Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Semifinals

MLS playoff preview: Seattle Sounders at Real Salt Lake

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Who would have thought the most exciting much of this year’s playoffs would be a 0-0? So far, that’s the case, though it’s not a fair question. Not many postseason predictions posts have a place for Scoreline of the playoffs’ most exciting game. Even if somebody spends time thinking about such things, there aren’t many places to go on record.

But since Seattle and Real Salt Lake opened the semifinal round with a goalless thriller last Friday, the rest of Major League Soccer’s round of eight has been unable to replicate the drama. So between the scoreline, Nick Rimando’s heroics, the teams’ history (they also met in last year’s Western Conference semis), and the pure quality of these two MLS Cup contenders, it would be fair to call Thursday’s second leg at Rio Tinto highly anticipated.

And as with all second legs, there’s always on big, underlying question: What should we expect to change from the first leg.

Kickoff: 10:00 p.m. Eastern, Rio Tinto Stadium, NBC Sports Network

Series is tied, 0-0, after leg one

On Real Salt Lake

  • Mission accomplished? On paper, yes. RSL got out of CenturyLink with a draw. What road team wouldn’t take that?
  • But Friday’s outcome was less of a moral victory than a boxer absorbing a 12-round beating only to be bailed out by the judges. Sure, you take it, but in your heart, you know you got worked.
  • That type of analogy completely ignores the fact that goalkeeper Nick Rimando is an RSL player, the team values counts on his performance, and you can’t just dissociate a goalkeeper’s contributions from the rest of the team’s when assessing the product (a mistake which, admittedly, I’ve done too often). Rimando has given other-worldly performances before. Who’s to say he won’t do so again on Thursday?
  • Ideally, Jason Kreis won’t need any incredible performances to get a result, but that requires solving the midfield problem. RSL’s diamond was exploited down its left, an advantage that led to 30 open play crosses for Seattle.
  • The midfield also failed to connect with Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola. Saborio scored twice in last year’s home leg, but on Friday, he didn’t get a good look until very late.
  • Fabian Espindola, who left Friday’s match at halftime with a hamstring injury, is listed as probable. So is Ned Grabavoy (quad) and every RSL central defender: Jamison Olave (hamstring), Nat Borchers (quad), Chris Schuler (quad) and Kwame Watson-Siriboe (ankle). What’s with all the quad strains?

On the Seattle Sounders

  • Seattle has injury concerns of their own, most notably with Mauro Rosales. The man responsible for so much of the work against RSL’s left limped from the field on Friday after tweaking a hamstring. But rest easy, SounderFan. Rosales didn’t even make the injury report.
  • More good news: Eddie Johnson will be back. The U.S. international (and Seattle’s leading goalscorer during the regular season) didn’t even dress on Friday. His presence was sorely missed. It’s hard to believe Seattle doesn’t convert one of their myriad of crosses if one of the league’s greatest aerial threats is in the team. On Friday, Sigi Schmid made sure everybody knew: Eddie will be ready for Utah.
  • Seattle’s only other injury concern is left back Leo Gonzalez, who missed game one with a hamstring strain. Veteran Marc Burch will probably get the call.
  • Though the final score doesn’t show it, Seattle’s coming off one of their best performances of the season (the best game I’ve seen them play all year). One man’s extraordinary performance kept them from a lopsided win, so while a 0-0 result at home would normally lead to some tweaks, Schmid’s task for leg two is to keep his good thing going.
  • That means exploiting the wide areas. Or, area. Seattle’s right side, manned by Rosales, proved a huge advantage on Friday.  If Rosales is less than 100 percent or Kreis finds a solution, it’s not something Seattle’s likely to replicate on their left. There are only so many Mauro Rosaleses in the world.
  • What would Plan B be? Any variety of options centering around Johnson. Or Fredy Montero. Or the play of Christian Tiffert and Osvaldo Alonso. You’d call it am embarrassment of riches, but general manager Adrian Hanauer and staff have no reason to blush about the job they’ve done.
  • One of Hanauer’s more recent acquisitions, goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, received a lot of credit for his overshadowed Friday performance, but in a game where the little things could prove decisive, Gspurning will have to avoid replicating the first half giveaway that gifted RSL a chance at goal.
  • Obligatory Seattle history references: They’ve never won a playoff series (0-for-3). In 2009, their first leg with Houston also ended scoreless, with the second leg requiring extra time after another goalless 90 minutes. Brian Ching scored in the 96th minute to end Seattle’s first MLS season.
  • Seattle’s scored only three goals in 660 playoff minutes: 0.41 goals per game. That’s not bad. It’s terrible.

Bottom line:

If Seattle plays like they did on Friday, they win most of the time. “Most” actually understates how good they were. The Sounders win nine out of 10 games playing at that level, which is why their history of playoff frustrations should matter little on Thursday. Keep doing what they’re doing, and Seattle moves on.

The ball is in Kreis’s court. His team is as predictable as they come in terms of set up and tactics. He always uses that narrow, diamond in midfield, and the team likes its short, controlled passing game – a plan that didn’t work on Friday. It failed miserably, but thanks to Nick Rimando, RSL’s was given a lifeline.

The extent to which they take advantage of that lifeline depends on Kreis’s changes.

LIVE: Europa League Round of 32 – Spurs, Ajax, Bilbao in action

Tottenham's Harry Kane, 2nd right, is congratulated by his teammates after scoring his side's 2nd goal during the Champions League group E soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and CSKA Moscow at Wembley stadium in London, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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The Europa League Round of 32 second legs keep coming on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

After Manchester United, Schalke and Krasnodar all booked their spots in the last 16 on Wednesday, the 13 remaining clashes take place across Europe on Thursday.

