Los Angeles Soccer: Rafa Marquez

MLS: Pay cut drops Beckham to No. 3

May, 25, 2012

David Beckham took a fairly sizable cut in pay to stay with Galaxy rather than chase Paris Saint-Germain's millions, it turns out, and he's no longer Major League Soccer's top earner.

That's the big news from the MLS Players Union's release Friday of salary figures across the league, an annual event that provides the only substantial look at at least a portion of player contracts in the league.

Beckham, whose initial five-year deal with the Galaxy paid him $32.5 million -- $5.5 million in annual salary and $6.5 million in average guaranteed compensation -- settled for $2.5 million less this go-round: His salary is $3 million and guaranteed compensation is $4 million.

That drops him below New York Red Bulls stars Thierry Henry ($5 million and $5.6 million) and Rafa Marquez ($4.6 million for both figures). Galaxy striker Robbie Keane (making $2.917 million in salary, $3.417 million guaranteed) is No. 4 on the league's list, and captain Landon Donovan ($2.4 million) is No. 5.

Beckham was offered a reported 18-month, $18.7 million contract by French giant PSG before re-signing a two-year deal with the Galaxy in January.

Additional compensation, beyond base salary and guaranteed compensation, is not accounted for in the Players Union survey.

Chivas USA striker Juan Pablo Angel also took a substantial pay cut, dropping out of Designated Player territory. He's making only $350,000 in base salary (after receiving $1 million under his previous contract) but $600,000 in guaranteed compensation (down from $1.25 million).

The Galaxy has the second-highest payroll at about $10.76 million, behind only the Red Bulls' $12.2 million. Chivas is 14th at nearly $2.62 million.

Chivas has been economical in picking up talent in South America. Star central midfielder Oswaldo Minda is making only $50,000 ($68,750 guaranteed), fellow Ecuadoran Miller Bolaños and Colombian forward Jose Erik Correa just $48,000 apiece, and Colombian center back John Alexander Valencia $50,000.

Decent raises were given to Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy ($175,000 from $62,496) and Galaxy defenders Omar Gonzalez ($180,000 from $120,000) and Sean Franklin ($205,000 from $97,389).

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GALAXY: Spark sought vs. ailing Red Bulls

May, 4, 2012

David Beckham Ron Chenoy/US Presswire

CARSON -- A week ago the Galaxy were feeling pretty good about their progress following a poor start to their season while anticipating a three-game winning streak, proof of sorts that all was good.

After failing to win their third in a row, rallying in stoppage last weekend to tie visiting FC Dallas, and falling, 2-0, Wednesday at Seattle, they're looking for positive signs once more.

“There's no need to panic yet, but we want to get it sorted out as soon as possible,” said David Beckham, who is expected to return to L.A.'s lineup for Saturday night's showdown the New York Red Bulls at Home Depot Center. “We can't continue going into games and going through the motions and not doing things right on the field, because it shows. When you don't get results, that's what you look for -- it's the simple things that we're not doing right. I don't think we need to start panicking too much, but it needs to start happening pretty soon.”

The Red Bulls, which has become a rival of sorts since joining L.A. as a big-money club bringing in big-name Designated Players, could provide the perfect balm. They're missing a half-dozen starters -- including DPs Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez -- to injury or suspension.

“You can perform two, three, perhaps maximum four games when your without six of seven regular players,” Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said, “but then you will drop a little bit.”

The Galaxy hopes that drop arrives now. They don't expect that will be so.

“Sometimes that's a good thing [to be missing starters],” Beckham offered. “Sometimes players who have not played games come in and want to prove themselves, and it's a tougher game.”

It's certainly not the marquee matchup everyone expected in the teams' only regular-season meeting this year. Henry has been a clear-cut MVP favorite, scoring nine goals -- a good many of them sensational -- before going down last week with a hamstring injury that could sideline him for a month. Marquez is serving the last game in a three-match suspension for breaking San Jose midfielder Shea Salinas' clavicle with a football-style tackle followed by a kick three weeks ago.

