Major League Soccer team previews: SEATTLE SOUNDERS

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Significant additions and subtractions: Fredy Montero and Jeff Parke are gone. That’s the club’s best all-around attacker and defender. They have great depth, but those are huge blows to the top of Seattle’s depth charts.

Add in the likely departure of Christian Tiffert and Seattle’s lost a key player at each level of the field. The German Designated Player is not in camp and looks on his way out.

They’re the casualties of an offseason that’s required general manager Adrian Hanauer to do some significant salary cap manipulation. It’s also why the losses haven’t been offset by big arrivals. Djimi Traore should be valuable in defense while Shalrie Joseph’s addition looks more like cap games than significant addition.

Strengths: The midfield. Osvaldo Alonso, the league’s best midfielder, is complemented by the “all the little things” value of Brad Evans. Mauro Rosales is an elite playmaker when healthy, while a returning Steve Zakuani could make up 60 percent of Montero’s goals. Mario Martínez is also ready to step in, and there’s still a chance we’ll see all five players in the same lineup. Rosales can always be pushed up to play with Johnson.

Goal prevention may continue to be a strength despite the loss of Parke. The keys were always Gspurning, Alonso, and Sigi Schmid’s tactics, all of which remain in Seattle.

Pressure points: Eddie Johnson scored 15 goals. Montero had 13. After that, Seattle’s scoring charts drop all the way down to five. Zakuani and David Estrada could pick up the slack, but if they don’t, Seattle’s in big trouble, especially when Johnson’s away on national team duty.

And despite goal prevention being a possible strength, you have to wonder about the back line. They lost Parke, Adam Johansson can be exploited, and Leo Gonzalez can be had for pace on the left. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado is no longer an MLS-elite center back. Will opposing teams figure out a way to exploit this?

In MLS, every team has to accept some weaknesses. Seattle will continue to wager they can paper over theirs.

source: Getty ImagesDifference maker: Osvaldo Alonso is the team’s best player, but the difference maker is Johnson. He needs to duplicate (or perhaps, improve upon) his 2012. Else, Seattle could have a shocking season.

Johnson has the talent, but he’s also going to be pulled in two directions by the international calendar. If he only plays, say, 24 games this year (instead of last year’s 31), can Seattle replace his contributions?

A scenario: Johnson regresses a little. Maybe he tires, gets hurt, or the league adjusts. Maybe all of the above. And let’s say Estrada and Zakuani can’t replace Montero’s scoring and Johnson’s regression. None of these assumptions are outrageous.

When things go bad, these are the scenarios that transpire. And right now, there’s a scenario where this team just isn’t that good.

Potential breakout player: People forget how good Zakuani was. That’s understandable. It’s been almost two years, but Zakuani was the most dangerous wide man in the league. If he can hit the 10-goal mark he touched in 2010, Seattle’s biggest problem is solved.

Bottom line: There are a lot of questions, but Seattle doesn’t need answers now . They just need them in time to compete in November.

They’ll find them. With this team’s track record and the talent they carry over, they’ll find a way to protect the defense and augment Johnson.

The bigger moves may come this summer, when Seattle may have one (or two) open Designated Player spots. Fans complain the club hasn’t been aggressively using their financial might, but if Schmid can stabilize in spring, Hanauer can be ambitious in summer.

Come November, this team will again be a contender to come out of the West.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.