They are bound to be at the center of the most important plays for their clubs tonight.
The LA Galaxy’s Landon Donovan and the New York Red Bulls’ Thierry Henry have the weight of the responsibility on their shoulders as their heavyweight playoff showdown wraps up with the second leg tonight (11 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes) for the right to play Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Championship.
Both players are featured in separate in-depth articles on game day. Just how in-depth? Well, the Los Angeles Daily News brings up the “Landycakes” nickname to Donovan and he tackles it head-on: "To be fair, it probably wasn't completely inaccurate at some points of my career to have a nickname like that, so it's fine. … I've done enough work in my personal life to know where those things come from. And once you're aware of it you can help change it.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Jack Bell of The New York Times, fans get a good look inside how Henry thinks. For example, look who he believes is the star of the league: “Dwayne De Rosario for me should be the face of this league in terms of he’s been playing here for a very long time. I think he has the most championships, the teams he plays on succeed every time.”
While Henry calls a potential Red Bulls ouster of the LA Galaxy “an upset,” his teammate Luke Rodgers is fully envisioning it: "If you look at a lot of games this season where it's a must-win game, we've won," Rodgers said. "When our backs are up against the wall, we do produce. And in my eyes it will be the same [Thursday]."
Just in case the Red Bulls were being labeled as the bad guys here, Rodgers also wanted everyone to know that his teammate, left back Roy Miller, is carrying a gash in his leg from a David Beckham tackle. "That's all crap that we don't want to discuss," LA manager Bruce Arena said.
And for anyone who still criticizes Rafa Márquez and his future in New York, ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas says: “I like Márquez. I’d have him in my team.” Find out why in his latest blog entry for the Daily Mirror in England.
Jan Gunnar Solli will return from suspension to man the right back position for NY and help right winger Dane Richards be more of a danger than he was in the first leg. Also, he can’t wait to give LA’s Mike Magee a run for his money: “When we played [the Galaxy on May 7] Magee was following me all over the pitch,” Solli said. “In the end he switched with Donovan because I don’t know if he was tired or whatever it was, but that’s a good thing.”
A date with Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference Championship awaits the Houston Dynamo and Philadelphia Union, who play their second leg tonight (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes). Although the Dynamo have a slim 2-1 advantage, they are worried about Philly, who have won in both visits to Robertson Stadium: “Realistically, they get an early goal and we're in trouble, because we've seen how hard they are to break down,” says Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall.
For the mood on the Philadelphia Union side, MLSsoccer.com spoke to both Veljko Paunovic for an injury update and manager Peter Nowak, who talks about tactics and player management ahead of the decisive match of the season. (VIDEO)
Whichever team is eliminated in Houston will likely not experience the devastation that is being felt in Seattle, where the Sounders came one goal short from the comeback, falling 3-2 on aggregate to Real Salt Lake and suffering a first-round ousting for the third straight season. Watch the full match highlights here.
Does the playoff elimination erase all the other achievements of the season for Seattle? Seattle’s Jeff Parke seems to think so: "There's a lot of great things that happened [this season]. But at the end of the day, this was most important. This is going to be in your head for the rest of the offseason.”
Even though the Sounders came close to doing the unthinkable, the critics are coming down hard on manager Sigi Schmid and superstar Fredy Montero for what happened in the first leg. One Seattle Times columnist writes “Saturday night was not coach-of-the-year Schmid's finest hour. And the mistakes from Saturday followed him into Wednesday … Schmid's Saturday lineup was brow-raising.”
The sports column in the Salt Lake paper was all about how RSL bent but didn’t break. The shots were 26-4 in favor of Seattle. “Eventually, RSL finished off the franchise’s best 2-0 loss ever — maybe even the most important, impressive multiple-goal defeat in MLS history,” says one writer in The Salt Lake Tribune.
The play of the game at Century Link Field had to be the goal-line clearance by Real Salt Lake’s Tony Beltran, who headed the ball away from his goal in acrobatic fashion. Beltran explains what happened on the play in this article. (VIDEO)
To be sure, the penalty kick that Seattle scored to open the scoring should not have been called, according to Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis: “I thought it was a travesty, an absolute travesty. Our player got pulled down and for some — I don't know what happened, if he just got color-blind at that moment or what, but that was ridiculous.”
It sounds like RSL’s Andy Williams would now very much rather play the New York Red Bulls based on his comment at the very end of this article.
There was no drama in Kansas City where Sporting secured a second 2-0 blanking of the Colorado Rapids at Livestrong Sporting Park last night (watch full match highlights). “To really not give up any chances and score two goals on set pieces, that’s big time,” KC manager Peter Vermes said. “Now you can say we’ve achieved something.”
Vermes still has reason for concern regarding the injury status of Designated Player Omar Bravo, who wasn’t even in the squad list on Wednesday. He says he doesn’t know if Bravo’s hamstring will allow him to play in Sunday’s Eastern Conference Championship: “He can run, but when he strikes the ball, he feels it.”
In addition to this year’s Eastern Conference championship match, Livestrong Sporting Park can expect to host some marquee events over the next years. That’s what MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who was in Kansas City, told media on Wednesday.
While Sporting’s Graham Zusi admits, “We’re tough to beat right now,” fellow midfielder Davy Arnaud can’t wait for the Eastern Conference title match which will determine a berth to MLS Cup in LA: “I wish we could fly whoever it is in tonight and play in the morning, honestly,” Davy Arnaud said. “I know that Sunday is going to be special, and it can’t get here soon enough.”
Even after Rapids manager Gary Smith likened Sporting to a “college team” after the first leg, he still tipped his cap to the opponents: “This [Kansas City] front trio is bloody lively," he said after a match in which he was missing seven of his most experienced starters.
The focus for the Rapids this offseason will now turn to Smith and whether he will return at the helm of the club after the expiration of his contract. He revealed that talks were being held and there was some progress but no timeline: “I hope we can resolve it. Whether we can or not, who knows?”
That’s the same question that they’re asking in Toronto, where a major decision is expected to be made by TFC in the coming week: Do they play their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal home match in March at BMO Field or at the Rogers Centre? A TFC executive looks at both scenarios here.
Some player decisions are expected in Vancouver, where new Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie oversaw his first practice and wasn’t thrilled about what he saw: “The overall standard isn't what it's going to be. It's going to be much, much higher.”
The Chicago Fire are making a move. In a press event to be held later today, the speculation is that the club will announce it is retaining Frank Klopas as manager. The Fire’s owner will be on hand to provide all the details and plans, including what happens to the technical director position.
Lots of interesting new names on the Under-23 squad list for the Olympic camp to be held in Germany. One up-and-coming figure in MLS making the cut is Dilly Duka, who reacts to the call-up in this video. US legend Claudio Reyna will run the camp since Under-23 manager Caleb Porter has to stay back with the University of Akron. (VIDEO)
Wait, there’s a Canadian international striker out there who has a $30 million price tag attached to his name? Believe it.
On the tube this afternoon is Europa League action. No Americans on show in GolTV, however. It’s Paris-St. Germain vs. Slovan Bratislava (2 p.m. ET) and Atlético Madrid vs. Udinese (4 p.m. ET).
Lastly, the cowards on Twitter can’t hide any more. Wait till word spreads about these two teenagers who spewed racial abuse via Twitter at a Newcastle United player and are now paying the consequences.
Watch: Kasey Keller’s most memorable matches
Q&A with Sporting KC president Robb Heinemann on referees, jersey sponsors and playoff format
MLS Cup Top 50 Moments: #18 How a nasty Nor’easter nearly wrecked the inaugural MLS title match
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