Holding midfielder Teemu Tainio is out because of a sprained knee, and three first-choice defenders -- Wilman Conde, Roy Miller and Stephen Keel -- are dealing with a variety of ailments.

The Galaxy is looking for something elusive, the sense that things will be right no matter who they throw on the field and what competition they come up against. That swagger, built primarily through defensive dominance now absent with Omar Gonzalez out, was behind last year's run to the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup triumphs.

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GALAXY: No Davis? We'll see

November, 9, 2011

Brad Davis Brett Davis/US PresswireAs far as Brad Davis not playing in MLS Cup, the Galaxy say they'll believe it when they see it.

CARSON -- The Houston Dynamo are chirping about how they can, and will, win Major League Soccer's championship without Brad Davis, the expected league MVP, who will sit out the Nov. 20 title game at Home Depot Center because of a torn quadriceps muscle.

The Galaxy aren't sure Davis won't be in orange.

“I think that until he's not playing, until he's not on the field in the final, we're still thinking he's going to play, most likely,” said Galaxy defender/assistant coach Gregg Berhalter. “I would have to personally check him to believe that he's not going to give it everything he's got to play in that game. So we'll see.”

Davis says he's done after tearing his right quadriceps in Houston's victory at Sporting Kansas City in Sunday's Eastern Conference final, and his absence alters how the Dynamo approach nearly everything. He's the primary distributor, delivering on-target crosses and penetrating through balls, the player around whom the attack revolves.

“It hurts losing him,” Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall told The Houston Chronicle. “But at the same time, I feel like we have a deep team. We have a team of dangerous players, and I think we've proven that even without Brad.”

But losing Davis is “huge,” said Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez.

“He has a great left foot, and he puts the ball where he wants it ...,” MLS's Defender of the Year said. “He's probably been their best player, and they're going to miss him. It sucks that he won't play in this game, because it'll make for a better game, but I'm sure they'll have someone serving in balls that are just as good. If someone puts in a decent cross, they have guys who can get on the end of it.”

Said Berhalter: “They're a very organized team, they're a very physical team, they know exactly what they want to do and how they're going to do it. They never give up, and they're very determined. We don't take them lightly at all. We think they're experienced, they're well-organized and they fight for everything. It's going to be a very difficult game. It's not going to be easy.”

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GALAXY: 3 reasons L.A. is moving on

November, 3, 2011

Mike MageeAP Photo/Jae HongThe Galaxy's Mike Magee celebrates his first-half goal off a corner kick from David Beckham.

CARSON -- The Galaxy is back in the Western Conference final, third year in a row, and it didn't come easy.

They conceded a fourth-minute goal to Luke Rodgers, rallied to tie -- and go ahead on aggregate -- on Mike Magee's second goal of the first-round playoff series, then put New York away when Landon Donovan converted from the spot with 16 minutes (plus stoppage) to go.

Here are three big reasons the Galaxy prevailed Thursday night, notching a 3-1 aggregate victory over the Red Bulls to advance to Sunday evening's Western Conference final against Real Salt Lake.


The Red Bulls already were missing one first-choice central midfielder, with Rafa Marquez out following his postgame meltdown in the first leg brought a red card and a suspension that's been extended to three games.

When Teemu Tainio, Marquez's partner in the middle, limped off in the 16th minute because of a tight hamstring, the Red Bulls were done. Even if they didn't know it yet.

Tainio's intelligence, ability to set an attacking foundation and keep the ball moving, and defensive acumen has been critical for New York this season, and they lost control of midfield once he was gone.


As good as David Beckham was in Sunday's 1-0 first-leg victory at Red Bull Arena, he was better Thursday night, pulling the Galaxy up by their scruff and carrying them -- willing them -- to victory.

The Red Bulls did a nice job limiting the effectiveness of his long passes, as they did after he connected with Magee for the lone goal in New Jersey, but they allowed him too many set pieces from dangerous ground -- and they couldn't match his hustle in midfield.

Both goals were Beckham's: He delivered a perfect corner kick for Magee to nod home in the 42nd minute and drew the penalty kick, from Roy Miller's attack, that Donovan converted in the 74th minute to secure the victory.

