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.”

“Ronaldo, Messi too old to play for us” say Bundesliga club

Barcelona's Lionel Messi,foreground, escapes Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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RB Leipzig currently sits top of the Bundesliga and they’ve taken the German soccer scene by storm.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars

They’ve also upset plenty of traditionalists in Germany with the Red Bull energy drink company bankrolling their rise through the German leagues and after being founded in 2009, just seven years later they are top of the Bundesliga, three points clear of Bayern Munich after 13 games of the season.

Now, Leipzig may have upset Cristiano Ronald and Lionel Messi.

Speaking to the Associated Press, the man who has been plotting Leipzig’s success since 2012, sporting director Ralf Rangnick, had the following to say about Messi and Ronaldo hypothetically signing for Leipzig.

“It would be absurd to think that it could work with them here,” Rangnick said. “They are both too old and too expensive.”

Wow.

Ronaldo is 32 and Messi is 29 and both seem to have at least five or more years left in the tank for Real and Barca respectively.

However, Rangnick’s comments are perhaps more about the make up of Leipzig’s team which is the youngest in the Bundesliga and as the architect of this squad he has purposefully constructed a strong youth element which has helped his side rise from the fourth division and up into the German top-flight.

RB Leipzig is widely disliked in Germany for being owned by Red Bull who have spent huge sums of money, and now they’ve just blown their chance of ever signing Ronaldo or Messi.

Oh wait, they didn’t want them anyway…

One man takes blame for Swansea’s poor season

SWANSEA, WALES - DECEMBER 20:  Swansea Chairman Huw Jenkins (C) attends the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and West Ham United at the Liberty Stadium on December 20, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Huw Jenkins has been with Swansea City through the good times and the bad.

He is blaming himself for the recent bad spell.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

The long-time chairman of the Swans — Jenkins was part of a consortium which saved the south Wales club back in 2002 when it was teetering on the brink of extinction — has been at the forefront of their incredible rise from the fourth-tier to the Premier League plus becoming League Cup winners and also competing in the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League.

Yet, this season Swansea’s progress has stalled as they currently sit two points adrift at the foot of the Premier League table and three points from safety with a massive relegation six-points against Sunderland at the Liberty Stadium coming up this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Speaking about their struggles, Jenkins put the blame squarely on his shoulders.

“I fully understand their feelings, being a supporter myself,” Jenkins said. “When things don’t go well somebody has to take the blame and I fully accept the responsibility. But let’s not forget there’s a long way to go this season, and we’ve got a lot of choices to make between now and then to make sure we survive in this league.”

The local businessman has told it like it is, as well as admiting some errors with player recruitment over the summer as both Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams were allowed to leave and you easily argue they weren’t sufficiently replaced at the Liberty Stadium.

All of this has led to current manager Bob Bradley (he replaced Italian coach Francesco Guidolin after the Swans picks up just four points from their opening seven games of the season) reportedly already being under pressure, as a report in the Daily Telegraph suggested that a huge review is currently taking place at the request of American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levein who took sole control of the club in July.

Jenkins, who has been left in control of day-to-day matters by Kaplan and Levein, has also been taking plenty of stick from the fans for selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club which allowed the Americans to take their holdings up to 68 percent and take full ownership of the club. The local businessman made himself just over $10 million in the process which angered many. All is not well on and off the pitch in south Wales right now.

With Bradley’s team conceding 19 goals in his seven PL games in charge so far, the obvious area where they have to improve is in central defense. If given time, there’s no doubt Bradley can improve that but the most concerning thing for the Swans is the quality of players, especially defenders, they currently possess.

Until that changes (i.e. acquistions in the January transfer window) then Bradley’s hands are tied.

Jenkins believes the club will be able to spend big in the upcoming transfer window and boy will Swansea need to do some shrewd, and extensive, business if they’re going to drag themselves out of trouble and up the Premier League table.

The good news out of all of this is the next six games are pivotal in their season. Between now and Jan. 2 Bradley’s side face Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth at home, plus have trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace. All of those games are against direct relegation rivals and quite simply the Swans must win at least three or four to give themselves a fighting chance of staying up.