Tottenham Hotspur host Belgian outfit Gent at a sold-out Wembley Stadium as close to 90,000 fans will roar on Mauricio Pochettino‘s men. Harry Kane and Co. will need all the help they can get too as Tottenham trail 1-0 from the first leg in Belgium last week.

Elsewhere, APOEL Nicosia, Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk will all look to overturn narrow deficits, while Ajax, Osmanlispor and Genk will be hoping to make home advantage count with their ties locked in a stalemate.

It’s an uphill battle for Villarreal, Sparta Prague and AZ Alkmaar, but strange things happen in this tournament (See: Liverpool’s stunning comeback against Borussia Dortmund).

The draw for the last 16 of the Europa League will take place on Friday and it could get quite tasty as there are no seedings and no protection against being drawn against teams from your own association and from your group stage.

So: Manchester United vs. Tottenham?

Click on the link above for live scores, updates and stats from the three games on Thursday, while we will have updates and analysis on all the action right here at Pro Soccer Talk.

Here’s the Europa League schedule below, with the score from the first leg in parenthesis.


Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32, second legs

Full Thursday schedule

11 a.m. ET
Osmanlispor vs. Olympiacos (0-0)

1 p.m. ET
APOEL Nicosia vs. Athletic Bilbao (Bilbao leads 3-2)
Besiktas vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Besiktas leads 3-1)
Ajax vs. Legia Warsaw (0-0)
Roma vs. Villarreal (Roma leads 4-0)
Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. Anderlecht (Zenit trails 2-0)
Fiorentina vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (Gladbach trails 1-0)

3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. AZ Alkmaar (Lyon leads 4-1)
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Celta Vigo (Shakhtar trails 1-0)
Sparta Prague vs. Rostov (Rostov leads 4-0)
Genk vs. Astra Giurgiu (2-2)
Copenhagen vs. Ludogorets (Copenhagen leads 2-1)
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Gent (Spurs trail 1-0)

Wayne Rooney issues statement on Man United future

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 03:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United looks on during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between Fenerbahce SK and Manchester United FC at Sukru Saracoglu Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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Wayne Rooney has issued a statement saying he will remain at Manchester United.

[ MORE: What is Rooney’s best option? ]

Rooney, 31, has been heavily linked with a move to the Chinese Super League and after his agent flew to China to meet with interested clubs those reports intensified. 

However, the all-time leading scorer for Manchester United and England has issued the following statement on his decision to stay at United.

Over to you, Wayne.

“Despite the interest which has been show from other clubs, for which I’m grateful, I want to end recent speculation and say I am staying at Man United. I hope I’ll play a full part in leading the team in its fight for success on four fronts. It’s an exciting time at the club and I want to remain part of it.”

Rooney is contracted to United until 2019 and although he has become a bit-part player at United this season he still has a big part to play.

With the emergence of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, not to mention Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic around, Rooney is no longer the first name on the teamsheet in the attacking area.

That’s something he will have to accept under new manager Jose Mourinho and, after a little bit of soul-searching while on the sidelines injured for the past three weeks, it’s obviously something Rooney has begrudgingly come to terms with.

For now.

He will still contribute at key moments for United and get plenty of minutes between now and the end of the season as United are in the last eight of the FA Cup, the last 16 of the Europa League and face Southampton in the EFL Cup final this weekend as well as continuing their top four hunt in the Premier League.

Still, Rooney will want to play regularly and after 13 years at Old Trafford the chance of that happening seems very unlikely as long as Mourinho is in charge. That could impact his chances of being called up by England boss Gareth Southgate which will be especially damaging ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia (Rooney has already said that will be his final major tournament) next summer.

It’s likely Rooney will reassess the situation this summer and could still head to the Chinese Super League, or even Major League Soccer. The other option is to go back to boyhood club Everton to see out his playing days, if (and it’s a big if) the Toffees can afford his wages.

Right now, though, it seems like Rooney is set to become the next Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs as he prolongs his career with the Red Devils. He may not stick around as Giggs and Scholes, but given all he has achieved for United he deserves to leave or remain on his own terms.

Premier League player Power Rankings – Top 20

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04:  Ngolo Kante of Chelsea runs with the ball under pressure from Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on February 4, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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The Premier League action is back after the FA Cup and European action took center stage. Hug someone. This is awesome.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive

With that in mind, there are a handful of new faces in our Power Rankings, with Chelsea and Man City continuing to dominate.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Even
  2. Harry Kane (Tottenham) New entry
  3. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Down 1
  4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Man United) – New entry
  5. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 1
  6. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Even
  7. Paul Pogba (Man United) – New entry
  8. Sergio Aguero (Man City) – New entry
  9. David Luiz (Chelsea) – Down 4
  10. Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton) – Down 4
  11. Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Up 7
  12. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – Down 5
  13. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Man United) – Down 4
  14. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – New entry
  15. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 4
  16. Juan Mata (Man United) – Even
  17. Leroy Sane (Man City) – Down 4
  18. David Silva (Man City) – Down 1
  19. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Down 9
  20. Anthony Martial (Man United) – Down 4

Previews of every Premier League game – Week 26

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa (R) of Chelsea celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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There are eight Premier League games in Week 26 as the EFL Cup final sees Southampton and Manchester United both out of PL action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

With the FA Cup break over, we are now looking forward to plenty of big battles across the league as some teams try to scramble for points in their quests to finish in the top four, while others are scrapping away for their lives at the wrong end of the table.

With 13 games to go, it’s all getting rather tense out there…

Below you can find previews, team news and score predictions on every game coming up this weekend.


Tottenham vs. Stoke City

Everton vs. Sunderland

Chelsea vs. Swansea City

West Brom vs. Bournemouth

Leicester City vs. Liverpool

Crystal Palace vs. Middlesbrough

Hull City vs. Burnley

Watford vs. West Ham