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GALAXY: Marquez done, Cristman fined

November, 3, 2011
CARSON -- The season is over for Rafa Marquez, whether or not the New York Red Bulls overcome a deficit Thursday night against the Galaxy.

Major League Soccer on Thursday announced it has added two games to the Red Bulls midfielder's suspension and $2,000 to his fine for his role instigating an end-of-game scuffle in Sunday's first leg of the first-round playoff series against the Galaxy.

Juninho's red-card penalty remains unchanged -- a one-game suspension, to be served Thursday, and a $250 fine -- and undisclosed fines were assessed to Galaxy forward Adam Cristman and New York midfielder Teemu Tainio for “improper conduct and escalating the incident.”

It began when Marquez hurled the ball at Landon Donovan at the final whistle. Cristman shoved Marquez, who tried to head-butt and then slug the Galaxy forward. Juninho hit Red Bulls defender Stephen Keel, and a scrum materialized and soon dissipated.

The league, in a release, said its disciplinary committee “strongly believed Rafa Marquez must be punished above the red card he was issued for throwing the ball after the final whistle because of the following actions: attempting to head-butt Adam Cristman, attempting to punch Adam Cristman, striking Cristman, and simulating that he had been struck in the face.”

In all, he's out the next three games for which he's eligible -- it would cover Thursday's game and, if the Red Bulls advance, Sunday's Western Conference final and MLS Cup, with excess to be served at the start of next season -- and must pay $2,250 in fines.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena this week had little to say about the fracas, but he offered this: “Just speaking for our team, our players could have handled it better at the end of the game. I think the officiating crew could have handled it better at the end of the game. I think I could have handled it better at the end of the game. So, you know, it's something we learn from and go on from here.”

Henry, Bulls need to be 'incredible'

November, 3, 2011

Thierry HenryMike Stobe/Getty ImagesThierry Henry says of Thursday night's playoff match with the Galaxy: "We're going to have to do something almost incredible to be able to go through."

CARSON -- Thierry Henry has played in bigger games than this one during his career, so what's facing him and his New York Red Bulls teammates Thursday night isn't the least bit daunting.

The Galaxy takes a minimal 1-0 advantage into the second leg of the two-games, total-goals, first-round Major League Socccer playoff series at Home Depot Center, but Henry understands the challenge facing his club is a difficult one.

L.A. has not lost at HDC this season, going 16-0-6, including CONCACAF Champions League, the “away” game against Chivas and the friendly with Manchester City, and has posted shutouts in 21 of 43 competitive matches.

“It's a must-win game. A very difficult game,” Henry said on the eve of the clash. “They showed the other game at out place why they're so consistent. They were difficult to break down. We had a couple chances, but they defended well.

“It's always going to be difficult. They didn't lose a game at home this season, and for us to take it [and advance to the Western Conference final Sunday against Real Salt Lake], it has to be by two goals. So we all know it's going to be a difficult one against the best team in the league, but we came here to try to cause an upset.”

They'll have to do so without Mexican midfielder Rafa Marquez, a Designated Player suspended after picking up a postgame red card in Sunday's first leg for hurling the ball at Landon Donovan after the final whistle. Marquez's strengths are setting the game's pace from deep in midfield and delivering dangerous balls from distance, sort of like David Beckham, with a shade less proficiency.

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe says Dax McCarty or Stephane Auvray will take his place, and with the Bulls needing goals, McCarty seems likeliest. The Swedish coach's comments on his game plan suggest so.

Asked if the aim would be to come out as in the second half Sunday, when the Red Bulls applied heavy pressure on L.A.'s backline, Backe said: “I hope so. I expect us to come out with a lot of energy. But at the same time, play smart. It's a long time -- 90 minutes -- and probably most important in the beginning is having a clean sheet, not going one down. ...

“I don't care that much if we score 88th minute or something like that and go to extra time. I think the key thing is not going down early in the game. We need to stay in the game for at least 60, 70 minutes.”

