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.

Sir Alex’s son in trouble for saying he’d “shoot” refs

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LONDON (AP) It clearly runs in the family.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was known for having an explosive temper during his nearly 27 years at Old Trafford, and it seems he has passed it down to his son.

Darren Ferguson, who is the manager of third-tier English team Doncaster, is in trouble for saying he would “shoot” referees because of what he perceived as their poor standards.

Ferguson was charged by the English Football Association on Wednesday for remarks that “were improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

The 45-year-old coach has already apologized, saying it was a “tongue-in-cheek comment” and that “I do not advocate violence against officials.”

Ferguson was unhappy his team was denied a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Plymouth on Saturday.

“The referees are part-time and the standard is appalling, their fitness levels are a disgrace, I’ve had enough of it,” Ferguson said after the match.

“What can I do? Shoot them, it would be a good idea.”

Follow Live: Chelsea, Swans, Cherries in FA Cup replays

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Chelsea, Swansea City, and Bournemouth look to avoid upsets in replays of their third round FA Cup matches.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

All three matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET

The Blues tangle with former Premier League peers Norwich City, this time at Stamford Bridge, in a bid to host a fourth round match with Newcastle United.

Antonio Conte‘s not messing around (too much) with the XI.

Swansea City and Wolves, meanwhile, are arguably battling for a bid in the fourth round, as a trip to Notts County is on the docket for the winner of Wednesday’s replay at the Liberty Stadium.

Bournemouth is at Wigan Athletic for a replay with the third-tier Latics, with the victor hosting West Ham United on Jan. 27.

Benevento captain Lucioni banned one year for doping

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ROME (AP) Benevento captain Fabio Lucioni has been banned one year for doping.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

Italy’s national anti-doping organization made the decision Tuesday after the steroid clostebol was found in a sample taken after Benevento’s 1-0 loss to Torino in September.

Benevento team physician Walter Giorgione was banned for four years for administering the steroid to Lucioni in a spray.

Both Lucioni and Giorgione plan to appeal.

The 30-year-old Lucioni joined Benevento in 2014 and the defender helped the team move from the third division up into Serie A this season for the first time.

Benevento is last in Serie A with only two wins in 20 matches.

The ban is back-dated to October, meaning Lucioni can return early next season.

Everton completes move for Walcott: “I’m dead excited” (video)

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Everton continues to supply its managers with top-end talent, adding Theo Walcott to its expensive season of boys which includes Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney, Cenk Tosun, Jordan Pickford, and Michael Keane.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

The deal is reported to be near $28 million for Walcott, who’s made only a half-dozen Premier League appearances this season but did nab three goals in five Europa League matches.

Walcott, 28, scored 108 goals in 397 appearances for the Gunners. His 19-goal campaign last season was his second-best — he scored 21 in 2012-13 — but Walcott dipped down Arsene Wenger‘s depth charge and is leaving to pursue regular football.

And his comments will be lapped up by the #WengerOut brigade at his now former club:

“The Club has won trophies but I want them to win trophies now. The manager is very hungry and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me. I need that and I wanted that

The move is another exciting one for Everton, which has underachieved under Ronald Koeman and now Sam Allardyce. And it’s another sale from Arsenal which gives pause: Are the underperforming Gunners going to regret the move?

In the 2005-06 season, Walcott made his Southampton debut in the Football League Championship at the age of 16, and moved to Arsenal the next season.

Walcott has eight goals in 47 caps for England, and won two FA Cups at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Montreal nabs Algerian DP ]

Here is a useful quote from Sam Allardyce:“His physical output is excellent, he would be one of our top players in that area as well, which will hopefully bring us a lot more excitement and more ability to get forward quicker and create.

And here is an utterly useless one: ““If you analyse his goal record, then we are looking at a player who contributes goals on a regular basis.”

You don’t say. To paraphrase: If you look at all his goals, he regularly scores goals. Here’s more from the player on his move.