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Notes from Cascadia: Martins, Akron, road demons and fan focus

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SEATTLE, Wash. — “What,” Santos Laguna attacker Herculez Gomez asked on Twitter. “You can sign ringers for CCL?” Hastaged with “#TheMoreTheMerrier”, even the American abroad was showing some excitement for Seattle’s latest signing.

Nigerian attacker Obafemi Martins touched own at Seattle-Tacoma airport near 5:00 p.m. local time on Friday. A small cadre of reporters met Major League Soccer’s newest designated player, with conversation inevitably drifting to Saturday’s big game.

“[The club] told me and I saw it on Twitter — the rivalry,” Martins said, asked about Seattle and Portland. “I hope we’re going to win tomorrow and I hope to see the game.”

He may do more than just see the game. Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid was coy when asked about Martins’ potential involvement on Friday, even if fans see his long trip ahead of a week with Nigeria as a sign he’ll be in uniform.

“[H]e’s eligible for (the 18-man lineup) tomorrow,” Schmid said after Friday’s practice. With Martins still en route from Spain during the Sounders’ morning practice, Schmid elected to take a wait-and-see approach.

“He hasn’t had a chance to train with us yet or get to know the names of his teammates, but what’s really great and encouraging is his desire to want to be here, his desire to undertake the journey and wanting to be part of where we’re at, be part of the rivalry. He knows the importance of the game. I know (sporting director Chris Henderson) has been on the phone with him and talked to him about the importance of the game, and he wants to be part of that. His loyalty is to the Seattle Sounders and I think it’s a good example that he’s showing by the effort that he’s making in getting here.”

source:  Rivalry within the rivalry

It would be a stretch to say the fans will overshadow a derby pitting a Champions League semifinalist and a Cascadia Cup holder, but for MLS fans across the country, the supporter culture that follows Seattle and Portland distinguishes this rivalry.

That’s why a Friday quote from Portland star Darlington Nagbe (right) is both obligatory and, potentially, incendiary:

“Every time we go (to Seattle), our fans are louder than their fans.”

That comment got media attention in both Multnomah and King counties, and rightfully so. As much as Nagbe’s response is a nod to the Timbers Army, it’s a dig at Seattle’s various supporters’ groups – perhaps an unnecessary one.

But to fully know where Nagbe’s coming from, you need to understand four aspects of this rivalry.

  • Fans are always being lauded – “Regarding our fans is always big in our minds,” Schmid said on Thursday. Tthe approach is no less adulatory in Portland, but Merritt Paulson and his team are well-aware of the power of the Timbers Army. From each organization, there are constant nods to the fanbase – signs of acknowledgement and thanks from the club’s brass. Whether it’s Paulson or Adrian Hanauer, Darlington Nagbe or Steve Zakuani, you won’t have to prod long to get a prominent figure to say something nice about the fans. It’s the default response.
  • And the fans are a big part of the rivalry – There’s a reason why so many Seattle and Portland games are on national television. The atmospheres are near-unparalleled, and that translates to broadcasts. It also makes the fans part of the story, which is why almost every interview you heard from Cascadia this week touched on the role of fans. Conduct enough of those interviews and keep tweaking how you ask your questions, you’ll get a comment like Nagbe’s.
  • From a certain point of view, Nagbe is right – By car, Portland’s just is two-to-three hours south of Seattle. It’s an easy trip, which is why the Timbers may have four-digits worth of support in CenturyLink’s north end. Let in before many of their Sounder counterparts, the Timbers’ traveling Army will be have an advantage early. And when they pick their spots right, you’ll be able to hear their chants through your speakers during Saturday’s game.
  • But as with any good rivalry, you see what you want For the most part, Seattle fans will out shout Portland’s on Saturday. And they should. They’ll likely out-number their competition 39-to-1. But the Timbers fans deserve credit for getting some of their shouts through, just as Seattle’s traveling support is also able to find a few moments’ glory during their ventures to Portland. If you’re Nagbe and  looking at things from the Timbers’ point of view, you’ll remember the times when the TA’s songs came through in Seattle. But a Sounders fan wouldn’t be wrong to focus on the times their chants echo through Jeld-Wen.

source:  First of many Akron reunions

With former University of Akron players sprinkled throughout the league, ex-Zips boss Caleb Porter (right) is in for a series of reunions throughout the season. At some point, he’ll meet up with Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks. Perry Kitchen plays for D.C. United. Kofie Sarkodie’s now a starter for Houston.