Pivotal to that, he says, is stopping “the service, the distribution” to Galaxy forward Robbie Keane.

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GALAXY: Red cards play role in return

November, 2, 2011

Landon Donovan and Luke RodgersChristopher Pasatieri/Getty ImagesLandon Donovan, left, called New York the "cheap-shot" Red Bulls, something that nemesis Luke Rodgers, right, did not take kindly too.

CARSON -- The fracas that erupted at the end of the Galaxy's victory Sunday afternoon over New York will surely have an impact on Thursday's rematch at Home Depot Center. Landon Donovan's criticism of the “cheap-shot” Red Bulls that followed, not so much.

Both sides are missing influential midfielders for the second leg of the first-round playoff series after Red Bulls star Rafa Marquez was red-carded for hurling the ball at Donovan at the final whistle and Galaxy catalyst Juninho was sent off for leaping into the fray that resulted.

Their absences will alter how their teams approach the match, but the situation -- and each team's aim -- remains the same.

The Galaxy carries a 1-0 advantage into the decisive match in the home-and-home, total-goals series, so a draw or better sends them to Sunday's Western Conference title game against Real Salt Lake, also at HDC; a one-goal loss forces overtime and perhaps penalty kicks; and a two-goal defeat sends New York to Utah to play for a berth in the Nov. 20 MLS Cup final.

“We have good experience in this situation,” Donovan said following L.A.'s training session Wednesday. “We were in the exact same position last year, where we beat Seattle away, and then we came home. I think a lot of teams in that situation might have a tendency to sit back and guard the goal, but we wanted to come out and be aggressive, and we got at them early and ended the game quickly.

“In an ideal world, we could do that [Thursday], but, certainly, it's a different year and a different opponent, and it's going to be tough.”

Marquez, who has melted down in Donovan's presence before, usually in U.S.-Mexico battles, is among MLS's most talented players and probably the Red Bulls' most incisive passer. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said either offense-minded Dax McCarty or holding midfielder Stephane Auvray will team in central midfield with Teemu Tainio -- the decision has been made, no word on what it is, but McCarty appears likely.

Juninho has been a perfect foil for David Beckham, whose service is critical to the Galaxy's attack. Galaxy coach Bruce Arena says he has “three or four guys we're considering” to step in for the Brazilian youngster, and speculation is that Chris Birchall or Michael Stephens will get the call.

The incident at the end of Thursday's game prompted Donovan's postgame backlash. He deplored the Red Bulls for “disgraceful” behavior and “cheap shots,” claimed that “in all my years in this league, I've not played against a cheaper team” and said the Bills had “been doing it all year. ... I think it's part of their makeup.”

Red Bulls forward Luke Rodgers responded during a media conference call this week.

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GALAXY: L.A.'s start bests N.Y.'s finish

October, 30, 2011

Thierry Henry and David Beckham Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesThierry Henry and the Red Bulls still have hope they can come back on David Beckham and the Galaxy.

HARRISON, N.J. -- Hans Backe's take on the Galaxy's triumph Sunday: The Red Bulls were in command the whole way.

David Beckham's: The Galaxy played their game and got the result they were after.

Mike Magee's: L.A. isn't going to win an MLS Cup with many more performances like that one.

The opener of the first-round Major League Soccer playoff series served as a “Rashomon” experience for those involved, with no two versions of what occurred on the Red Bull Arena turf quite alike.

What can be agreed upon is this: The Galaxy is halfway to the Western Conference final following a gritty 1-0 decision over New York in which one beautiful Beckham ball, one tremendous Magee finish and plenty of lights-out defending by the visitors in the second half added up to an often invigorating and unquestionably intense battle.

Part II comes Thursday night, when L.A. takes its advantage into the second leg of the two-game, total-goals matchup at Home Depot Center knowing that a draw will be enough to send it to its third successive conference title game.

Magee scored the goal, firing home from a tough angle after his late run for a superb long ball by Beckham beat the Red Bulls' offside trap, and the Galaxy's backline -- led by center back Omar Gonzalez and goalkeeper Josh Saunders, both impeccable -- absorbed heavy pressure the final 45 minutes to notch the club's 21st shutout in 43 games this season, all competitions.

