Mario Martinez, Fredy Montero, David Estrada

Drilling down on: Seattle Sounders 1, at Real Salt Lake 0

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The fourth time was a charm for Seattle, who saw Honduran international Mario Martínez – making his first Major League Soccer start – blast the Sounders into the Western Conference final. His left-footed, 15-yard half-volley in the 81st minute beat Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando far post for the series’ only goal, the Sounders winning their first playoff series in franchise history.

After dominating Friday’s first leg, Seattle met an energetic RSL to start Thursday’s match at Rio Tinto Stadium. After setting into the game mid-way through the first, the Sounders saw Real ascend through the second half, slowly gaining control of the match. The home side’s climb halted when Martínez, in the starting lineup for the injured Mauro Rosales, ended their season.

With the win, Seattle moves on to their first Western Conference final, a two-legged series starting Sunday in Los Angeles against the defending champion LA Galaxy.

Seattle advances, 1-0 (aggregate)

Man of the Match: After a poor first half, it looked like Seattle would be better off with Steve Zakuani taking over as a left wing in place of Mario Martínez. But head coach Sigi Schmid persisted with the man who’d played only 40 regular season minute, his loyalty paying off nine minutes from time when Fredy Montero’s chip over RSL’s right side fell perfectly in stride for Martínez. The midfielder strode onto and through a shot that curled toward Nick Rimando’s far post, settling into the side netting to send Seattle through.

The goal, then the analysis (below):

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Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Sigi Schmid made the right call in midfield.

Brad Evans has played for Sigi Schmid since 2007, so it wasn’t surprising the 27-year-old midfielder drew Thursday’s most important assignment. Moved from left midfield into the center, Evans was tasked with disrupting holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman’s control of RSL’s game. Situated above destroyer Osvaldo Alonso in what played as a 4-1-3-2 formation, Evans’ persistence forced RSL to drop right-sided midfielder Will Johnson back to help their build up.

Slowly, Real adjusted to the tactic, but without Johnson to balance their midfield, RSL became predictably left-leaning, making life easier for Osvaldo Alonso. Late in the match, the Sounder linchpin made a number of key tackles, giving his own Man of the Match-caliber performance.

RSL’s central defenders locked down Seattle’s attack.

The absence of Rosales was huge. Not only did it deprive Seattle of their biggest leg one advantage (Rosales versus RSL’s left back), it also took away the man most likely to augment the Sounders’ battle against Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake’s central defenders).

RSL took the chance of leaving their defenders two-on-two against Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero. With those numbers, you’d expect Seattle to generate some chance through their forwards, given enough opportunities. But thanks to strong performances from Olave and Borchers, Seattle’s 27-goal duo had very few opportunities. Olave had the speed and strength to compete with Johnson, while Borchers shadowed Montero’s forays backward to connect with his midfield.

With Olave and Borchers in form, Seattle was going to need a goal like Martínez’s to break through.

Alonso, Gspurning key the defense. Again.

Tonight, Michael Gspurning won the battle, even if he didn’t approach Rimando’s Friday heights. Tonight, Seattle’s goalkeeper lived up to Sigi Schmid’s year-long superlatives, making nine saves while keeping his 180-minute clean sheet.

In front of him, it was again Alonso cleaning everything up. Perhaps he was fortunate not to get called for a first half shoulder charge in the box, but after four years in Major League Soccer, the league’s premier destroyer knows how to walk that line. Late in the match, long after he’d picked up a 51st minute yellow card, Alonso made a number of key tackles deep in Seattle’s end that allowed his team to kill off the game’s final moments.

Packaged for takeaway

  • It was not a series to remember for Chris Wingert. The RSL defender, who was left looking at so many first leg crosses, picked up an injury in warmups. Kenny Mansally got the call at left back.
  • RSL also started without Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio’s normal partner held back with an injured hamstring. The Argentine came on in the second half for Paulo Jr.
  • In the first half, Salt Lake was intent on using Paulo Jr.’s speed, repeatedly feeding balls into space behind Seattle’s defense. Nice reads from Gspurning thwarted the tactic.
  • Seattle and Los Angeles met in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals, the Galaxy getting a 1-0 win in Seattle en route to a 3-1 series victory.
  • For Real Salt Lake, the question is whether they keep this core together. They finished second in the West, but after three-straight playoff disappointments, Garth Lagerway and Jason Kreis may look to shake things up.

“Normal one” Klopp dazzles on Liverpool unveiling

Jurgen Klopp at Anfield is unveiled as the new manager of Liverpool FC during a press conference at Anfield on October 9, 2015 in Liverpool, England.
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LIVERPOOL – Jurgen Klopp strode into the room with the confidence of a man who believes he can turn this great club into something special again.

[ MORE: Klopp’s arrival announced ]

The German coach, 48, was unveiled as Liverpool’s new manager at a packed out “Reds Lounge” deep in the Centenary Stand at Anfield on Friday, as the former Borussia Dortmund coach signed a three-year deal reportedly making him the richest manager in Liverpool’s illustrious history with a salary of over $10 million per season.

His appointment is more than just a soccer-related decision. It’s about uniting everyone at the club and Klopp’s arrival is key to slotting everything together. The German manager is under no illusion as to how difficult this job will be, but is relishing the challenge.

“I am back in the race, it is the biggest honor I can imagine to be here,” Klopp said. “One of the biggest clubs in the world. I will try to help in a situation that is not as difficult as people in this room feel. It is a good moment here and I feel proud. The intensity of the football, of how the people live football in Liverpool, all Liverpool fans around the world. It is not a usual club, it is a special club. I had two very, very special clubs with Mainz and Dortmund. It is the perfect next step for me to be here and try and help.”

