Hello and welcome to the L.A. Times weekly soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, the Times’ soccer writer.
Strap in since we’ve got a lot to cover today, starting with a brief reflection on the global reach of soccer and how that diversity makes the sport unique.
Soccer is played in more than 210 countries worldwide — giving it the greatest reach of any team sport — although the only thing that’s the same in all those countries is the size of the ball.
But there’s talent everywhere.
The Dodgers, with players from seven countries, are one of the most diverse teams in the four U.S. professional sports leagues. That roster would be considered homogeneous in soccer.
Major League Soccer started the season with players from 72 countries on its teams. And the first-year Los Angeles Football Club signed 30 players from 19 countries and five continents.
Many European teams have similarly diverse teams, which forces the players to be flexible about everything from food to language. They and their families are frequently rewarded with the opportunity to work and live in countries they may never have visited otherwise.
Carlos Salcedo, a defender with the Mexico national team, is just 24 but has already played professionally in the U.S., Mexico, Italy and Germany, where he shares an Eintracht Frankfurt locker room with players from 16 countries.
“Having the willingness to leave our comfort zone and come here, it is not that easy,” Salcedo said by phone from Frankfurt, Germany, where he is rehabbing an ankle injury. “It’s hard to come and adjust to the culture. Even to drive, it’s different than our country.
“I admire all my teammates. That they have the mentality to come here and they’re willing to continue to do this.”
The payoff? Well, there’s his four-year, multimillion-dollar contract extension for one. But Salcedo has also learned to speak three languages, is beginning to pick up German and has a 9-month-old German-born son who already understands words in two languages.
“I hope that he will speak three languages,” Salcedo said. “We’ll see how much time I can finish here. I would like to spend a lot of time here. But you never know what’s going to be the future.”
Salcedo said the team provides a German-language tutor but the coaches mostly speak English. That’s also the most popular language in the locker room even though none of the players come from a country where English is the primary language.
Most soccer dressing rooms are mini Towers of Babel in which more than a dozen languages are spoken. That’s why Manchester United star Romelu Lukaku speaks seven languages and Belgian teammate Vincent Kompany of Manchester City did post-game interviews in a nearly a half-dozen during the World Cup.
Still, English is the default language most coaches and players communicate in. Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, a Spaniard, has gone as far as banning languages other than English from some areas of the team’s training complex. He also administers regular exams to make sure his players understand it.
Arsenal manager Unai Emery, who is also from Spain, insists his players speak English in the dressing room even though he is still struggling with the language himself. He has promised to be fluent by Christmas.
English wasn’t a problem for Salcedo. Although he was born in Guadalajara, he joined the Real Salt Lake academy as a teenager and played his first professional game in MLS. But finding decent Mexican food has been a struggle in Germany.
Salcedo caught a break there, too, since Frankfurt is home to Germany’s only Chipotle. American expats, including U.S. national team star Christian Pulisic, who plays for German club Borussia Dortmund, have been known to drive as long as two hours to visit the restaurant.
“I go once a week,” Salcedo said. “It’s pretty authentic.”
So you’re telling me there’s a chance?
The Galaxy’s playoff hopes were faint at best heading into last Sunday’s home date with the streaking Seattle Sounders. However after responding with one of its most complete efforts of the season in a 3-0 victory, a way through to the postseason has opened up.
And while the climb is still an uphill one, it is now decidedly easier than it was a week ago.
“It puts us back in the conversation. And that was the message before the game,” interim coach Dominic Kinnear said. “Let’s not worry about what other teams are doing, let’s try to get ourselves back into it.
“With a win, obviously the conversation changes a little bit.”
The three points lifted the Galaxy into seventh place in the Western Conference standings, a point ahead of the Vancouver Whitecaps, with four games remaining. Only the top six advance to the playoffs, so the Galaxy will have to not only have to keep the Whitecaps — this week’s opponents — in their rearview mirror but they’ll also have to pick off one other team as well.
Here’s how the top of the Western Conference table looks:
Team Pts W L T GD
Dallas 53 15 6 8 +11
Sporting KC 51 15 8 6 +18
LAFC 50 14 7 8 +14
Portland 47 13 9 8 +1
Real Salt Lake 45 13 11 6 0
Seattle 44 13 11 5 +5
Galaxy 41 11 11 8 -2
Vancouver 40 11 11 7 -9
With just 12 points still to play for, the Galaxy have little chance of catching the top three teams in the conference, all of whom have played one fewer match.