“Listen, we're not happy with the way we played,” Magee said afterward. “We're extremely happy with the points, but we stopped playing for some reason, which is uncharacteristic of us this season. That [kind of play is] not why we're here. I think we're well aware that if we have a similar performance and a similar effort, we might not get three points. We need to play better.

“We had some chances to score, to put a second one away. We gave them chances to score. We're well aware that performance isn't going to win us MLS Cup.”

Divide the game in half. The first half belonged to the Galaxy, which dictated the pace with an elegant possession game -- despite a heavy, pockmarked field damaged somewhat in the snow-removal process following Saturday's storm -- and created two chances, both from Beckham long balls, that should have provided a two-goal lead by the 15th minute.

The second half was all about the Red Bulls, who finally found a way to get wide -- primarily on the left, through Joel Lindpere and Roy Miller -- and quickly set a tone with three superb chances in the first four minutes after the break, the first two from Rafa Marquez balls over the top.

Saunders slapped away two of them, denying Dane Richards and, even better, Lindpere, and the backline, with Gonzalez doing much of the dirty work, was resolute the rest of the way.

Better aim by New York might have made for a different result. The Bulls put just five of 17 shots on target, and Marquez managed just one of six on frame, a stoppage-time grass-burner that Saunders leapt to corral.

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Donovan: 'Disgraceful' finish defines Bulls

October, 30, 2011

Rafa Marquez and Adam CristmanChristopher Pasatieri/Getty ImagesA postgame argument between New York's Rafa Marquez (4) and the Galaxy's Adam Cristman led to two red cards.

HARRISON, N.J. -- It was unnecessary, it was unfortunate, it was ugly.

But, Landon Donovan noted following the Galaxy's victory over the New York Red Bulls in a Major League Soccer playoff opener Sunday afternoon, it was hardly unexpected.

A scuffle broke out at the finish of L.A.'s 1-0 triumph, and you could have predicted this: Rafa Marquez was the center.

The Mexican midfielder, a supremely talented player with a propensity for on-field nastiness, greeted the final whistle by hurling the ball, sharply, at Donovan. Adam Cristman confronted Marquez, who tried to head-butt the Galaxy forward, Red Bulls defender Stephen Keel leaped in, and L.A. midfielder Juninho retaliated.

When it was done, referee Alex Prus issued postgame red cards to Marquez and Juninho, and the league could decide on further sanctions -- against Keel, most likely -- before Thursday's second leg in the home-and-home series at Home Depot Center.

“It's a disgrace,” said Donovan, who was standing at midfield, about 10 yards from Marquez, when Prus blew his whistle with a Josh Saunders goal kick in the air. Marquez caught the ball, and immediately flung it at the Galaxy captain, nailing him in the lower leg.

“We're here to play soccer,” Donovan said, “and when things like that are instigated by players on their team, it's real disgraceful.”

Marquez has a mostly one-sided history with Donovan -- and with the U.S. national team. His brutal foul against Cobi Jones in the 2002 World Cup round of 16 remains a sore point with Yanks, and when there's opportunity to deliver a cheap shot, especially away from the ball, he too often steps up.

Asked about this, Donovan was succinct: “I don't think anybody's surprised by what happened.”

What Marquez thinks about this is anybody's guess. He hasn't spoken to the media since his public comments last month criticizing Red Bulls defender were punished by a team suspension.

Keel, who was knocked to the ground by Juninho, blamed it all on playoff intensity.

“Tensions were high. You can see it's a playoff game ...,” he said. “At the end, there is a little scuffle, nothing major. I think someone comes in to break it up and everything. I just got knocked in the mouth a little bit. Nothing major. For me, it's not a big deal.”

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Beckham, defense get it done

October, 30, 2011

Galaxy/Red BullsAnthony Gruppuso/US PresswireThe Galaxy's David Beckham, left, battles the Red Bulls' Joel Lindpere during the first half Sunday.

