Schmid, Sounders fans erect a big, bad Salazar Monster

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Sigi Schmid’s halftime comments drew a few giggles from media and club officials that were amassed in the press box at Wednesday’s match. The smiles weren’t from agreement or discord with Schmid’s description of Ricardo Salazar (the night’s official) as Real Salt Lake’s 12th man. They were ironic chuckles, the kind you’d hear through the hum as a Woody Allen movie played out its farce.

We knew it was coming. The moment Salazar’s appointment was announced, Sounder fans made him the focus. Of course the calls would be the story, particularly in a match that ended 0-0. For days after the result, one in which a 10-man Sounders earned a point from Real Salt Lake, Seattle fans continue to bemoan Salazar (see comments here and here).

There’s one little problem with the complaints: Salazar wasn’t actually that bad on Wednesday. I shared my qualms with the second card on Zach Scott, but I was asking Salazar to use discretion he’s under no obligation to employ. For his part, Schmid (after the match) had no problem with the dismissal. The non-call on Tony Beltran’s first half hand ball was ultimately justified (Schmid questioned is but admitted he hadn’t seen the replay). Chris Schuler saw yellow for a second half challenge that never gets a red card (despite Sounder fans’ calls to even the teams), while Schmid’s complaints about too much time add at match’s end was another example of a coach ignoring the referee’s right to add time to the fourth official’s number.

At some point, someone needs to tell Seattle that there is no huge, green, Salazar Monster marching through Elliott Bay toward CenturyLink field. If the myth of a malevolent Salazar is more than a paranoid fabrication, we’ve yet to see proof.

Schmid, after the match on Wednesday, did make an interesting circumstantial case. All the 50-50 calls in Salazar’s games seem to go against the Sounders, Schmid noted. Undoubtedly that’s an exaggeration, but the list of memorable incidents are starting to pile up. Three calls in the U.S. Open Cup final (Patrick Ianni dismissal, late hand ball for Sporting’s equalizer, ordering a retake in the shootout), a dismissal of Fredy Montero in Portland, and Wednesday’s decisions all went against the Sounders.

Yet all of those moments were, as Schmid said, were 50-50 calls. At worst. Montero’s dismissal, the Beltran non-call – those weren’t 50-50 incidents. Those were the right calls.

It’s also unlikely Schmid or Sounders’ fans are looking for pro-Seattle calls with the same rigor. That would completely defeat the purpose. Fans are supposed to hate referees. Now Seattle have their pantomime villain, though if you’re going to collect 38,000 of your friends to chant “Salazar sucks” (or resort to an ineffectual internet petition as trite as the demonization of an official), you might want something more conclusive than wounded fandom and coin flips.

Now, as Seattle persists with a chance at the second-best record in the league (which would improve their chance to host MLS Cup), their coach has gotten himself suspended. Yet Schmid’s being defended in all mediums by a fan base that’s taking the obligatory, let’s hate one official, meme to sigh-inducing heights. Three days on, the echos of Wednesday’s chants are still registering on fan sites and social media. Even though Seattle can go second with a win over Dallas tomorrow, Wednesday continues to loop (too) large.

There’s nothing about this situation that’s fair to Salazar, who is seeing the negatives of a huge, new fan base whose loyalty seems to obligate accordance with their coach’s views. Nobody deserves to have this kind of disproportionate attention born from such inconclusive evidence.

One of two things needs to happen: Sounder fans need to become more discerning about their views, or Schmid needs to be more responsible about his comments.

That, or we can just keep erecting Salazar Monsters.

FA Cup Final preview: Desperate Arsenal meets Double-seeking Blues

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  • Clubs split PL series
  • Chelsea’s Conte aims for double
  • Chelsea 8W-3D-2L vs. Arsenal since 2012

Arsenal and Chelsea face off with a trophy on the line for the fourth time this century when the London sides hit Wembley Stadium for Saturday’s FA Cup Final.

Arsenal beat Chelsea in the 2015 Community Shield, the first silverware match-up between the two sides since the 2007 League Cup Final in Wales. The Blues won that one, 2-1, while Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 in the 2002 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: Conte open to contract extension ]

A win would be Arsenal’s third FA Cup trophy in four seasons, and Arsenal would be thrilled to put something shiny in its trophy case following a season of tumult at the Emirates Stadium which ended without UEFA Champions League qualification for the first time in 20 years.

Conte knows Arsenal is desperate for something good.