But Saturday will be something special. Seattle has two ex-Zips, with former MAC Hermann Trophy winner Steve Zakuani expected to start with right back DeAndre Yedlin, who was in Ohio with Porter last fall. Add that to the three Akron players on Portland’s roster (Nagbe, Ben Zemanski, Michael Nanchoff) and five Zips will be in uniform on Saturday.

“It’s weird having so many of the guys in the league at this level doing so well,” Zakuani said. “We were just studying for midterms together two years ago.”

It’s the second time in four months there’s been a mini-reunion in the northwest. Many former Zips were in Portland this winter for Darlington Nagbe’s wedding.

“I’ve known [Darlington] since we were 16 years old when we played in a summer league together back in Ohio,” Zakuani said. ” So I’ve known him for a very long time. He’s my friend.

“I spoke to him a couple of days ago. I was in his wedding.”

Many former Zips stay in touch. Even Yedlin and Zakuani, six years apart in age, had a relationship through the school before they were teammates in Seattle.

“Akron can be something special,” Zakuani said.

With the school set to be well-represented at CenturyLink, the school’s soccer program could be in line for a special Saturday. So could the man who cultivated Akron’s talent factory.

Road demons take a back seat, still linger for Portland

Through their Major League Soccer existence, the Timbers have had two distinct faces. At home, they’ve proven themselves capable of beating anybody, as Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose found out last season. The Earthquakes took only one point from two games at a team that finished eighth in the Western Conference.

On the road, Portland isn’t anywhere near as threatening. In their 34 MLS matches away from Jeld-Wen, the Timbers have won only three times. Their one road win of the 2012 season came on the season’s last trip, a Cascadia Cup-clinching victory at Vancouver.

“One of the things this club needs to do to have a better identity is do better on the road,” new captain Will Johnson told OregonLive.com. Johnson joined Portland this offseason after five years with real Salt Lake.

“The things I’ve found is getting a mentally tough group of guys who will stick together,” Johnson said, asked what it takes to have success on the road. “Who will battle through and weather the storms? If you can get a block (of guys) together and the guys have bought into the fact that, ‘Listen, we’re going into a street fight. This isn’t going to be pretty. It’s not going to be fun, but it’s what we have to do to get to where we want to go.'”

Their last trip to Seattle was Oct. 7, a 3-0 loss in front of 66,452.

Watch: Bobby Wood opens scoring account at Hamburg

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Bobby Wood #7 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Bobby Wood set the German second division on fire a season ago, but now the U.S. Men’s National Team forward has turned his attention to the Bundesliga.

Making his debut with Hamburg SV on Saturday, Wood didn’t waste any time in getting on the score sheet, netting just beyond the half hour mark with a tremendous strike.

While it appeared to be a tame long ball into the path of the U.S. attacker, Wood did well to head the ball in front with his first touch, before muscling the Ingolstadt defender off of him and powering his shot into the back of the net prior to halftime.

Check out Wood’s debut goal below.

Jurgen Klopp refuses to comment on Christian Pulisic rumors

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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LONDON — Jurgen Klopp is remaining tight-lipped over any move for U.S. international Christian Pulisic.

Liverpool were linked with a move for the 17-year-old attacking midfielder who is finding it tough to break through at Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Spurs 1-1 Liverpool ]

Pulisic was brought to Dortmund by Klopp in January 2015 and it is believed the Hersey, Pennsylvania native is frustrated with the lack of match action he is getting in the Bundesliga. Pulisic has also been linked with a move to Stoke City and RB Leipzig among others.

Following Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Tottenham on Saturday, ProSoccerTalk asked Klopp if there was any interest in Pulisic and what he thought about the player.

The German coach refused to comment.

“No transfer rumors. I have no comment for this. Absolutely nothing to speak about,” Klopp said. “That’s for all the other cases too. When we know something and when we are close to doing something then we will inform you… or a little bit later.”

So, a flat out denial from Klopp and you can read into that however you want.