Report: Alexis Sanchez offered $505,000 per week to play in China

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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This is outrageous.

Alexis Sanchez, 27, has reportedly been offered a contract worth over $505,000 a week (that’s around $26.2 million a year) to play in China.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

The Daily Mail claims that several clubs from the Chinese Super League have already reached out to Sanchez and have offered the huge contract to try and entice him to play in China.

With just 18 months left on his current contract at Arsenal, the Chilean forward is in the form of his life with 11 Premier League goals in the opening 14 games of the season. That included a hat trick in the 5-1 demolition of West Ham last weekend which underlined just how important “El Nino Maravilla” is to the Gunners.

Reports on Tuesday claimed that both Sanchez and Mesut Ozil (the latter also only has 18 months left on his current contract) want over $370,000 per week from Arsenal if they’re going to sign new deals. That would put them in line with the top earner in the Premier League, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, but it is believed the Gunners do not want to break their wage structure and pay any player over $252,000 per week.

In truth, in world soccer right now only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are above Sanchez with the Chilean forward strutting his stuff out wide and up top in a center forward role.

Ronaldo is currently paid $34.3 million per year by Real Madrid and Messi is paid $42.9 million a year by Barcelona. So, you can see why Sanchez’s head is being turned as he continues to churn out world-class displays for Arsenal and huge offers are coming his way.

With Arsene Wenger‘s future uncertain as his contract runs out at the end of this season, if he can’t entice Sanchez and Ozil to remain at the Emirates Stadium by this summer then Arsenal will have to think about selling both of their attacking superstars or else they’ll lose them for nothing in the summer of 2018.

And when it comes to China there’s no real surprise that this kind of money is being offered to Sanchez, if the reports are true.

Over the past 12 months a huge influx of foreign stars have joined the CSL with China’s President Xi Jinping a huge soccer fan and eager to not only grow the domestic game but links with European clubs and also develop top players for the Chinese national team moving forward with world-class facilities popping up and soccer is now on the school curriculum nationwide too.

Graziano Pelle. Jackson Martinez. Hulk. Ramires. Alex Teixeira. They’ve all joined the CSL in recent years on huge wages. Is Sanchez the next man to make the move if Arsenal can’t pay him what he wants, and probably deserves?

Man United announce squad for crunch Europa League clash

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Memphis Depay of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on October 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho has named his 19-man squad for Manchester United’s final group game in the UEFA Europa League.

There are some surprising omissions.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule ]

Both Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin aren’t included in the squad for the game at Zorya Luhansk in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, as Zorya cannot play games in their home stadium due to the ongoing conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine.

United need a draw to guarantee their passage into the Round of 32 in the Europa League but a defeat to Zorya would see the Red Devils crash out of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

With Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw out injured they haven’t traveled, plus Bastian Schweinsteiger is ineligible after not being registered for the tournament and veterans Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia have been rested. It is the exclusion of Memphis, Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian which will raise eyebrows and it suggests they have no future at Old Trafford under Mourinho.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]  

Plenty of teams such as Everton and Fenerbache have already shown interest in signing Memphis on loan in January and the Dutch winger is way down the pecking order in Mourinho’s forward options. As for Schneiderlin, with Pogba’s arrival, Ander Herrera‘s good form and even Schweinsteiger getting some minutes recently, his time at United looks up.

Darmian also looks set for a move with Timothy Fosu-Mensah preferred for this trip and it is telling that Memphis, Schneiderlin and Darmian are all seen as some of the biggest disappointments of Louis Van Gaal‘s era. Mourinho obviously wants to clean house and he is sending them the message loud and clear that they aren’t needed, even if he doesn’t say it publicly.

Below is the full squad for United’s trip to Ukraine, which kicks of at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Man United squad vs. Zorya Luhansk: De Gea, Romero, Johnstone; Fosu-Mensah, Jones, Bailly, Rojo, Blind, Young; Fellaini, Herrera, Pogba, Lingard, Mata, Mkhitaryan; Martial, Rashford, Rooney, Ibrahimovic.