HARRISON, N.J. -- All season the Galaxy showed they were the best team in Major League Soccer, and for the first 45 minutes against the New York Red Bills, that notion was apparent. But a strong second-half push forced L.A.'s defense to bend but not break for an all-important road triumph.

Mike Magee scored from a glorious David Beckham long ball in the 15th minute, and L.A. held off a resurgent New York attack in the second half to grab a 1-0 victory Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena, an advantage that will serve it well in the second leg of the two-games, total-goals series Thursday night at Home Depot Center.

The Galaxy offered a sensational first-half performance to take charge, then relied on its league's-best defense to do the rest, denying the Red Bulls opportunities once they found possession -- more than a few times thanks to big Josh Saunders saves.

Beckham set the tone early with three marvelous long balls, and the third -- a ball over the top for Magee to beat the offside -- was golden. Magee, who started his career with New York, got through on the left, then finished inside from a tough angle as Red Bulls goalkeeper Frank Rost flailed weakly at the ball.

That could have made it 2-0. Just three minutes earlier, Beckham sent another floater, just as good, for Magee, but Red Bulls center back Stephen Keel tackled it away and Robbie Keane collected in in the top left corner of the box.

Keane, returning to the field after a 3½-week absence with a muscle tear, ripped a shot off the right post, and Magee nodded the rebound just over the bar.

The Galaxy dictated the first 45 minutes with an exquisite passing game and rock-solid defense, especially MLS Defender of the Year candidate Omar Gonzalez, and when the Red Bulls found the ball in advanced positions, more often than not their attempts were off-target.

New York couldn't get the ball wide in the first half -- Dane Richards struggled to make an impact -- and didn't get its attack going until after the break. Rafa Marquez was the instigator, doing his best Beckham impression to find Richards and then Luke Rodgers atop or in L.A's box in the first two minutes of the second half, but Saunders slapped away Richards' try and Gonzalez halted Rodgers before Thierry Henry tried a leaping bicycle kick that cleared the crossbar.

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GALAXY: Two dates with the Red Bulls

October, 26, 2011

Thierry HenryKevin Jairaj/US PresswireThierry Henry celebrates his goal that closed out New York's win at Dallas on Wednesday and secured a playoff matchup against the Galaxy.

The Galaxy is New York-bound.

Well, New Jersey.

The New York Red Bulls' 2-0 triumph in a wild-card clash Wednesday night at FC Dallas sets up a major-market showdown, one Major League Soccer and television rights-holder ESPN will relish, for the first round of the league's playoffs.

The Galaxy (19-5-10), winner of the Supporters' Shield as Western Conference champion, will open its postseason campaign against New York on Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Kickoff will be noon PT, and the game will be televised by ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes.

The second leg will be next Thursday at Home Depot Center, with an 8 p.m. start. The team that scores the most goals over two games advances to the Nov. 6 Western Conference final.

Columbus plays Thursday night at Colorado in the second wild-card game, and the winner meets Eastern Conference winner Sporting Kansas City in a first-round opener Saturday.

The Red Bulls went 1-0-1 against the Galaxy this season, drawing in a sizzling encounter at Home Depot Center in May, then winning earlier this month in Harrison when the Galaxy, weary from a difficult month of MLS and CONCACAF Champions League action, used a reserve lineup filled with heavy legs.

Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan traded goals in the first meeting, a 1-1 draw; Henry and Luke Rodgers scored in the second, a 2-0 Red Bulls win.

“New York -- you can kind of put an asterisk next to those games,” left back Todd Dunivant said earlier Wednesday. “The first was a good game, probably one of the best games of the year in MLS, to be honest. And on the road we were exhausted.

“I don't think anyone fears New York, and we would love that [matchup], and I think the league would love that.”

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MLS PLAYOFFS: N.Y. could be L.A.'s foe

October, 25, 2011
The Galaxy will open Major League Soccer's postseason against one of the wild-card winners, taking on the lower seed to advance, which could be Colorado (2), Columbus (3) or New York (4).

Only FC Dallas, which is home Wednesday night against New York, isn't going to match up with L.A.