The German manager is usually quite tight-lipped when it comes to transfer rumors and with the summer window shutting on Aug. 31, there will be no more word from him in public about potential signings.

To add further fuel to the fire, Pulisic was left out of the 18-man squad for Dortmund’s opening game of the 2016-17 Bundesliga season on Saturday.

STREAM: Watch Premier League “Goal Rush” live at 10am ET

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At 10 a.m. ET this Saturday you will be able to access NBC Sports Digital’s newest product, Premier League Goal Rush.

It will be available on the NBC Sports App and on NBCSports.com as goals from all six matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be shown simultaneously as live look-ins occurs around all the grounds in the Premier League.

STREAM “GOAL RUSH” HERE

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of NFL RedZone-like action from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

More info is available here, plus the schedule for all six games at 10 a.m. ET is below.


10 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Burnley 
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Arsenal 
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Stoke City 
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Bournemouth  
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Swansea City
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Sunderland

Three things we learned from Tottenham vs. Liverpool

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur L) and Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool (R) embrace prior to kick off during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool drew 1-1 at White Hart Lane on Saturday as a first half penalty from James Milner was canceled out by Danny Rose‘s equalizer with less than 20 minutes to go.

[ MORE: Spurs 1-1 Liverpool ]

In a breathtaking encounter both teams had multiple chances but a draw was probably a fair result.

Here’s what we learned from an epic encounter at the Lane.


BATTLE OF THE HIGH-PRESS

This game was played at a breathtaking pace from start to finish.

With both Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp proponents of high-pressing, their teams delivered that approach on the pitch. There were chances galore for both teams and both managers will need a lie down after going toe-to-toe on the sidelines, sharing the occasional hug and then roaring their players on.

Neither teams look fine-tuned at this point but the effort and endeavor was their for all to see. Both Liverpool and Tottenham will be relatively pleased with their starts to the season as we head into the international break as Spurs have five points on the board and Liverpool have four.

As the season wears on the toll of this high-pressing tempo will impact both teams though. Without the rigors of a European campaign, Liverpool may have an edge this season but this clash showed there’s nothing between these two teams who not only have top four aspirations but dream of winning the title.

Both teams look a little disjointed for title-winning talk right now but with plenty of players returning late from a summer full of international duty, these two teams full of incredible athletes will soon be up to full speed. The fact they weren’t on Saturday is quite frightening.


KLOPP’S BOYS GETTING THERE

Three games into the new Premier League season we’ve so far seen the best and worst of Liverpool. Saturday’s win at Tottenham was a bit of both. They looked much more solid defensively than they did in their opening 4-3 win at Arsenal and away at Burnley in their shock 2-0 defeat last weekend, but the midfield area is still one they need to improve on.

With Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield, they saw plenty of the ball but didn’t force the issue. Too often there were sideways passes and they couldn’t get Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana involved in the game for large periods.

Klopp’s project has now been in place for 10 months and we now see that Liverpool has a clear playing style under him. The dynamic cutting edge to make the most of their counter attacks will come, especially with Daniel Sturridge returning to full fitness soon and only fit enough for a late cameo role against Spurs.

We are all still waiting for Klopp’s revolution to kick in for good but the signs are, once again, promising that his team understands how he wants them to play. Slotting everything together for a full 90 minutes is the hard part.


MISSING MOUSA

It is clear that there’s a Mousa Dembele sized hole in Tottenham’s midfield.

The Belgian international is serving a six-game ban for gouging Diego Costa in the eye in a heated London derby at Chelsea last May, as their title hopes were ended in the 2-2 draw and the red midst descended on the two-way midfielder.

Dembele, 29, will be available for Spurs’ game against Sunderland on Sept. 18 and his return can’t come soon enough.

With Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama in the two central positions Spurs looked solid but cumbersome and couldn’t provide Harry Kane with the service he needed. When Kyle Walker went off and Dele Alli moved into midfield with Wanyama they suffered even more.

Dembele is so smooth on the ball and was the unsung hero of Spurs’ third-place finish last season. He is able to slow things down when Spurs need it and it stops them from just flying back and forth without control on the game. When Dembele returns it will knit everything together rather nicely. Until then, Spurs look disjointed in an area of the field they never struggled in last season.