Is Seattle creeping closer to landing a U.S. national team date?

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Sooner or later, something’s got to give on Seattle as a U.S. national team venue.

The challenges are vast, but at some point the U.S. Soccer federation and officials from Seattle Sounders FC will need to sort out the details of how to match the United States men’s soccer team with the country’s top professional soccer market.

The Sounders just set an MLS attendance record (again!) with a league-leading average of 43,144. In fact, “league-leading” hardly does justice to the town’s dominance here. That whopper-eye-popper of a total was nearly double second-place Los Angeles.

The problem, of course, is down to two words: artificial turf.

Yes, FIFA has approved certain types of the fake stuff for international matches. That happened long ago. But – this is where the Seattle-as-U.S.-venue argument eludes many people – that does not mean that U.S. Soccer or the American players really want to play there.

No one is opposed to Seattle, believe me.  Heck, who doesn’t like good coffee, Pike Place salmon tossers, Mount Rainier and all of the city’s wonderful grunginess? Mostly, American players and officials all appreciate how the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle in particular, has embraced and enlivened domestic soccer. What’s not to love about it – except for that playing surface, that is?

They just don’t like playing on it.  If choices didn’t exist, everyone might think differently. But, clearly, there is a country full of juicy options out there. So from beyond Seattle, it’s a difficult choice to justify.

Yes, officials around CenturyLink could spend the $150,000 to lay a temporary grass field for one match. And how does that usually work out for everyone?

Let me tell you: people like me beat the hell out of U.S. Soccer for trying something that almost never works. The fields are bad, so the game looks bad and plays badly. The players complain (if only quietly), and rightly so, because safety is an issue at some point.

I know the fans in Seattle recoil when they see that (and they tend to get upset when journalists like me write it) but this is not my opinion. I promise you, I’m not making up this stuff! This is what I hear from players, coaches, staff and agents.

So we circle back around to CenturyLink Field – and to Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, for that matter – and its presumed need for artificial turf.

Personally, I’ve always just checked the box here beside “Imperfect World.” CenturyLink Field is where the Sounders need to be in 2012.  I have no problem with that.

CenturyLink needs artificial turf.  OK, fair enough.

The U.S. Soccer players do not enjoy playing on artificial turf. Therefore …

It’s an imperfect world, so we don’t see important U.S. match there.

Or … Will we? All that said, Seattle Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer seemed to hint at something in today’s piece from The Seattle Times’ Joshua Mayers:

 … We don’t just want to bring any old game here. If we bring a game, we want it to have some meaning and be a game that our fans are really going to enjoy, and not just be a money grab for U.S. Soccer. That is something that we’re working on, and with a little bit of luck and some hard work, we might have something that we can hopefully hang out hats on in the near future here.”

I’m not sure what that means in terms of U.S. venues and the important matches coming up in 2013.

My best guess at the moment: you won’t see one of the World Cup qualifiers there in 2013, but there is a Gold Cup tournament to be played.

(MORE: Sunil Gulati on venue selection for World Cup final round qualifying)

Last time Seattle hosted the national team, by the way: during the 2009 Gold Cup.

Klopp hails players in blowout, downplays squad rotation

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t bothered by Jurgen Klopp‘s squad rotation at Liverpool.

“The front four have been on fire, they are not bad,” he said after the Reds battered Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

“Everyone’s a quality player and the rest of us have to sneak our noses in there. Squad rotation is important, keeps us fresh.”

Klopp was a little more critical of his squad, saying the changes had more to do with how the Reds performed against West Brom than a need to keep players fresh.

“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”

The manager especially loved how well Liverpool started, as Bournemouth didn’t have a chance to get moving. Klopp gets plenty of criticism, but he almost always has his finger on the pulse of his club. Sunday was a big win for the manager and his club, even if it was somewhat expected.

Making sense of the table in a Man City world

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There are natural advantages to being atop the table deep into a Premier League season, the most evident being the ability to enter into any match against a challenger knowing a draw will likely be fine.

But what about being ahead of the field by double digits?

Perspective is a major challenge when a team is as doing as well as Manchester City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have drawn just once in 18 matches, and hold a 11-point lead on Manchester United, 14 points better than third place Chelsea.

Speaking of the Blues, manager Antonio Conte raised an interesting point after Chelsea beat Southampton on Saturday. Conte says City’s crazy run has colored over his team’s fine results, as last season’s champions are 8-1-1 since losing two-straight in October.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

Four losses is four losses — United has three — but it’s an interesting notion. Both sides have lost to City at home, but otherwise will finish the weekend boasting multiple match leads on the field when it comes to second- and third-place.

Is this much different from recent years? Consider the following seasons after 18 weeks.

