Portland Timbers v Seattle Sounders

Sunday in Seattle offers glimpse of MLS’s mainstream future

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SEATTLE, Wash. — This is what it will be like when Major League Soccer hits the big time. Too far into the future for any of us to predict, Sunday’s scene in Seattle will be the norm – not a cause for celebration.

Then again, for as long as most of us can remember, soccer in North America has always been defined by the future. One day, soccer will be the biggest sport in the land, a refrain that repeats as most futures come and go.

Sunday’s match at CenturyLink finally gave us a glimpse of the promised land, one in which all the predictions finally come to fruition – one in which 66,452 people come to see a regular season game in MLS.

“When you looked up and you walked out there and you said, Man, this isn’t the Seahawks playing today,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said, after the match. “This is the Sounders. This is something you never thought was necessarily going to happen in U.S. soccer.”

Seattle drew more fans than three Sunday NFL games. They outdrew every weekend match in the English Premier League. None of Major League Baseball’s playoff games came close.

“This is what heaven must be like,” Schmid said, his eyes pink and puffy. Either he had just finished crying or he was about to start.

“In my imagination of heaven, this is it.”

Schmid has earned his moment of reflection. He has a right to be emotional. The former Galaxy and Crew boss left a successful team in Columbus to start new in Seattle four seasons ago. While the Pacific Northwest was already a soccer hotbed, there was no guarantee of on-field success. It was a career-defining risk, and there was also no guarantee the off-field momentum would continue.

“It was a little bit emotional for me, but I was really proud of that. This club has been the best thing that happened to me in soccer. I’m thankful that for every day that I’m here.”

(MORE: Analysis of Seattle’s comfortable win)

Schmid is as much a face of the franchise as Joe Roth, Drew Carey, Paul Allen, or Adrian Hanauer – Seattle’s ownership group. When the Sounders’ largest supporter group (Emerald City Supporters) unveiled their pregame tifo, Schmid was their subject, the Sounders’ boss pictured at a poker table, showing Portland general manager Gavin Wilkinson his royal flush.

“What’s happening here is phenomenal. Everybody thought it was going to disappear – that it was going to go away. It hasn’t gone away. If anything, it’s grown.”

“It just goes to show you how far soccer has come in our country,” Seattle striker Eddie Johnson said post-match.

Johnson left MLS in 2007 before the latest round of expansion brought Seattle into the league. Leveraging his experience in the English Premier League and with the U.S. Men’s National Team, Johnson compared CenturyLink’s environment with some of the world’s marquee venues.

“[CenturyLink is] like any other stadium – like Old Trafford away, playing in Azteca in front of 110,000 people. It doesn’t get any better than the atmosphere here tonight.”

(MORE: MLS commissioner makes the scene)

If there was a difference between CenturyLink’s crowd and those you’d see in other famous venues, it was the distinctly North American feel. Though the stadium was a sea of Seattle green, the atmosphere wasn’t defined by supporter chants. ECS and the 1,500 Timbers Army members who’d made the trip north saw their songs and taunts drowned out by applause, gasps, and cheers – the soundtrack you’d hear at football, baseball, and basketball games.

When excitement waned and the nervous murmur died down, the supporters would fill the void, just as the songs and cheers at other sporting events attack the idle moments. The more conventional atmosphere was neither good nor bad, better or worse, but it was familiar for anybody who’s used to taking their family to see one of the nation’s big three sports. They would have felt at home. No, this wasn’t a Seahawks game, but the atmosphere was little different.

If Sunday in Seattle was a glimpse of the future, then it is a more mainstream one. It’s a future that looks more like the Seahawks than Chelsea. For neither better nor worse, the future looks like a North American experience.

And if that means crowds of 66,452, it was hard to find fault with the tradeoff.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.