MLS

LA Galaxy v New York City FC: Vanney lauds resilience

By Sports Desk June 18, 2024

Greg Vanney continues to battle without standout LA Galaxy midfielder Riqui Puig as his side prepare to host New York City FC on Wednesday in MLS.

The Los Angeles outfit are unbeaten throughout this season at their home Dignity Health Sports Park after overcoming Sporting Kansas City 4-2 on Saturday.

Vanney's men are yet to lose through eight games on their own turf, sitting third in the Western Conference and just three points behind leaders Real Salt Lake.

Yet the Galaxy remain without star man Puig, formerly of Barcelona, as Vanney continues to work around the Spaniard's absence.

"I think for me, we are positionally a little bit more stable," Vanney said, before lauding Puig.

"Our two pivots stayed in our pivots. [Against SKC] we were able to – we were more predictable even for each other in terms of our spots.

"When Riqui is on the field, he starts high, comes low, he defends high, he drops low. That sets a series of moments into play that are hard to defend, and Riqui has special qualities to be able to change the tempo of the game like nobody else in our league.

"If Riqui is here, if we can do both, stay inside the systems and use his qualities in the best way possible, and we have even another level [to go to]."

New York are fourth in the Eastern Conference after a 3-2 home defeat to Columbus Crew last time out – the visitors recording four straight wins on the road on Friday.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

LA Galaxy – Dejan Joveljic

Dejan Joveljic recorded his team-leading 10th goal of the season and an assist in the win over Kansas City.

Joveljic ranks tied for sixth in MLS for goals scored during the 2024 campaign and will be keen to add to that tally here.

New York City FC – Santiago Rodriguez

Santiago Rodriguez remains the leading light of the New York attack, netting his seventh goal of the campaign in the defeat to Columbus.

The Pigeons attacker has more MLS strikes than any team-mate this term, though Cushing will be desperate his goals can help New York to victory this time around.

MATCH PREDICTION – LA GALAXY WIN

The Galaxy are unbeaten in their first eight home matches of the season (W5 D3) for the first time since 2016 (15 straight) including winning the last three in a row at home. They have lost only one of their last 18 regular-season home matches dating back to last June (W9 D8).

NYCFC have won four of their six all-time meetings with the Galaxy, though LA won the last meeting, 1-0, in February 2022. This will be the seventh meeting between the sides and the fifth in Carson.

NYCFC have won their last three road matches after winning just one of their previous 23 on the road in all competitions dating back to the start of the 2023 season (D9 L13). This run equals their longest-ever road winning streak, having also won three in a row away from home in April-May 2019.

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

LA Galaxy – 41.7%

New York City FC – 31.7%

Draw – 26.7%

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    Minnesota United head coach Eric Ramsay is hopeful they can bounce back after conceding another late goal when they travel to Houston Dynamo on Saturday.

    The Loons are currently on a six-match losing streak, their worst such run in club history, which has seen them drop to 10th in the Western Conference.

    Minnesota conceded a 90th-minute winner against LA Galaxy last weekend, leaving Ramsay frustrated at being unable to snap their poor streak.

    "It's coming down to exceptionally fine margins and what's really tough at the moment is the performances aren't too big a problem, but it's at the end of a very tough month, so it adds insult to injury," Ramsay said.

    "I only take it one day at a time and try not to let the big picture loom too large. We're in a difficult period so we need to alter our expectations from what they were a month ago.

    "It's a good learning curve for me as a young coach, and a test to stay positive and hope the results don't influence the day-to-day so we can keep putting out a competitive team."

    Meanwhile, Houston sit two places and one point above their opponents, though their six-game unbeaten run was ended by a 3-2 defeat to Real Salt Lake.

    Their previous match against Los Angeles FC was postponed due to bad weather, so after an extended break, head coach Ben Olsen is looking to improve on that performance.

    "We looked a little bit unfocused, and I think we understood the task going into it, but on the pitch, we didn't, and I don't think I hammered that in enough," Olsen said.

    "We were lackadaisical, gave up poor goals, played into their hands. Not the greatest performance from us, but maybe we should've come away with something."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Houston Dynamo – Ibrahim Aliyu

    Ibrahim Aliyu has scored in back-to-back matches, taking his goal tally to a team-high six for the Dynamo this season.

    The Nigerian has scored at least once in each of the last five months dating back to March.

    Minnesota United – Teemu Pukki

    Teemu Pukki scored his 13th MLS goal in Minnesota's defeat to LA Galaxy on Sunday. Six of Pukki's 13 goals have been scored in four career matches against the Galaxy, while he has scored seven times in his other 26 MLS appearances in total.

    MATCH PREDICTION: HOUSTON DYNAMO WIN

    Houston have won two of their last three meetings with Minnesota in all competitions (lost one), including a 2-1 road win on April 13, after losing the previous six meetings. The Dynamo have never completed a single-season league double over Minnesota before.

