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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.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.