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.”

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.