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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)

FIFA prosecutors want life ban for Webb in bribery case

Sepp Blatter & Jeffrey Webb, FIFA
Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP, File
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA ethics prosecutors want a life ban imposed on former FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in the United States.

The judging chamber of the FIFA ethics committee says it opened proceedings against Webb and will consider a verdict.

The ethics committee says it got a final investigation report last week from FIFA prosecutors.

[ PL PLAYBACK: What does Leicester’s title say for the future? ]

In November, Webb admitted to taking bribes worth millions of dollars linked to commercial rights for international soccer tournaments.

The former Cayman Islands banker should be sentenced in federal court in Brooklyn next month. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Webb was president of the CONCACAF soccer body when he was arrested on May 27 at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.

English striker Joe Cole heading to NASL side Tampa Bay

SWINDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24: Joe Cole of Coventry City during the Sky Bet League One match between Swindon Town and Coventry City at The County Ground on October 24, 2015 in Swindon, England.  (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
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Joe Cole left Aston Villa for Coventry City earlier this year, and now the 56-times capped England man is coming to the North American Soccer League (NASL).

[ MORE: Chatting with NASL commish Peterson ]

Cole has two goals and six assists in 22 games for the Sky Blues since arriving this season, and the 34-year-old would be the latest World Cup veteran to head to the NASL.

The striker had 10 goals for England, and has also played for West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool, Lille and West Ham United.

Here’s Coventry City manager Tony Mowbray, courtesy the BBC:

“I would have liked to have kept Joe,” said City boss Tony Mowbray. “He has proved his fitness and worth to the team

“He’s a fantastic character. No airs and graces, not looking for favours or extra days off and has shown his football ability.

“He can help us control matches but he’s made his decision for his family, and we wish him well. It might happen pretty quickly if he can get international clearance.”

Tampa is 3-2-2 to start the NASL season, and boasts a roster with Darwin Espinal, Eric Avila, Georgi Hristov and Freddy Adu.

Pellegrini looks to road record before UCL second leg at the Bernabeu

during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City at the Academy Training Ground on May 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Gael Clichy says Manchester City wants to make history on the road at the Bernabeu, and his manager is hoping to rely on a shorter-term vision of the past to guide them there.

[ PL PLAYBACK: What does Leicester’s title say for the future? ]

Manuel Pellegrini and his club enter Wednesday’s match at the Bernabeu with an impressive road mark in the UEFA Champions League and the advantage of not having allowed a road goal in a 0-0 first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

From MCFC.com:

“This team in three seasons has done very well away – last season we beat Roma in Rome and Bayern away,” Manuel said.

“This season, especially in the quarters we had a very good draw against PSG and we continued. We beat Sevilla, Kyiv and Borussia Monchengladbach.”

Yaya Toure returns and has plenty of familiarity with Real Madrid, having won two La Liga titles and a Champions League title with Barcelona between 2007-10.

David Silva and Pablo Zabaleta are out for City.

Premier League Playback: What does Leicester’s title win mean for PL’s future?

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They did it. They actually did it.

Leicester City, the 5000-1 shots to win the Premier League, won the 2015-16 title on Monday and it’s been one big party in the Midlands city ever since.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Following the initial euphoria questions such as “what does this mean for the future of the Premier League?” have now arisen. Was this a fluke, a one off we will never see again? Was it down to so many big boys going through transitional periods at the same time and creating a “perfect storm” for somebody else to prevail? Perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, this Cinderella story is reinforcing the growing parity levels in the PL.

Up until recently many journalists and pundits (including myself) here in England didn’t believe Leicester could get this done. The established giants getting over the line time and time again have meant that there’s hasn’t been a first-time top-flight winner since 1978 when Nottingham Forest prevailed. Logic told everyone that Leicester couldn’t do this.

[ VIDEO: Leicester players celebrate ]  

Now, though, it’s all changing. Everyone is being forced to rethink what is believable. What Leicester has done has given belief to the rest of the Premier League that they can challenge the big boys.For the time being the perennial powerhouses have lost their fear factor, that indestructible aura which held them in such good stead for so long.

It shall return, right? Hang on. What if doesn’t? Those are the kind of questions Leicester’s success has produced.

Certain bookmakers will no longer be offering odds of more than 1,000-1 for teams to win the PL title. Newly promoted Burnley were listed at 5000-1 on Monday after being promoted but now their odds have been slashed to 1000-1 and given the events of this season there will be plenty who will put a fiver on that. Why not? Lightning can struck twice…

[ MORE: Story of Leicester’s season, game-by-game ]

It has, briefly, in the past as Nottingham Forest and Derby County — ironically very similar sized cities located very close to Leicester in England’s East Midlands — both pulled off remarkable title wins in the 1970s. One manager, Brian Clough, masterminded those triumphs and even though you had giants of the game in Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal around then, this was before the days of the mega-rich clubs owned by wealthy foreign investors.

The achievements of Derby and Forest were fantastic and are widely lauded to this day, especially as Forest went on to win the European Cup, twice, during that purple patch.
Will Leicester follow suit? Can they even dare to dream of that?

Manager Claudio Ranieri has only set a top 10 target for next season and doesn’t believe his team will repeat their title win. Then again, this is the bloke who was talking about only focusing on survival when Leicester was clear at the top of the PL in January…

“We want to continue to build,” he told Sky Sports’ Rob Dorsett. “When I came here, the project was to build a very good foundation and slowly, slowly to grow up together in three to four years to fight for the Europa League and slowly come to fight for the Champions League.”