Seattle is the nearest playoff team but the Galaxy are also unlikely to keep pace with the Sounders. Not only does Seattle also have a game in hand, but its remaining schedule is the easiest of any contender since none of its final five matches come against a team with more than eight victories.
That leaves Portland and Real Salt Lake. Both have played the same number of games as the Galaxy, 30. Both have a conference-best 10 wins at home and both have won just three times on the road, worst among playoff hopefuls.
Each will play twice on the road down the stretch and between the two of them, they will face playoff contenders in seven of their final eight games. That opens up all kinds of possibilities for the Galaxy.
Portland and Salt Lake will play each other twice, home and away. So if Salt Lake, which is just four points ahead of the Galaxy, loses both those games it can finish with no more than 51 points. The Galaxy could match that with three wins and draw in its final four.
If Portland is swept, the Galaxy could get by the Timbers with three wins and a Portland loss to either Dallas or Vancouver.
After their home match with Vancouver on Saturday — another must-win game — the Galaxy finish the season with road games at Kansas City and Minnesota and a home match against Houston.
“We can’t lose a game,” captain Ashley Cole said. “We have four games left and we are playing like it’s the playoffs.”
There was no collusion
The votes are in and for the first time in decade neither Crisitano Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi is the best soccer player in the world. But while the voting results may have surprised some, the right candidate won.
On Monday in London the FIFA Best Player award went to a deserving Luka Modric, who helped Real Madrid — and Ronaldo — to a third consecutive Champions League title then, seven weeks later, literally carried Croatia into the World Cup final.
Ronaldo was a distant second in the voting followed by Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah of Egypt and teenager Kylian Mbappe of Paris-Saint Germaine and World Cup champion France. Messi was fifth.
“This award is not just mine,” Modric said in accepting the trophy. “It is my teammates’ from Real Madrid and Croatia.”
The women’s vote was also surprising with Brazil’s Marta winning for the sixth time. In this case the winner was not quite as deserving. Although Brazil won the Copa America Femenina and qualified for next summer’s Women’s World Cup, Marta scored just seven times in 17 NWSL games with the Orlando Pride during the balloting period.
Dzsenifer Marozsan of Olympique Lyon and the German national team, finished second, two places ahead of American Megan Rapinoe.
Oh say did you see….?
If you haven’t seen or heard 7-year-old Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja’s stirring rendition of the national anthem before Sunday’s Galaxy game you might want to consider checking your social media outlets more frequently. Or you can just click here.
Video of the performance was viewed online tens of thousands of times in the first 24 hours after the performance, and Malea Emma was featured on two network’s national newscasts, by Time magazine and on hundreds of websites around the world — and with reason.
Malea Emma, who lives in Southern California and was singing from the time she could talk, not only has incredible pipes for someone who is 3-foot-9 and weighs 40 pounds, but she sang with otherworldly confidence.
The grade-schooler — who speaks Indonesian and Chinese in addition to English and plays the piano and violin — came to the Galaxy’s attention when the team held an online contest to find an anthem singer. The team may be challenged at times when it comes to recognizing soccer talent but they knew Malea Emma was something special the first time they viewed her video entry. And the resultant performance brought the team more positive publicity than it has had since Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s debut last March.
Perhaps inspired themselves, the Galaxy played their most confident match of the season, winning a game they couldn’t afford to lose to keep their flickering playoff hopes aflame. Even Ibrahimovic called Malea Emma the team MVP afterward.
So here’s an idea: If the Galaxy make the playoffs (which is a long shot) and get to host a match (even bigger long shot), they should bring their pint-sized periapt back for an encore. She’s already got a date with the Lakers in November.
Since we’re smack dab between the end of the World Cup and the MLS Cup final, this is a good time to take a vacation. As a result the newsletter will suspend operations next Tuesday but will return Oct. 9 from Tampa, where the U.S. national team will be preparing for a friendly with Colombia.
All times Pacific
Saturday at Chicago, 12:30 p.m., Univision
Oct. 6 at Colorado, 6 p.m., YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46
Oct. 18 vs. Houston, 7 p.m., YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46
Oct. 21 vs. Vancouver, 2 p.m., YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46
Oct. 28 at Sporting Kansas City, YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46
Saturday vs. Vancouver, 7 p.m., Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes
Oct. 6 at Sporting Kansas City, 5:30 p.m., Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes
Oct. 21 at Minnesota, TBD, Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes
Oct. 28 vs. Houston, 1:30 p.m., Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes
Until next time