MLS’s CCL Dream Deferred Yet Again

A team from Major League Soccer will win the CONCACAF Champions League some day. Just not this year.

After Seattle went out to Santos Laguna in a 1-1 second-leg draw on Tuesday night, the LA Galaxy represented MLS’s last hope for a 2013 CCL finalist. Their task was nearly identical to the one Seattle faced on Tuesday: They were playing on the road in Mexico, and they trailed by a goal after the first leg. Indeed, the Galaxy’s degree of difficulty was slightly higher, since Monterrey had scored two away goals in their first-leg win at Los Angeles.

Bruce Arena’s side had been 10 minutes away from taking a 1-0 win down to Mexico for the second leg when the visitors’ two biggest threats, Mexican striker Aldo De Nigris and his Chilean counterpart Humberto Suazo, each struck in the waning moments to send LA to a severely deflating loss. But the Galaxy have Robbie Keane and Juninho and a rounding-into-form Landon Donovan, and their fans had hopes that they could bag the two goals needed in the return match to either win the tie outright or send it into extra time.

LA generated some chances, but Monterrey ultimately showed why they’re the two-time defending champs. Highlights here:

Real Salt Lake’s narrow loss to Monterrey in the 2011 final is looking like a bigger missed opportunity with each passing year. Jason Kreis’s team got a 2-2 draw on the road in the first leg that year, only to fall 1-0 at home in front of an amped-up crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium. Ouch.

Monterrey and Santos Laguna will meet for the trophy in a rematch of last year’s final. The two-leg decider is set for April 24 and May 1.

Two Yoots: Pair of 19-Year-Old Americans Help Galaxy, Sounders Reach CCL Semifinals

For the first time in the history of the CONCACAF Champions League, there are two clubs from Major League Soccer in the final four. Seattle and Los Angeles both advanced to the semis this week, eliminating Tigres of Mexico and Herediano of Costa Rica, respectively, and both got key goals from 19-year-olds who came up through the clubs’ academies. That’s called living right.

Here’s the Galaxy’s Jose Villareal, who was born in Inglewood, Calif., in 1993. You probably remember 1993 like it was yesterday. Villareal is fresh from a standout performance with the U.S. U-20s at the CONCACAF Championships, where he bagged three goals in four games. Last night versus Herediano, he kept his personal momentum going, scoring the second goal to spark LA to a 4-1 win:

Go ahead, watch it again. See the stepover, the spin-o-rama, and the deadly left-footed finish to the far post. Pure class in a glass, as Ray Hudson would say.

The previous night in Seattle, the Sounders fell behind Tigres’s B squad and looked to be on their way out of the CCL. Their 19-year-old right back, DeAndre Yedlin, was beaten—some say fouled—on the play that led to Tigres’s goal and put Seattle in a 2-0 aggregate hole.

The young Seattle native—in his CCL debut and just his second appearance for the Sounders—quickly made amends, scoring a sweet equalizer and turning in an excellent, assured second-half performance.

Check out his goal:

Yedlin was not part of the U.S. U-2o team that qualified for this summer’s World Cup in Turkey, but if he keeps up his current form—he was named to the MLS Team of the Week last week, becoming the first rookie ever to earn the honor in his professional debut—you can bet that coach Tab Ramos will call him in for the tournament.

Bonus Yoot

Another player who was not part of that U-20 qualifying team, but could play his way onto it, is Villareal’s teammate in LA, 18-year-old Jack McBean of Newport Beach, Calif. A big kid with skill and a nose for goal, McBean is the youngest signing in Galaxy history, having put pen to paper with the team in April 2011 at age 16.

Here he is late in last night’s game against Herediano, taking a quick restart and curling a shot into the far side netting to make it 4-1 LA:

The MLS academy system, founded in 2006 and streamlined in ’08, is starting to bear fruit. The 2011 U.S. U-20 team featured just one academy product; this year’s edition featured four—as well as two (Benji Joya and Daniel Cuevas) who split their youth development between US academy sides and the Santos Laguna (Mexico) youth system.

WAG of the Week: Bianca Kajlich

bianca_kajlich_02In honor of the one and only Landon Donovan, who will be conspicuous by his absence when the 2013 MLS season kicks off tomorrow, our WAG of the week is Bianca Kajlich, former ballet dancer, current castmember of CBS sitcom Rules of Engagement, and onetime spouse of U.S. Soccer’s wayward son.

Kajlich and Donovan were married from 2006 to 2010, and after his epochal goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup (while they were separated but not divorced), LD threw her a “Hi Bianca” during a postgame interview.

The split was made official in December 2010 and Kajlich has since remarried, while Donovan has won a pair of MLS Cup titles, starred at Everton and then, most recently, suffered a career burnout that has him vacationing in Cambodia while the MLS season gets under way.

Los Angeles Galaxy and U.S. fans are hoping for his swift and reenergized return.

But we all know LD’s story.

Let’s have another glimpse of Ms. Kajlich:

BiancaKGoodness gracious. Happy Friday, all.