Here's a look at the New York Red Bulls, who will be home for the first leg Sunday against the Galaxy if they win in Dallas.

Who are these guys?
They're the club with the biggest MLS payroll, nearly $13.4 million, and star power to match the Galaxy, with Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez. They're also the biggest disappointment in MLS this year, following a torrid 4-1-3 start by winning just twice in 4½ months. They scraped into the playoffs primarily because other Eastern Conference teams failed to pull away.

Who's their go-to player?
Henry's talent is undeniable -- the 34-year-old Frenchman is one of the finest players of his generation and probably the best player ever to pull on an MLS jersey. He finished third in the league scoring race with 14 goals, but he has not been the kind of leader the Bulls expected, and his talent alone isn't enough to breed success.

Who flies in under the radar?
Several guys. This is a team with some real players, including Estonian winger Joel Lindpere, who enjoyed an exceptional season, and newcomers Jan Gunnar Solli, a Norwegian back, and Teemu Tainio, a Finnish midfielder. But let's recognize Jamaican speedster Dane Richards, in his fifth season with the Red Bulls. Richards can stretch backlines, create and score -- he was critical to New York's stunning run to the 2008 MLS Cup title game.

What can the Galaxy exploit?
New York is more a collection of really good players than a team, and although they've been in better form the last six weeks, even head coach Hans Backe acknowledges they're not the team they were at the start of the season. The backline has been iffy, especially center back Tim Ream, who has been in an awful sophomore slump. The most important player for New York might be English forward Luke Rodgers, an energetic, gives-everything striker who scored nine goals, and he's out because of a knee injury suffered in Thursday's regular-season finale. Too bad for the Bulls: They've won only once when he hasn't been in the starting lineup.

Why might the Red Bulls win?
So much talent. Nobody matches them there, although the Galaxy and Seattle -- better teams, unquestionably -- are close. And nobody really wants to play New York, because they can beat anybody. Winning a two-game series with L.A. will be tough, and winning four or five games to claim the title is probably beyond them. But that's not a bet you'll want to make.

How did the matchups turn out this year?
The Red Bulls won the series. Henry's early goal led to a 1-1 draw May 7 at Home Depot Center, and New York romped Oct. 4 in Harrison, N.J., over an exhausted, depleted L.A. side, 2-0, on goals by Rodgers and Henry.

MEXICO: Why the Brazil friendly matters

October, 10, 2011
Nothing's on the line except pride and preparation when Mexico's and Brazil's national teams tangle Tuesday night in Torreon, but there's plenty of reasons to tune in.

The friendly between two of the world's finest sides, both fielding representative teams, will air at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and Univision (KMEX/Channel 34). Mexico will counter a skilled Brazilian team with its superstars -- Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Giovani Dos Santos and Rafa Marquez -- and the knowledge that Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre hasn't lost since making his debut as manager in February.

El Tricolor is 10-0-4 under the former national team midfielder.

Here are three reasons to follow the action:


Hernandez, among the world's most admired strikers since joining Manchester United following last year's World Cup, is finally healthy after taking a few knocks to start the season. He has scored 22 goals in his first 31 appearances for Mexico, and his appearance opposite Brazilian attacker Ronaldinho -- also an iconic superstar, one whose time internationally is dwindling -- is a big deal.

The Brazilians know this.

“He has been standing out in Manchester, his confidence is very high, and he is a very dangerous player,” defender Lucas, who plays at English Premier League rival Liverpool, told a media gathering in Mexico on Sunday. “He's very fast and can surprise you at any time.

“But there are other players, too. There is a player who is playing for Tottenham [Giovani] who has many qualities, but Chicharito is the great [player from Mexico].”

Ronaldinho returned to Brazil's national team in August -- after a nine-month absence following his exclusion from last year's World Cup team -- and is starring at home, with Flamengo, following a decade in Europe. He spent most of his years on the continent with Barcelona, where his teammates included Marquez and Giovani.