What they’re saying

Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on what a win could mean“We wanted to finish higher up in the league, there is no doubting that. We cannot hide from that and we need to own up to that. The FA Cup is a big trophy, one we want to win and which would definitely boost morale going into next season.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte on the match: “If you ask me who is the favorite now, I can tell you it is Arsenal because Arsenal now has the possibility to find a good season after a win in the FA Cup. For this reason, we must play with great patience. We must find in ourselves the right motivation, the right anger because the game can be very difficult for all of these reasons.”

Prediction

Could go either way, with many players not just glory-hunting but in the shop window. Will Alexis Sanchez be the difference maker? Mesut Ozil? Maybe, but we think Chelsea ratchets up the intensity one more time and claims a double with a 2-1 win.

Chelsea’s Conte open to extending his contract

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Antonio Conte is readying Chelsea for a bid at a season double, with the Blues meeting Arsenal on Saturday afternoon for an all-London FA Cup Final.

Conte is on a London-high himself, having led the Blues to a Premier League title in his first year in charge. He’s moving his family to the area, scooping up plenty of individual hardware, and has dynastic aims for the Stamford Bridge set.

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His first deal was for three years, and Conte is thinking beyond that now.

From the BBC:

“If the club give me the possibility to stay and extend my contract, for sure I’m available to. … We have the same idea about the future, the way we have to do together, to improve the squad and the team.”

How they improve the squad will be interesting, as veterans Cesc Fabregas, Willian, and Diego Costa have uncertain futures at the Bridge. But why wouldn’t Conte sign a bumper new deal after wild first year success?

Off to slow start, Morris, Seattle know “things can change quickly”

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Both Jordan Morris and the Seattle Sounders are off to a rough start in defense of their MLS Cup title last Fall, and the USMNT’s star striker admits to recalling last season’s wild turnaround as an inspiration.

“After the game last week we mentioned that we have a lot of the nucleus from last year and we all know that things can change quickly,” Morris said to ProSoccerTalk this week.

Seattle won just seven games before Matchday 22 last season, rebounding with a burst after coach Sigi Schmid was replaced by assistant Brian Schmetzer. The Sounders went 8-2-2 down the stretch en route to an MLS Cup win over Toronto FC.

While he hasn’t scored in five matches and only has two markers in 12 games, he feels success is coming for the 3W-5L-4T Sounders. Morris said the club knows the results aren’t there, but also that they are producing chances.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

“It’s been okay,” Morris said. “Definitely not the start I would’ve wanted. It’s not an excuse but we’ve hit a lot of posts and had other near misses.”

Seattle has a huge opportunity to flip the script on its season when Cascadia Cup rivals Portland visit on Saturday. The free-scoring Timbers are dangerous in attack, but have been opened up 20 times this season. Only two teams have conceded more goals than Portland (which has played the most matches in the league, it must be said).

And it may or may not surprise fans that Morris’ focus has been one of his strengths: the final product.

“I’m working on the final third, whether it’s shooting or finding the open guy,” Morris said. “It’s a big deal for us to finish our chances. Scoring or the final pass in that final third.”

Despite his relatively cold start, it would be surprising if Bruce Arena didn’t tab Morris in his crop for next month’s World Cup qualifiers. The 22-year-old also seems relatively certain to be a part of the Gold Cup plans.

“I’m excited and hopefully I get called up,” he said. “These World Cup qualifiers are obviously a very big deal and Bruce has done a really good job of getting us on the same page.”

Morris is also participating in a unique promotional activity with Delta Air Lines for Sounders fans, as he and Cristian Roldan are among Seattle players picking fans for “positions” in a Fan XI. Once assembled, they’ll travel to L.A. for a Sounders road match and even sign one-day contracts. Morris was happy to get on board with it.

“It’s for our fans, who are amazing,” he said. “Delta’s idea to make a Fan XI gives the fansa chance to have the behind the scenes experience of being part of a team put together by having different skills. We love rewarding our fans.”

Day Seven: All the action from the U20 World Cup (video)

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Mexico has automatically qualified for the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup despite falling to Venezuela.

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Germany dropped below Mexico in goal differential after allowing a 3-0 lead to sink to one, though El Tri still likely would’ve advanced to the next phase despite Germany’s result.

Mexico 0-1 Venezuela

Caracas 19-year-old striker Sergio Cordova scored for the third-straight match in what is sure to make him a hot summer commodity as Venezuela clinched Group B with a perfect 3-0 record.

Germany 3-2 Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s potential name of the tournament Bong Kalo scored twice in the second half to sink Germany below Mexico on goal difference.

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

A brace from Lautaro Martínez gives Argentina hope of the knockout rounds with a third-place finish.

England 1-0 South Korea

Everton’s Kieran Dowell scored the lone goal of the match to give England the Group A crown.