Eddie Johnson

Cascadia Cup leaves Seattle no time to dwell on history

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TUKWILA, Wash. – After making history, you move on. That’s how time works, whether the Seattle Sounders want to stay in Tuesday’s moment or not.

To their credit, they don’t. After opening the season with 1-0 losses to Montréal and at Tigres, the Sounders were eager to jumpstart their campaign, and that’s exactly what happened Tuesday night. Three second half goals against Tigres not only vaulted the Sounders into CONCACAF Champions League’s semifinals, it helped wash the lingering taste of the Montréal disappointment out of their mouths.

“It’s good for confidence,” Sounder forward Eddie Johnson (pictured) said of after practice on Thursday, talking about the lingering effects of Tuesday’s result. “You go two games without winning and you start getting that pressure from fans (and) from coach.”

Pressure was non-issue on Thursday, even with one of the more important games of the season only two days away. Players were relaxed as they returned to practice from a day off, the lift from their Tuesday heroics relieving any tension that had built during their disappointing start.

There were no obvious tensions, no weights being carried ahead of the season’s first Cascadia Cup derby. Instead, there was anticipation – anticipation not only for the game but to pick up where they left off.

“You saw today in training everyone was excited to be back and talking about the result and what we did as a team,” Andy Rose said. “Obviously going into a rivalry game against Portland your spirits are going to be up and you want to be confident, so that’s great.”

But after making history on Tuesday, becoming the first Major League Soccer team to eliminate a Mexican side in Champions League competition, the question is whether the team might get overconfident. With the squad still talking about Tigres two days later, could the team shift focus?

How do you move from one high to another?

source: AP“It’s just human nature that sometimes after a high you have a little bit of a lull,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid (right) said when asked about the potential for a letdown. “It’s important for [the players] individually to motivate themselves, for us as a team to motivate ourselves, and obviously us as a coaching staff we’re going to do our best to make sure they’re ready to go and out motivated.

“We talked a little bit about ‘Okay, here’s what comes next in the Champions League, but that’s weeks, weeks away now, and we have to focus on what we have to do on Saturday.'”

Seattle is being patient with that transition. The team got Wednesday off after Tuesday’s 7:00 p.m. kickoff. The regulars who featured against Tigres didn’t go through full practice on Thursday. Friday will be the only full practice between Tuesday’s win and Saturday’s derby.

That’s when Seattle will really start preparing for Caleb Porter’s new look Timbers. Players will see tape. They’ll get scouting reports. They’ll walk through Schmid’s preparations for his new northwest rival.

But until then, Portland remains in the distance.

“We’ve not spoken about [them],” former Akron star Steve Zakuani said, asked whether teammates had inquired about the winger’s former college coach. “We’ll address [Portland] tomorrow, watch videos and stuff. Every player will do their homework on [Portland] and know what we’ve got to do.”

Rookie right back DeAndre Yedlin just finished two years under Porter in Ohio. Talk about his experiences under Portland’s boss have remained confined to him and Zakuani.

“Between me and Steve there’s a lot (of talk), but not really [within] the team,” Yedlin said.

But if the specifics of Portland’s new team were still unknown to Seattle, the importance of the rivalry was not. In the wake their Tuesday comeback, Sounders players were already answering questions on their season’s first derby, media in attendance at CenturyLink Field balancing Champions League importance against Cascadia Cup anticipation.

“It’s part of what we live with,” Schmid said, denying that the Cascadia Cup ever becomes a distraction. “It’s part of our culture as a club and the culture here in the northwest that the rivalry exists between the three teams, and it’s something that’s competed for every year, and it’s something that brings pride to our fans.”

That significance makes it a stand out occasion for players, too.

“These are the games that [we as players] look forward to: The Classicos,” Johnson said. “[It’s the] importance of the games and how much they mean to our organization. These are big games.”

Even for players that have experienced big matches in other places, Seattle-Portland is special.

“Incredible,” is how the London-raised Zakuani described the atmosphere. “I was just speaking with [Johnson and Djimi Traore] about it. They’ve obviously played in England. I’ve obviously been around England my whole life. You see some games like Arsenal-Tottenham, Liverpool-Everton, and the atmosphere just goes up to a different level. It’s not like there’s more fans or something in the stadium. They just bring their A-game, and the players need to do the same as well.

“These derby games, it’s amazing for the league. Great for us. Great for them. The fans get into it. The players get into it. It’s just an unbelievable atmosphere. Playing in front of our fans is great every time, but Portland is just a little bit more.”

That “little bit more” may keep Seattle from lingering on Tuesday’s laurels. No matter the history behind their Champions League result, few North American soccer experiences can overshadow the atmosphere the near-40,000 attendees will create on Saturday.

“In a way it’s good to have this game,” Schmid said, asked about the difficulties of moving on from history. “[A Cascadia Cup derby] is a game that requires all your attention right away.”

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.