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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.

Three takeaways from the Red Bulls CCL draw against the Whitecaps

New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, left, trips over Vancouver Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston inside the Whitecaps box during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal soccer match, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
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With 90 more minutes to play up in Vancouver, this tie is far from over. However, Wednesday night’s clash at Red Bull Arena surely presented intriguing storylines ahead of leg two.

The Vancouver Whitecaps picked up a critical away goal in their 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal meeting.

While their CCL clash was the first competitive action for either side since 2016, both clubs showed glimpses of brilliance in the first of their two encounters in the competition.

Here’s a look back at three important takeaways from the Red Bulls’ draw against the Whitecaps.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Red Bulls still working out kinks up front

Bradley Wright-Phillips has been one of Major League Soccer’s most prolific goalscorers since joining the Red Bulls, but even the star striker struggled to find the ball in dangerous positions on Wednesday. The Red Bulls striker netted the game’s equalizer after 62 minutes, but chances were far and few between on the night for Wright-Phillips.

Despite dominating the possession for long spells of the match (as is the case much of the time), the Red Bulls found difficulty breaking down the Whitecaps when it mattered most.

Jesse Marsch’s side managed just two shots on target throughout the 90 minutes, while Sacha Kljestan’s penalty kick miss voided the host side from leveling up the first leg just after the halftime break.

The Red Bulls have wanted to toy with a two-striker set since early 2016, and Marsch finally got his wish with Argentine DP Gonzalo Veron match fit for the start of the campaign. Veron looked solid at times with his quality first touches and quick pace, but it was the final ball that was often lacking.

Sacha Kljestan and Daniel Royer interlinked well with one another behind the two strikers, and with Mike Grella and Alex Muyl also tabbed as rotational players in the midfield, Marsch will have a solid group to pick from to help his attack develop moving forward.

Manneh is coming into his own

He scored, facilitated and just looked all around dangerous against the Red Bulls. Kekuta Manneh has become one of the most intriguing MLS players over the past 12 months in large part because of his success in the league as well as the opportunity to represent the U.S. Men’s National Team.

While his goal wasn’t the prettiest six minutes before halftime, the Whitecaps attacker was in the right spot, just as he was for much of the night. His three shots on target led all players involved, but it was Manneh’s confidence under pressure that was most impressive.

The Whitecaps didn’t throw too many numbers forward on the night — with the second leg being north of the border — but Manneh and the Whitecaps attack thrived on the counterattack on several occasions.

With a number of players unavailable for Carl Robinson’s side, including Yordy Reyna, Christian Bolanos and Fredy Montero, the visitors played a strong opening leg, particularly after playing the final 20 minutes down a man when Cristian Techera was dismissed for a high tackle on Red Bulls defender Sal Zizzo.

Youngsters show out for both sides

Experience is still the name of the game for both the Red Bulls and Whitecaps, but Wednesday night also provided a glimpse into the future with several stellar performances from the youngsters on the pitch.

Sean Davis was tasked with filling the hole in the central midfield after Dax McCarty was treaded away from the Red Bulls this offseason, and although the youngster has had experience in the past, he certainly didn’t disappoint for Marsch’s group. The 24-year-old looked confident in his distribution and defended well when called upon alongside Felipe.

Meanwhile, Whitecaps attacker Alphonso Davies continues to turn heads for a player that is only 16 years old. Davies only appeared in eight MLS matches last season for the Western Conference side, but looked like a seasoned veteran against the Red Bulls at times with his blazing strides and pinpoint passes.

The young attacker surely has room to grow, particularly in front of net, but hey, he’s 16.

New York Red Bulls 1-1 Vancouver Whitecaps: BWP saves a draw

New York Red Bulls' Aaron Long, top, climbs over Vancouver Whitecaps forward Erik Hurtado while competing for the ball during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal soccer match, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
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  • ‘Caps nap road goal
  • Techera sent off in 71′
  • Return leg March 2

Kekuta Manneh and Bradley Wright-Phillips traded goals as the Vancouver Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls drew 1-1 in their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.

Cristian Techera sent the ‘Caps down to 10 men in the 71st minute when he connected with a kick between Sal Zizzo’s legs.

A deft touch by Wright-Phillips set up Sacha Kljestan for a fifth minute chance, but two sliding Whitecaps helped pressure the captain’s shot wide of the near post.

Vancouver had a chance two minutes later when Alphonso Davies played Russell Teibert down the right wing, and the Whitecaps wide man curled a shot wide of the far post.

[ MORE: Amazing beach soccer bicycle kick goal ]

The Whitecaps beat Luis Robles before halftime. Kendall Waston flicked a ball toward the net, and Kekuta used his head to turn the ball off Justin Bilyeu and behind Robles. 1-0, 39′.

A foul outside the 18 nearly saw Kljestan level it up with a 45th minute free kick.

Kljestan should’ve tied it up with a PK just after the break. He didn’t, barely chipping his Panenka attempt above shin level. Woof.

Wright-Phillips made it 1-1 in the 62nd minute, when Zizzo’s cross dropped at his feet. A quick reaction had the ball in the back of the net.

Sacha Kljestan stars in “When Panenkas Fail” (video)

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls heads the ball in front of Steve Birnbaum #15 of D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
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When Panenkas don’t go well, players look foolish.

Sacha Kljestan looks foolish.

The New York Red Bulls captain strode to the penalty spot to level the score in Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

Only he didn’t. Kljestan chipped his attempt barely a foot off the ground, allowing David Ousted to kick the chance away. Bradley Wright-Phillips blazed the rebound over the frame, and it remained 1-0 for the ‘Caps.

WATCH: Liverpool loanee nets hat trick for U.S. U-20 side

STEVENAGE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 19:  Brooks Lennon of Liverpool celebrates his goal during the Premier League 2 match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at The Lamex Stadium on September 19, 2016 in Stevenage, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
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If Brooks Lennon brings this sort of scoring prowess to Real Salt Lake, he may just walk away Rookie of the Year.

On loan from Liverpool, Lennon is first on duty with the United States U-20 men’s national team in Costa Rica.

The U.S. opened U-20 World Cup qualifying with a 1-0 loss to Panama, and was under the gun when it allowed an early goal to Haiti late Tuesday evening.

[ MORE: Rooney’s agent in China ]

But Lennon scored a trio of goals and sent in the corner that Luca de la Torre eventually finished as the Yanks won 4-1. The U.S. has St. Kitts and Nevis in the final group match on Friday.

The top two teams from each group of four advance to the next round, in which four teams will qualify for the U-20 World Cup. That tournament is set for May in South Korea.