    However, Houston have won only four of their last 14 regular-season matches (drawn five, lost five), dating back to mid-April after winning four of their previous five games (L1).

    Meanwhile, Minnesota have lost six straight matches for the first time in club history. The Loons had lost five of their previous 20 games dating back to the end of last season.

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Houston Dynamo – 53.2%

    Draw – 24%

    Minnesota United – 22.9%

  • The Numbers Game: Messi set for triumphant Argentina send-off in Miami? The Numbers Game: Messi set for triumphant Argentina send-off in Miami?

    The stage is set for what could be Lionel Messi's international swansong, as Argentina face Colombia in Sunday's Copa America final in the forward's new home of Miami.

    The Hard Rock Stadium is the venue as Messi and La Albiceleste go in search of a record-breaking 16th Copa America crown, currently level with Uruguay on 15. It would also be a second in a row after they overcame old rivals Brazil in the 2021 final.

    Standing in their way, however, are arguably the most impressive team at the tournament in Colombia.

    Unbeaten in 28 games – a new national record – and led by a rejuvenated James Rodriguez, who is surely the favourite for Player of the Tournament honours, Los Cafeteros downed a much-fancied Uruguay side with 10 men in the last four and are sure to present a stern test.

    Ahead of the showpiece game, we dive into the best Opta data surrounding the two finalists. 

    What's expected?

    Argentina began the tournament as favourites, being given a 30.8% chance of securing back-to-back titles for the first time since 1993 by the Opta supercomputer.

    The supercomputer is still on their side ahead of the final, giving them a 50.9% chance of winning the match in 90 minutes.

    Colombia are assigned a 25.4% chance of victory and a 23.6% chance of taking the game to extra time (which will take place if required after being scrapped for all other knockout matches) and potentially penalties.  

    Argentina have won their last two Copa America shoot-outs, against Ecuador in this year's quarter-finals and Colombia in 2021, though they have lost three of their last four finals at the competition on spot-kicks, versus Brazil in 2004 and Chile in both 2015 and 2016.

    Overall, Lionel Scaloni's team are given a 63% chance of lifting the trophy to Colombia's 37%. 

     

    Colombia will be featuring in just their third Copa America final (also 1975 and 2001), becoming the fourth team to reach multiple finals at the competition this century, after Argentina (six), Brazil (four) and Chile (two).

    Argentina have now reached the final at six of their last eight major tournaments (World Cups and Copa America). The only exceptions were at the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Copa, losing to the eventual champions (France and Brazil) in both instances.

    Colombia have only won one of their last 12 meetings with Argentina (five draws, six defeats) – a 2-0 group-stage win at the 2019 Copa America. The teams' last draw led to Colombia losing on penalties in the 2021 Copa quarter-finals, with Davinson Sanchez, Yerry Mina and Edwin Cardona all unsuccessful from 12 yards.

    The teams have met on 15 previous occasions in the Copa America, with Argentina recording seven wins to Colombia's three and the remaining five being drawn.

    Fitting farewell for the GOAT?

    Sunday's final could very well be the end of an era, with arguably the greatest footballer of all time contemplating international retirement after the match.

    While there are plenty stateside who are desperate to see Messi continue his glittering Argentina career until the 2026 World Cup, the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner said this week he is fighting his "last battles" on the international stage.

    Having led Argentina to glory at the 2021 Copa and the Qatar World Cup, Messi could go out on a high by inspiring his country to three straight major tournament successes, a feat they only previously achieved by winning three consecutive Copas in 1945, 1946 and 1947, with the World Cup not held during that time.

    It took him a while, but Messi finally got up and running at this year's Copa with a goal in Tuesday's 2-0 semi-final victory over Canada, converting his 12th shot of the tournament.

     

    He has now scored at six different editions of the Copa America, matching the record set by Zizinho all the way back in 1957. Messi has netted at the 2007, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2021 and 2024 editions, only failing to get on the scoresheet in 2011.

    His semi-final strike came 17 years and one day after his first Copa America goal, versus Peru in 2007. That gap is the longest between goals for a single player in the tournament's history, breaking another record previously held by Zizinho (15 years and 52 days between 1942 and 1957).

    Another trophy on Sunday would enable him to end what had previously been a disappointing Argentina career with a perfect run of three tournament triumphs.

    There is also the small matter of another international trophy pulling him clear of his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who led Portugal to glory at Euro 2016 and in the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League but now looks unlikely to add to that collection. 

    Cafeteros the Copa's best?

    Argentina may have star quality unmatched by any of their South American rivals, but they were made to work for knockout successes against Ecuador and Canada. Many would argue they have not been the tournament's outstanding team.

    That honour may go to Colombia, who topped Group D ahead of Brazil before dumping out Uruguay – considered second-favourites for the trophy by some – in the semi-finals.

