’t.”

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Thursday Kicks: Looking back on an “expletive” month & more

Three questions for Southern California soccer fans:

*What coach of an MLS club that will play at Home Depot Center Saturday night do you think this quote should be attribued to?

“There will come a time in the season when we look back on this month and say, ‘My God, that was a (expletive) month. How down we were and just frustrated with the results and the way the games went for us.’ “

I’m sure Galaxy fans hope Coach Bruce Arena said that. He didn’t.

*Who on the Galaxy defense was most responsible for the team conceding Kei Kamara’s goal in Sporting’s 1-0 win last weekend?

Hint: this wasn’t mainly a center back issue:

Finally, how many soccer games will be played at Home Depot Center this weekend before a paying audience? Turns out there’s more than just Saturday’s Galaxy-Timbers tilt even if many of us (especially in the English language media apparently) have heard virtually nothing about it:

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Updated

The full rosters for the respective teams for the game were released this morning.

Here they are (and if you don’t know who these players are, I guess there’s no need to go to the game):

Mexico:
Jorge Campos, Claudio Suarez, Ramn Ramrez, Martin Ziga, Mariano Trujillo, Luis R. Alves (Zague), German Villa, Alberto Garca Aspe, Ramon Morales, David Oteo, Luis Hernndez, Joel Snchez , Eduardo Missael Espinoza, Marco A. Ruiz (Chima), Jess Olalde, Jared Borgetti y Francisco Palencia
DT: Carlos Reinoso

U.S.
Cobi Jones, Paul Caligiuiri, Thomas Dooley, Eric Wynalda, Roy Lassiter, Chris Klein, Cle Kooiman, Ted Eck, Clint Mathis, Alexi Lalas, Jovan Kirovski, John O’Brien, Brian McBride, Ian Feuer

Coach: Curt Onalfo

Tickets start at $15.

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Galaxy to host Hermosa Beach sand soccer tournament

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The club will host the inaugural LA Galaxy Sand Soccer Showcase from June 29 to July 1 in what it says is the first beach soccer tournament of its kind to be held in the South Bay city.

All the five-a-side games will be played in accordance with official FIFA Beach Soccer rules on a field that is 25 yards wide and 35 yards long. Games consist of three, 11-minute periods.

“Being a professional soccer team in Southern California, there is no better way to celebrate the culture of soccer in this region than by hosting this tournament,” said Galaxy Vice President Chris Klein.

Teams are guaranteed a minimum of three games.

Divisions include: adult co-ed, men’s open, women’s Open and boys and girls under-14, U-16 and U-18 brackets.

Winning teams receive berths in the Beach Soccer National Championships, set for December in Florida.

“We are very much looking forward to what the inaugural Sand Soccer Showcase will add to our community during the holiday weekend this summer, ” said Councilman Kit Bobko.

Registration is $445 per team, which includes “a commemorative gift for each player” and eight tickets to the Galaxy-Chivas USA derby July 21 at Home Depot Center.

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Desperate Galaxy send Cardozo to Chivas USA for central defender Lopes

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After conceding 12 goals in six games to start the season, the Galaxy finally dealt for an experienced center back today, picking up Brazilian David Junior Lopes from Chivas USA in exchange for midfielder Paolo Cardozo.

Whether Lopes is the answer to filling the obvious gap left by the knee injury to Omar Gonzalez remains to be seen.

Lopes made eight appearances for Chivas USA last season after signing for the club in August and started their final seven games of the season. That stretch saw Chivas USA, which boasted one of the worst defenses in the league last season, win just one game to end the year.

The current Galaxy squad now boasts two former members of that awful back line; center back Andrew Boyens remains on the roster although it doesn’t appear Coach and GM Bruce Arena has much confidence in him given the trade.

The press release unusually included no quote from Arena, but I’m guessing the first word on the headline of this blog post sums up the Galaxy’s rationale for the trade.

Lopes, 29, hasn’t been able to break into Chivas USA’s much improved back line and hasn’t appeared in a game yet this season.

Lopes hasn’t stuck around any club very long either, appearing for seven clubs in six nations over eight years before coming to MLS.

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Cardozo, the club’s first round draft pick in the 2011 draft, appeared in 18 regular season MLS games during his time with the Galaxy, but played just once so far this year.

The 1-3 Galaxy, last in the Western Conference, play the team that sits one spot above them in the table Saturday in Carson, the Portland Timbers, a club winless in four games.

What do you folks think of the move?

Judging by the results of this poll, I’m guessing most of you think the move is long overdue (i’ll leave aside for now whether it’s the move for the right player to fill the void, however).

Updated

Here’s more from Assistant Galaxy Head Coach Dave Sarachan on the trade:

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Weekly Column and video highlights: Five players to watch in MLS

New season, new stars?

In this week’s column I take a look at five players who have impressed so far in 2012.

Apologies to those I was forced to miss for space reasons including the likes of Sporting’s Graham Zusi.

The Kei Kamara goal against the Galaxy and the two Chivas USA goals created by Ryan Smith from last weeekend can be seen here.

In the column I teased to the trailer for the documentary short “Kei,” so here it is:

Here are the highlights of the Red Bull win over the Columbus Crew last weekend, too, including Kenny Cooper’s two goals:

Here are the two Darlington Nagbe goals mentioned in the column he scored against Real Salt Lake a week or so ago:

And for good measure, here’s that Nagbe goal from last season I also mentioned in the column that’s worth another look to refresh your memory about how good it is:

Finally, David Estrada’s hat trick to get his and the Sounders 2012 season off and running is here:

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Easter Sunday Soccer: Death and Rebirth

OK, I’ll admit, the headline is a little over the top.

But it also seemed apt as the Galaxy’s prospects for the season continued to dim Saturday with a 1-0 road loss to Sporting Kansas City, while a reborn Chivas USA show more signs of life than they have in years with a second consecutive road win against the Timbers in Portland.


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