Seattle Sounders need to ask tough questions of themselves

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Lots of questions need answers around camp Seattle Sounders today.

Clearly, things went very wrong, although the Galaxy’s extra day of rest, the game’s venue (L.A. was at home) and Los Angeles’ ability to locate top gear just in time all had influence on a night of Galaxy hammer-blow dominance.

Still, it was surprising to watch Seattle, an MLS “final four” team, after all, so helpless about it all. The visitors were mildly effective on defense, but for only a half, and more or less inept at the attacking end all night.  So let’s dive in:

  • What is this damaging disconnect between Fredy Montero and the playoffs?

He’s clearly a talented soccer player, one who passes the eye test and carries the statistical proof over a significant sample (47 goals in 119 MLS matches represents prodigious production.) But his post-season totals are alarmingly skinny: He has zero goals in nine games. Heck, Montero has just five shots on goal.

Not that it’s all his fault. Last night, stranded as an isolated striker, Montero had little chance to make anything happen. The lack of connection between Montero and attacking midfielder Christian Tiffert was in stark contrast to what was happening at the other end, where Galaxy men were whirling and twirling in a swell interchange that kept the Sounders defense in perpetual flummox.

  • Were the tactics and personnel decisions in Sigi Schmid’s 4-5-1 right?

Was it really the time to try something so unfamiliar?

Was attack-minded Mario Martinez really the best choice here? He wasn’t up the job defensively, and his choices to shoot from spots that could only be called wildly optimistic demonstrated an alarming naiveté.

Across the field from Martinez, was inexperienced Alex Caskey the right man for the job? Either way, the Sounders’ midfield was a mess, and an overrun mess at that, despite a numerical advantage in the center third.

  • What of goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who picked a terrible time to have a lousy match?

We’ll pick this one apart in a separate post.

  • Didn’t the Sounders learn a doggone thing from last year’s 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake?

There is a genuine psychological barrier between 2-0 and 3-0. A two-goal margin sounds manageable, especially at a place the Galaxy men do not like. (Artificial turf is the major scourge in Galaxy minds.)  So, win by a pair, the series rolls into extra time and you step lively with the home crowd in tow for the additional 30 minutes. That sounds doable.

But the third goal is a killer.

In last year’s playoffs, an opening leg got away from Seattle similarly. They refused to re-focus and re-group defensive at 1-0 and 2-0 down and conceded the killer third goal. The Sounders pressed bravely in the return leg but the margin was simply too unforgiving; Schmid’s men won the night 2-0 but fell on aggregate 3-2.

And yet, there they were again Sunday in Southern California. Schmid needed to be more emphatic about the night’s task, to concentrate on defensive shape and dogged effort at all costs, never mind if a goal or even a second goal finds its way through. And yet …

“It’s a hard one to take. It’s very similar to what happened last year when we went into Salt Lake, so it’s disappointing that we repeated that,” Schmid said after last night’s loss.

And a bit later he said: “…then we go through a bad period in the second half where we just lost our shape, lost our concentration, lost our focus, and they bang away two goals, and we’re actually a little fortunate it wasn’t three or four.”

(MORE: match analysis of Sunday’s 3-0 win)

(MORE: the Galaxy doing so many little things right)

(MORE: highlights, and the Galaxy’s brilliant movement on offense)

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-1 New England Revolution (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): For nearly 75 minutes, NYCFC couldn’t muster up any chances in the attacking third, but thankfully their captain did what he does best. David Villa scored his 19th goal of the season on Sunday night to pull out a 2-1 win against the New England Revolution, but it was rookie Jonathan Lewis that notched the winner. The visitors took the lead 20 minutes prior after Sean Johnson spilled a shot in front of his own goal, allowing Teal Bunbury to pounce on the rebound. NYCFC now moves to within four points of Eastern Conference leaders Toronto FC with nine matches remaining in the regular season.

Three four moments that mattered

16′ — Harrison breaks ankles, but Villa can’t finish — This might be the only time all see you’ll see David Villa miss a chance like this…

38′ — Johnson gets a finger tip to Rowe’s blast — Sean Johnson had no work to do in the first half, at least until Kelyn Rowe decided to rip a shot from distance just before halftime.

57′ — Johnson’s error grants Bunbury, Revs the lead — Look away, NYCFC fans.

77′ — Villa find the back of the net — When you need a goal, who you gonna call? That’s right. David Villa. The NYCFC captain is now up to 19 this season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: Teal Bunbury (57′), David Villa (77′), Jonathan Lewis (90+4′)

Honoring victims of attacks, Barcelona wins league opener

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Wearing shirts honoring victims of the recent attacks in Spain, Barcelona opened its Spanish league season with a comfortable 2-0 win over Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Neymar double helps PSG cruise past Toulouse ]

Players had the word “Barcelona” instead of their names on the back of their shirts, and the Catalan hashtag “TOTSSOMBARCELONA” (We are all Barcelona) was on display around the Camp Nou stadium. The message was also shown on the stadium’s large screens, as well as on many banners carried by fans.

An emotional minute’s silence was held before the game as the music of Catalan cellist Pau Casals played in the background.

Before the minute was up, the more than 55,000 fans at the stadium broke into a round of applause and began chanting “No tinc por” (I’m not afraid), a chant which has become a symbol of people’s reactions to the attacks that killed 14 people and injured more than 120 in Barcelona and the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils.

Extra security was implemented in and around Camp Nou.

There was a minute’s silence before every Spanish league match this weekend.

Without Neymar and the injured Luis Suarez, Barcelona got off to a winning start in the league after consecutive losses to rival Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final.

It scored two goals three minutes apart near the end of the first half – an own-goal by Betis defender Alin Tosca and a close-range shot by Sergi Roberto. Both goals came after plays started by Gerard Deulofeu, one of the players expected to try to replace Neymar after his world record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

“We lost depth with Neymar’s departure and we have to find a way to overcome that,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.

Lionel Messi looked lively but wasn’t able to score his 350th goal in La Liga. He came close, though, being denied by the woodwork three different times.

AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Brighton breaks club record with signing of winger Jose Izquierdo

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Brighton hasn’t gotten off to the ideal start in its debut season in the Premier League, but a key reinforcement is on the way.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Spurs at Wembley behind Alonso’s brace ]

After starting the 2017/18 campaign with back-to-back defeats, the Seagulls announced on Sunday the signing of Colombian winger Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge in Belgium for a record fee.

The 25-year-old spent three seasons in Belgium’s top flight and totaled 38 goals across all competitions for Brugge, prior to making the move to England.

Additionally, Izquierdo has worked his way into the Colombia squad as of late, and scored his first international goal for his country in June 2017 in a friendly against Cameroon.

MLS Follow Live — NYCFC hosts Revs, Minnesota meets Sounders

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Only two matches will feature on the MLS docket Sunday evening, but luckily two of the league’s most exciting teams will take to the pitch.

[ MORE: Toronto tops Fire as East leaders reach 50 points on season ]

First, New York City FC will attempt to continue its ascent up the Eastern Conference ladder when they host Kei Kamara and the New England Revolution.

In the night cap, the Seattle Sounders look to extend their unbeaten streak to nine matches when they welcome newcomers Minnesota United to CenturyLink Field.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Here’s the schedule and kick-off times for Sunday’s two MLS fixtures.

New York City FC vs. New England Revolution — 6 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United — 10 p.m. ET