    Nestor Lorenzo's team did not even require a full complement to overcome La Celeste, standing firm after Daniel Munoz's first-half red card as Jefferson Lerma's earlier header proved decisive. 

    Lerma's goal was Colombia's fifth to come via a header at this tournament, the most by a team at a single edition since Argentina netted six times via that route in 1991, when they lifted the trophy.

    Colombia's aerial prowess has been another string to their bow at a tournament where they have been extremely efficient in attack, scoring a competition-high 12 goals from 8.49 expected goals (xG), a tally that puts them second to Argentina (11.1). Colombia rank just sixth for touches in the penalty area (104) but third for shots from inside the box (59).

    Only conceding twice, Lorenzo's side have also been solid at the back – a recipe for tournament success. 

     

    Per game, they have averaged a tournament-low 0.51 expected goals against (xGA), as well as 9.6 shots faced (the third-best figure) and 2.2 shots on target faced (second-best). 

    That solid backline has given James and Luis Diaz the platform from which to make things happen, with the duo ranking third and fourth, respectively, for expected assists (xA) among all players at the competition. 

    Miserly at the back and with two of the competition's most creative players in attack, Colombia will back themselves to spoil Messi's Miami party.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Argentina – Angel Di Maria

    Di Maria made his 27th Copa America appearance in the last four, becoming Argentina's second-most capped player in the competition, behind Messi (38 matches).

    The former Real Madrid wideman will play his final international match on Sunday, and he could go out with a bang, having earned a reputation as a big-game player.

    Di Maria, who has 31 goals in 144 games for La Albiceleste overall, scored the winner in the 2021 Copa America final versus Brazil and also got on the scoresheet in the 2022 World Cup showpiece game against France.

    Only James (17), Nicolas de la Cruz (14) and Messi (13) have bettered his nine chances created at this tournament, while he also ranks sixth for xA (1.01) and only Messi has matched his tally of four chance-creating carries. 

     

    Colombia – James Rodriguez

    Colombia captain James has looked a player reborn at this tournament, recording six assists, with the most recent teeing up Lerma's semi-final winner versus Uruguay.

    That meant he surpassed Messi (five in 2021) for the most assists at a single edition of the Copa America since this data began being recorded by Opta in 2011.

    A remarkable 12 of his 17 chances created at this tournament have come from set-pieces, and with a cagey affair potentially in store, his dead-ball prowess could prove decisive.

    Five of Colombia's 12 goals have come from corners or indirect free-kicks, with James' deliveries helping them surpass their previous best goalscoring return at a Copa America (11 in both 1975 and 2001).

     

  • Kane England's greatest of all time and must start Euro 2024 final, says Neville Kane England's greatest of all time and must start Euro 2024 final, says Neville

    Harry Kane is England's greatest ever player and a certainty to start Sunday's Euro 2024 final versus Spain, says former Three Lions defender Gary Neville.

    Kane has scored three goals to help England to a second straight Euros final, including an equaliser from the penalty spot in Wednesday's semi-final win over the Netherlands.

    However, the Bayern Munich star's performance levels have been criticised throughout the tournament and it was his replacement from the bench, Ollie Watkins, who steered England into the final with a last-minute winner versus the Oranje.

    Ivan Toney also replaced Kane to good effect against Switzerland in the quarter-finals, converting a no-look penalty as England triumphed on spot-kicks, and some have suggested Gareth Southgate should drop his captain for Sunday's Berlin showpiece.

    Neville disagrees, pointing to the fact his nine knockout-stage goals at World Cups or European Championships are the most of any European player in history.

    "I spoke to Wayne Rooney four or five weeks ago before the tournament started and he said Harry Kane is the greatest England player ever," Neville told Sky Sports News. "I wouldn't fight to disagree with him.

    "Harry Kane has been absolutely sensational. I always called him gold when he was at Tottenham, you just know full well that he's going to deliver for you. He's a solid character.

     

    "I think he's obviously below his best in this tournament, it does look like he is carrying something and it wouldn't surprise me at all if it emerged in a week or two that he's had issues during the tournament with something that he's trying to bandage up.

    "You look at that record now and some of the greatest goalscorers of all time are on that list. Harry Kane is someone who will not be dropped by Gareth Southgate. 

    "I know there is a sense that people think we are better without him, but it wouldn't send a great message to the squad internally. He's very clearly their leader and Southgate has full, total faith in him.

    "I also think if you're the opposition team, he is England's talisman. He's the man who has gone over to Germany this year and has ripped it up from a goalscoring perspective."

    As well becoming the first England captain to lift a major trophy on foreign soil, Kane could add the Golden Boot to the one he won at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

    Dani Olmo is currently ahead of him in the running by virtue of recording two assists, with both players level on three goals. 

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