They’ve reached the UCL and won the PL in his first season in charge. The goalposts have moved considerably.

We will watch on with intrigue this summer as the big boys dust themselves off, ready their check books and aim to blast the less powerful clubs to one side once and for all. The real difference now is that even if they spend big, it won’t be easy to widen the gap once more. The PL is without financial restrictions a la the salary cap we see in American sports and even with financial fair play rules limiting the expenditure on wages, the big boys can still pretty much spend whatever they want.

[ VIDEO: Fans react in Leicester to winning the PL

The problem is, they’ve been spending money lazily and they seem to have given up on recruiting talent from lower levels and giving younger players or second chancers, a chance. Leicester, and others, have been smart in how they’ve spent their money and the Foxes’ squad cost just $79 million to assemble in transfer fees. Manchester City’s squad cost $606 million to put together in transfer fees alone. Not to mention that Leicester is in the bottom five of wages paid, their success has proven that it’s not all about money. Which is hugely refreshing with plenty of cynics out there believing only the “super clubs” can succeed.

Premier League Schedule – Week 36

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 1-0 Norwich Recap, watch here
Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham Recap, watch here
Everton 2-1 B’mouth Recap, watch here
Man Utd 1-1 Leicester Recap, watch here
Newcastle 1-0 Palace Recap, watch here
Saints 4-2 Man City Recap, watch here
Stoke 1-1 S’land Recap, watch here
Swansea 3-1 Liverpool Recap, watch here
Watford 3-2 A. Villa Recap, watch here
WBA 0-3 West Ham Recap, watch here

Leicester will net a cash windfall from the PL alone of $36 million in a merit payment for winning the title. On top of the equal share of TV money, $81 million, and facility fees, $21 million, the Foxes will bring in $150 million from TV money and award fees alone this season.

Next season their revenue will continue skyrocket with UCL money, commercial revenue, sponsorship and increased TV revenue from being among Europe’s elite. In 2014-15 English clubs made $38 million each despite not advancing past the UCL’s Round of 16 and Deloitte, which ranks the top 20 richest teams in the world based on their revenue in their rich list, believes Leicester will be among their top 20 clubs next year.

The Foxes are now with the big boys, just 12 months after it seemed like they were going to be relegated from the PL. It is a remarkable story.

[ MORE: The day Leicester (pretty much) won the PL ]

This huge cash injection — as Ranieri has stated numerous time recently — means that they don’t need to sell their best players to be financially sound. The same can be said for the other small to medium teams in the PL. They can afford to pay higher wages to their players and in Leicester’s case, their owner is a Thai billionaire who can pump plenty more money in. That’s the game changer here. Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and N'Golo Kante will be chased by bigger, wealthier clubs this summer but if Leicester doesn’t want to sell, they don’t need to.

In an era where other PL clubs are only starting to begin to explore the force of their improved financial strength, Leicester rolls up and does this. They’ve made the most of a season of struggle for the big boys and given everyone else hope that maybe this season isn’t just a one off. Maybe the landscape of the Premier League really is changing.

Fans of the likes of Swansea, Southampton, Stoke, Crystal Palace, Everton and West Ham will be publicly lauding Leicester’s achievements and rightly so. Most of those teams are of a comparable size or if not bigger in terms of fanbase, resources and historical stature. But behind closed doors many fans of those teams will be saying: “damn, that could’ve been us.”

Chairmen of those clubs will be downplaying their answers when asked “well, can you ‘do a Leicester next season?'” because it would be foolish to suggest anything like this will happen again. However, don’t overlook a glint of envy in their eyes. Every PL club will now be hoping they can ‘pull off a Leicester.’

It’s not only in the PL that the rise of the underdog is being talked about. Top European teams in leagues which aren’t as competitive from top to bottom are getting worried, very worried, about the strength of the PL. The president of La Liga, Javier Tebas, recently shared his concern at the upcoming TV cash windfall for PL clubs for the next three-year cycle.

He believes “the Premier League could become the NBA of football” and a league where all the best players automatically flock to, leaving giants such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich scrambling for the rest. We are a long way off Barca and Swansea battling for the same players but it’s getting closer than you think. Take Stoke for example. Bojan? Shaqiri? Afellay? What are they doing there?

Recently I spoke with Stoke’s CEO Tony Scholes about how the PL is changing.

“What Leicester has shown this year is how great this league is,” Scholes said. “On any given day in the Premier League either team can beat the other one. Everyone knows that. That is what makes this league unique. What Leicester have done of course, people were saying that is wasn’t possible anymore, for anyone other than the big six clubs to win the league. Well Leicester have shown it is possible.

“Even West Ham this year have had a great season and might end up in a Champions League place. In many ways West Ham might be more of an indicator of what’s to come in the next few years than Leicester. Next year a few of the bigger clubs will strengthen. We know that. But there’s a great chance that one of the rest of us gets into the Champions League places.”

The signs are there that the playing field is leveling out in the PL.

You can point to Leicester’s title win being lucky or inspired by a greater power at work – many are pointing to 14 one-goal wins as proof of that — but overall it’s not hard to see that the gap between the top and bottom clubs in the PL is closing at a rate of knots

New TV deals kick in next season with domestic and international contracts bringing in roughly $13 billion between 2016-19. The gap will continue to grow smaller as the majority of that money is dished out evenly to each PL club.

That’s the most exciting thing about this. The big boys don’t just seem scared; they’re already on the hunt for who could be the next Leicester.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.