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GALAXY: No Donovan, no Keane in NY

October, 3, 2011

Red BullsJeff Gross/Getty ImagesDavid Beckham, left, and Thierry Henry will be the main attractions when the Galaxy and Red Bulls meet.

It's still Major League Soccer's marquee matchup, but this Galaxy-New York Red Bulls meeting just isn't what it might have been a month or so ago.

David Beckham and Thierry Henry are raring to go Tuesday night at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., but the star power is dimmed by the absences of Galaxy captain Landon Donovan and Irish forward Robbie Keane and the occasion is muted although both teams are playing for something important.

L.A. will clinch its second straight Supporters' Shield with a victory, and every game is must-win for the Red Bulls, which is in a fight for the final MLS postseason berth.

The game was initially slated for Aug. 27, but Hurricane Irene's impending arrival pushed it back, and it closes a hectic month for the Galaxy, which during a two-games-a-week stretch moved to within one victory of advancing to the knockout stage in the CONCACAF Champions League and to the verge of MLS's regular-season champion, two of the club's three primary goals this season.

The third, of course, is winning the MLS Cup title Nov. 20 at Home Depot Center.

Donovan did not travel to New Jersey and pulled out of the U.S. national team's friendlies Saturday against Honduras in Miami Gardens, Fla., and next Tuesday against Ecuador at Red Bull Arena after suffering a quad strain in the closing minutes of L.A.'s victory Saturday over Real Salt Lake. Keane departed Sunday to join Ireland's national team for a pair of Euro 2012 qualifiers.

L.A. (18-3-10) is 2-0-6 in MLS this season when Donovan hasn't been available because of injury or international commitments.

“You always want your best players playing, and, obviously, we have to watch with Landon, because he’s had a lot of games in the last couple of months,” Beckham told media in New Jersey on Monday. “We’ve got players who can step in and step up, because we’ve done that all season. The games we’ve had, the challenges we’ve had, when we’ve needed players to step in, they have done it. We haven’t got a problem with that.”

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MLS All-Star adds: Agudelo and Bravo

July, 16, 2011
Chivas USA fans hoping to see Nick LaBrocca or Heath Pearce on Major League Soccer's All-Star team are going to have to wait another couple of days. So will Galaxy supporters who want Juninho or Todd Dunivant on the roster.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber opted for frontline firepower with his two selections for the July 27 All-Star Game against Manchester United in Harrison, N.J., which were announced Saturday afternoon.

New York Red Bulls teen forward Juan Agudelo and Sporting Kansas City veteran Omar Bravo were added to the MLS roster, which stands at 14 -- with three of those players uncertain or unlikely to make the game.

Seattle goalkeeper Kasey Keller is expected to be in action in Panama the night before the All-Star Game, leading the Sounders against San Francisco FC in a first-leg preliminary-round clash in the CONCACAF Champions League. FC Dallas winger Brek Shea has a game in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the night after the midseason exhibition, a Champions League opener against Municipal.

New York coach Hans Backe, who will guide the All-Stars, last week ruled out his Mexican defender, Rafa Marquez, who has been sidelined since the CONCACAF Goldb Cup final because of a hamstring strain.

Keller, Shea and Marquez were on the First XI, selected in a fan vote. So were Galaxy stars Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Omar Gonzalez and Sean Franklin.

Garber told Fox Soccer Channel his reasons for choosing the Colombia-born Agudelo, a rising star with the U.S. national team, and Bravo, a Mexican star.

“I thought Juan was a no-brainer ...,” he said. “Great young player and really an exemplary product of our MLS academy system, so, you know, here's the guy that's proving the system is working. Sitting where we sit, this is an opportunity for Juan to continue his development ... allow him to get into a big-time game and hopefully learn from that experience.”

Of Bravo, he said: “What we really need to do here is play well against Man U, and Omar's a guy that has a lot of big-time experience. He's been there before. This is not a guy that's going to to get flustered. He's playing in games where there have been superclubs, and Omar has performed in those competitions. ... It doesn't hurt that Omar has a real ability to impress this audience of ours, which is increasingly Hispanic.”

Backe and the league will announce the rest of the team Monday.