Music to U.S. Fans’ Ears

American soccer icon Landon Donovan has mostly steered clear of the media during his recent hiatus from the game, but earlier this week he popped up at USC sports journalism seminar and answered a number of questions, including this one:

Donovan also talked about several other topics, according to a series of tweets by a student named Jesse Xiao, who was attending the event. A few highlights:

On the 2006 World Cup

“[That] was really my first big failure. There were two weeks when I went into depression … I started wondering if soccer is for me again.”

On Beckham’s arrival in 2007:

“I learned a lot of important things … like what to say and what not to say.”

On why he needed a break:

“I was so exhausted from the weight of the past 15 years … really the past 28 years.”

Donovan also said that he contemplated quitting early in his career, while struggling at Bayer Leverkusen as a teenager.

He’s a sensitive soul, LD is, but a great player who probably has a lot more to give U.S. Soccer.

Frank Lampard Headed to Los Angeles?

Lamps

If a Goal.com report published late last night is to be believed, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard will join the Los Angeles Galaxy on a free transfer at the end of the Premier League season, becoming the second marquee midfielder from England to join the club in the past half-decade, after uh, … whatsisname, blonde guy, good-looking—you know the one.

Lampard is one of the highest-scoring midfielders in Premier League history, with 194 goals in 584 appearances for Chelsea, and even though he’s 34, he still has something left in the tank, having scored seven goals in 14 games this season.

A source quoted in the report, says the transfer is “all but done,” and Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, speaking to reporters at the MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis, said the club would make an announcement about its third Designated Player next week:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if over the next week or so we’re going to have some kind of decision we’re going to make with a Designated Player. We wouldn’t rule that out. It’s always a possibility.”

Arena and LA would also like to make an announcement soon about the future of the best player in club history, the currently in-limbo Landon Donovan—and preferably one that involves him returning to the Galaxy in 2013.

Because while a Lampard–Robbie Keane combination in their attack would be nice, a Donovan-Lampard-Keane troika would make LA the prohibitive MLS favorites (again).

Beckham Goes Out in Style as Galaxy Win MLS Cup Chock Full of History (And Our Prediction Comes True)

BexTrophy

The Los Angeles Galaxy sent David Beckham out a winner, locking down a 3-1 victory over Houston in the MLS Cup final this past Saturday, and giving the Englishman—who had announced that this game would be his last in the league—his second U.S. domestic title in six seasons.

That was only the most high-profile chunk of history carved out at the Home Depot Center. Landon Donovan, who may be headed elsewhere as well, won a record-tying fifth MLS championship and became the league’s alltime leading scorer in all competitions when he scored the Cup-winning goal from the spot, giving him 146 career goals (regular season and playoffs).

The win delivered Los Angeles its fourth MLS Cup title, tied with D.C. United for the most ever.

There was also coach Bruce Arena’s fourth title—two more than any other coach in MLS history—and a second consecutive one for Irish international Robbie Keane, who who iced the game with a penalty in stoppage time, scoring his sixth goal of the playoffs, tied for second-most alltime in a single postseason.

Twenty-four year-old center back and budding U.S. national team prospect Omar Gonzalez completed his return from a torn ACL (suffered in January) by winning the game MVP award.

Also historic, if only for its Halley’s Comet–like rarity, was our spot-on—3-1 LA—pregame prediction (scroll down for it).

To the highlights, which really should be run in sepia tones:

Still can’t believe Donovan missed that sitter in the first half.

Adding to the end-of-an-era, history-making aspect of the game was the talk afterward about this Galaxy team’s place in the MLS pantheon. Are they best team in the league’s 17 years?

They’ve been to three finals and won two. They’ve won two Supporters’ Shields (and narrowly missed a third), and they suit up the league’s best player all-time in Donovan, its most galvanizing in Beckham, and one of its deadliest strikers ever in Keane.

Still, for over all balance and accomplishment, we’d give the nod to the D.C. United teams from 1996 to ’99.

They appeared in four straight finals, won three, and featured Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno in their primes, alongside U.S. national teamers Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos, John Harkes, Roy Lassiter, Carlos Llamosa, Ben Olsen, and Richie Williams.

That D.C. dynasty also won the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup, a precursor to the CONCACAF Champions League, and, most impressively, the ’98 Copa Interamericana, a competition between the winners of the CONCACAF Champions Cup and the South American Copa Libertadores.

The Black-and-Red defeated Brazil’s Vasco da Gama to win that trophy, and it’s probably the most impressive competitive notch on MLS’s belt in 17 years as a league.

This Galaxy side is a good and historic one, but they’re a shade behind that D.C. club.

They do have one thing in common with them, though: coach Bruce Arena.

Beckham Is Still Quick on His Feet

At an MLS Cup press conference yesterday, LA Galaxy midfielder David Beckham was in the middle of summing up how things turned around for the Galaxy four years ago, when a reporter’s phone started buzzing on the dais in front of him.

Becks took it from there:

We need a follow-up from the owner of the phone. Was it accidental, or a wiseass friend of his who knew where he was at the time?