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.”

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.