[ MORE: Klopp’s 10 best quotes ]

Holding court for almost half an hour with over 100 members of the British, German and worldwide media, Klopp was asked by a journalist if he could perhaps compare himself to Jose Mourinho, who announced himself as “The Special One” when he arrived in English soccer. Klopp paused and then delivered the following.

“I don’t want to describe myself. Does anyone in this room think I can do wonders? No. I am a normal guy. I come from Black Forest. I am the normal one maybe,” Klopp said. “I was a very average player, became a manager in Germany at a special club, Mainz, then I had a great opportunity to take Dortmund, a special club for seven years. For both parties it was best to leave and now I am here. I hope to enjoy my work. All the people tell me about the British press so it is up to you to show me they are all liars.”

Cue roars of laughter from the media, as Klopp’s first box office moment in England had arrived.

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Not since 2004, when Rafael Benitez arrived from La Liga champions Valencia to lead Liverpool to UEFA Champions League glory in 2006, has the arrival of a Liverpool manager been as heralded as Herr Klopp’s. The German realizes the pressure on his shoulders after 25 years without a league title for, but has called for a new era.

“Twenty-five years ago [since the last league title] is a long time,” Klopp said. “History is only the base for us, [we shouldn’t] keep the history in our backpack all day. I want to see the first step next week and not always compare with other times. This is a great club with big potential. Everything is there. Let’s try to start a new way. Everything is different – I don’t know it all but I’m a pretty good listener.”

Even though he says he doesn’t know it all, Klopp did say that he hopes to deliver the title in the next four years at Anfield.

“When I left Dortmund, my last sentence was it was not so important what people think when you come in, it is more important what they think what you leave. Please give us time to work on it. If we want, this could be a really special day,” Klopp said. “We could start in a very difficult league but in a special Liverpool way we can be successful. We can’t wait for it, I don’t want to say we can wait 20 years. If we sit here in four years, I think we win one title. I’m pretty sure. If not the next one, maybe in Switzerland.”

Cue laughter again, as Klopp impressed with his forthright nature and ability to bring humor to what was a hugely important moment as he announced himself to the world as Liverpool’s manager for the first time. In his seven years at Dortmund, Klopp took a beleaguered powerhouse of German soccer to new levels. He won back-to-back Bundesliga titles. He reached a Champions League final. He worked miracles on a shoe-string budget compared to Dortmund’s illustrious neighbors at home and abroad.

Plus, perhaps most importantly, he became a man of the people, a coach who helped bring the fans closer to the club. Dortmund’s famous Westfalenstadion was full to the brim for every home game. Much of that was also to due to the style of play Klopp instrumented, with the two-time German manager of the year admitting he likes “heavy metal” and believes his team play in such a manner compared to the “silent song” and “orchestra” of an Arsenal or a Barcelona who prefer to stroke the ball around.

“I am not here to today to speak too much about our football. First I want to talk to my team about the football. Everyone knows me, I don’t change in four months,” Klopp said. “It is emotion inside, it is speed, it is transition game so you will see this. All the things make football interesting for me, I want to see on the pitch. We have to see how much time we need. In this time we have to win, to make points, that is true but it is not the day to promise a style of football.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Klopp stepped away from Dortmund in the summer. He left on his own terms and was revered by fans, players and officials at the German club. It has always been expected he would go on to bigger things. The truth is, had there been a vacancy at a big club across Europe over the past three months, at Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona or either of the Manchester clubs, Klopp would have been one of the first names on the list. Liverpool landing him is a coup and the euphoria of fans upon his arrival on Merseyside is palpable. Excitement levels are on the rise with a $165 million redevelopment of the Main Stand underway to help take Liverpool into a new era with more fans, revenue and a charismatic manager leading the way.

In the crowded press conference we asked Klopp if he can compare the situation he found himself in at Dortmund, to the job he has on his hands at Liverpool.

“We did in Dortmund what we had to do, to improve the players, to work for a common idea of play. That is what we did and its the same thing we want to do here. They are not the same players of course,” Klopp told NBC Sports ProSocerTalk. “These players from Liverpool are better, more experienced in some ways and younger in other cases. Everything is okay, I am here. I am not here only because LFC was calling. I believe in the potential of this team. Four or five strikers you can work with when they are not injured, midfielders is really good, defenders experienced and very young, goalkeeper is really good. Everything is there.

“Now we have to work. The problem in football is that you can be as good as you want but you always have to play against other teams. You have no influence on how good they are before the game. But in the game, if they are better, you have to bring them to your level. On your level you can kill every team. If they are not so good, you have to win. That is football.”

Liverpool’s much-maligned American owners, the Fenway Sports Group (FGS), have finally got their marquee manager as they approach their fifth anniversary at the club on Oct. 15, 2015. The decision to fire Brendan Rodgers last Sunday seemed inevitable, as they gambled on a young manager who was unproven at the elite level and failed to deliver trophies but came agonizingly close to winning the Premier League title in the 2013-14 season. Now, they have a man who can help transform their talented, yet drastically under-performing squad which was assembled by Rodgers and Liverpool’s much talked about transfer committee, into contenders for at least a top four spot going forward.

That transfer committee which many blamed for the demise of Rodgers is not an issue, as some had anticipated, for Klopp.

“This is a really crazy discussion because it was not a problem for (even) 10 seconds,” Klopp said. “We talked about it before. It’s enough for me to have the first and last word. We only want to discuss about very good players and discussing on the highest level and I hope that’s what we do. I’m not a genius, I don’t know more than the rest of the world. I need these people.”

Klopp’s first media appearance on UK soil as Liverpool’s boss ticked all the boxes fans could hope for, as the “Normal One” showed signs he is capable of being far from a normal personality, or manager, in the Premier League.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.