Kicking the can on Osvaldo Alonso in England

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Right now, we have no reason to believe Osvaldo Alonso is going to be anywhere but Seattle come March.

That said, there’s a high profile team with decent resources who will get a good look at him over the next few days – a team that recently lost one of their best deep-lying midfielders to injury. And as most people in and around Seattle know, it’s difficult to get a long look at the Sounders’ destroyer and conclude something other than “this guy can help our team.” Perhaps he wouldn’t help West Ham United as much as Seattle, but he’d still help.

But such effects are zero sum games in the soccer world. There aren’t two Ozzie Alonsos, so if he were somewhere other than Seattle, the Sounders would have a significant hole to fill.

That might be an understatement. Think through Major League Soccer’s players and how they’re deployed by their teams and you won’t come up with a more important player that Osvaldo Alonso. That doesn’t necessarily make him the best player in the league or a person who’d be as important for other franchises. But for Seattle, he’s beyond significant. He’s vital.

Were he to leave, Seattle would have to find a new way to protect their defense. The team allowed the second-fewest goals in Major League Soccer last season, yet their best defender was Jeff Parke. How does that happen? Part of it was strong play from Michael Gspurning, but a lot of teams with good goalkeepers and still concede in bunches (as Dan Kennedy’s PTSD can attest). When you see the work Alonso does keeping action from hitting Seattle’s decent-if-average back liners, who realize he’s the big reason why one of the league’s better defenses doesn’t need standout defenders.

Alonso plays an important if less vital role in attack, one that was highlighted as Designated Player Christian Tiffert struggled through his first months in Major League Soccer. As the German import adapted to his new, more physical competition, Alonso persisted as the man that managed Seattle’s play in the middle third. When Brad Evans moved to central midfield at the end of the season, Seattle’s dependence on Ozzie persisted. Even if the 27-year-old is still more land mine than delivery man, he’s developed into a key component of Seattle’s transition.

If Seattle lost him, Tiffert would have to become the player they thought they were getting from Kaiserslautern. That’s likely to happen. What’s unlikely to happen is getting one player who can replace Alonso’s defensive contributions. With Parke now in Philadelphia, that becomes a particularly pressing concern.

Would that mean changing to two deep midfielders? Players attempting to do a job Alonso previously did on his own? Maybe the formation stays the same but the tactics change, head coach Sigi Schmid becoming more conscious about providing help to whomever steps into Alonso’s boots?

Or maybe it’s not something Seattle has to worry about at all. Even as he enjoys London’s days of proposed industrial action, Alonso’s still highly unlikely to move.

At least, he’s highly unlikely to move right now.

Arsenal finishes atop UEL group despite defeat to Cologne

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The Gunners didn’t take care of business on Thursday in Germany, but luckily they got some help from two of their other Group H counterparts.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks, video previews ]

Cologne defeated Arsenal, 1-0, at the RheinEnergieStadion, but Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov ended in a scoreless draw to give Arsene Wenger‘s side the top spot in the group.

The difference on the day proved to be Sehrou Guirassy’s penalty kick, which came in the 62nd minute after he had been taken down by Matthieu Debuchy a moment prior.

Arsenal were forced back early on by the hosts, with Jhon Cordoba nearly breaking the deadlock inside the opening five minutes.

Meanwhile, the Gunners struggled to break down Cologne’s defense throughout the encounter, despite having an overwhelming amount of possession.

Arsenal will close out Group H play on Dec. 7 against BATE, while Cologne battles Red Star Belgrade for a shot at reaching the Round of 32.

Report: Earthquakes to name Mikael Stahre as new manager

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The San Jose Earthquakes are prepared to hire a new manager, leaving Chris Leitch’s status with the club unknown moving forward.

[ MORE: Michael Bradley issues strong views on Crew’s potential relocation ]

ESPN FC is reporting that the Major League Soccer side will hire Swedish coach Mikael Stahre in the coming days, replacing Leitch. The story was first reported by Swedish outlet Expressen.

The 42-year-old has primarily spent his managerial career in Sweden, but has also coached teams in Greece and China.

The Earthquakes qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012 this season under Leitch, but were bounced in the first round by the Vancouver Whitecaps — 5-0.

Leitch, who formerly played for the Earthquakes in his MLS-playing days, finished 2017 as both the manager and technical director for the Western Conference club.

Pending Stahre’s hire, the Quakes will be on their third coach in a span of roughly five months after Dominic Kinnear had been previously fired by the team back in June.

Study to look at long-term health risks of playing soccer

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LONDON (AP) A major study into whether soccer players are at risk of degenerative brain disease has been commissioned amid concerns that the sport’s authorities in England haven’t done enough to tackle the issue.

The Football Association and Professional Footballers’ Association have appointed a research team, based in Scotland, to undertake a study entitled “Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk” from January 2018.

FA chief executive Martin Glenn said it will be “one of the most comprehensive studies ever commissioned into the long-term health of former footballers” because “we feel compelled … to fully understand if there are any potential risks associated with playing the game.”

Researchers will address the question: “Is the incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease more common in ex-professional footballers than in the normal population?”

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks, video previews

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Ready for Week 13 in the Premier League? Let’s do this.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

Click play on the videos below for quick previews on each game complete with a score prediction from yours truly.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Huddersfield vs. Manchester City – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Manchester United vs. Brighton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Tottenham vs. West Brom (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Burnley vs. Arsenal (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Swansea City vs. Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Southampton vs. Everton – (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Crystal Palace vs. Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

 

Newcastle United vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Liverpool vs. Chelsea – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM

West Ham vs. Leicester – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]