Remember: Manchester United has 41 points, and Chelsea 38 (And United has been missing its World XI class player for all but eight games. Some of his doing, some not).

2016-17

Chelsea led the table with 46 points, six better than Liverpool and seven ahead of Man City. Spurs, who would finish second, had 33 points with a match-in-hand. That 13-point gap closed to seven.

2015-16

Leicester was atop the table with 38 points, just two better than Arsenal and three ahead of Man City. They’d finish 10 points better than Arsenal’s 71.

2014-15

Chelsea (45 points) held a three-point advantage on Man City and 10 on third place Manchester United. The Blues would finish eight points ahead of City.

2013-14

Liverpool and Arsenal were dead even with 36 points, one better than eventual champions Man City. The title winners finished two ahead of Liverpool, four free of Chelsea, and six past Arsenal.

So… both United and Chelsea would be leading the Premier League in two of the past four seasons, which is certainly notable.

I don’t want to belabor the Pogba point too much, especially since the most recent absence comes from a red card suspension, but what if United had him for all those matches? Do they find a goal in the 0-0 at Liverpool? Get a point from the 1-0 loss at Chelsea? Flip the script on the 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town?

Let alone the City loss.

But again, seasons like this one from City remind us of the challenges of framing seasons when one campaign is oh-so-dominant.

Liverpool mashes Cherries

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  • Coutinho, Salah score beauties (video)
  • Cherries winless in six
  • Reds unbeaten in nine
  • Robertson key on left side

Liverpool ran a red-hot first half to an easy 4-0 win over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday.

Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho scored highlight reel goals, with Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino pitching in flying headers, as the Reds moved into the Top Four with 34 points.

Bournemouth sits 16th, a point ahead of the relegation zone, and witnessed a match much different than last season’s 4-3 win over Liverpool at the same venue.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Joe Gomez curled a shot wide of the goal in the fourth minute. A Nathan Ake foul six minutes later gave Liverpool a free kick just outside the 18, and Philippe Coutinho struck a sweet effort off the inside of the post… and out.

Coutinho nearly put a chance home moments later, so it was not surprise when he scored the match’s first goal. A mazy dribbled past two Cherries ended with a shot across his body and inside the near post. Wonderful stuff. 1-0.

Lovren had 2-0 within six minutes, hitting the deck with a diving header goal after Roberto Firmino saved a corner kick on the line at the back post.

Jermain Defoe timed his run well for a 1v1 with Simon Mignolet, but his shot caromed off the far post.

It would’ve been 3-0 were it not for an outstanding reaction save from Asmir Begovic as Mohamed Salah attempted to cap off a terrific team play in the 43rd minute.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Salah got his goal in stunning fashion, bodying off a defender before dribbling past two more to finish with an off-balance belt past Begovic.

Substitute Ryan Fraser had a chance to pull one back in the 56th minute, but rang it wide of the near post.

The Reds raised their advantage to four on another Robertson started move, with Firmino heading a Coutinho cross beyond Begovic.

Mourinho on muted celebrations from Lukaku, himself

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There’s a lot of buzz about celebrating, and not celebrating, when it comes to Manchester United.

Star striker Romelu Lukaku‘s post-goal actions were muted for a second-straight week, and manager Jose Mourinho appeared nonchalant on the bench.

[ RECAP: WBA 1-2 Man Utd ]

For Lukaku, that could be down to his status as a former West Brom player (and to be sure he was quite energetic in support of Jesse Lingard‘s insurance goal).

As for Mourinho, this is a man who was quite critical of Man City’s celebrations after winning a derby at Old Trafford. And Jose isn’t one to let a story line die unnecessarily.

Here’s Mourinho when asked about Lukaku’s non-celebration, from the BBC:

“Maybe he looks to the bench and sees his manager doesn’t celebrate. Maybe he loves West Brom. Maybe he remembers the team that helped him early in his career.

“I will celebrate if my team scores a winning goal in the last minute. But you have to have more maturity and keep your feet on the ground. If some guys want to be kids until the last day of their careers or if they want to act to the cameras then they can. But if we score an important goal then I can do anything.”

On one hand, I get it. On the other hand (and a third if I can find one), be okay with having a bit of fun, Jose.

United is back to within 11 points of leaders Man City, and it’s a massive mountain to climb for the Red Devils. Yet Ander Herrera, who was terrific again on Sunday, said the directive is simple: control what you can.

“We won three titles last season, which was very good. It is true that the top of the table is difficult to reach right now but this is Premier League, you never know. Our aim is just to keep winning games.”

The side’s 41 points through 18 matches would’ve been enough to lead the Premier League in two of the previous four seasons. No one’s going to tell United to be content with where they stand, but it’s been a fine season for Mourinho’s men so far.