Drilling down on: at Seattle Sounders 1, Portland Timbers 1

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SEATTLE, Wash. — For as exciting and fluid as their new soccer can be, the Portland Timbers have been surprisingly predictable. Against New York, Montréal, and today against Seattle, Portland fell behind, went on to rack up advantages in shots, passes and possession, and eventually got on the scoreboard. In their 2-1 loss to Montréal those advantages weren’t enough, but Saturday in Seattle, the pattern produced a 1-1 draw, with Rodney Wallace’s 91st minute header sending the Sounders to a heartbreaking result.

The goal saw the Sounders drop points in a game they’d led for 77 minutes. Despite playing on the back foot for much of that time, Seattle had managed the game well, conceding possession but keeping the Timbers from any significant chances on goal. As the game approached full time, the Sounders looking on track for a comfortable end to their first win of the season.

But it was the second ball in on a late corner that undid the hosts. After right back DeAndre Yedlin headed Diego Valeri’s cross clear, Andrew Jean Baptiste’s chip toward the edge of the six-yard box found an oncoming Wallace. Unmarked, the substitute’s headed into the right of goal, giving Michael Gspurning no chance to prevent the equalizer.

It was the second time in three meetings Rodney Wallace had cost Seattle points. On Sept. 15, the teams’ last meeting in Portland, Wallace converted a late corner to give the Timbers a 1-1 draw.

Up until Saturday’s equalizer, Seattle had leaned on their 13th minute goal, an Eddie Johnson finish that took advantage of a Diego Chara turnover. Just inside Portland’s half, Chara mishandled a ball played left from the middle of the park. Steve Zakuani collected the loose ball, turned up the pitch, and sprinted 40 yards before rifling a pass across Donovan Ricketts’ six-yard box. Johnson finished his far post run with an easy tap-in for his fifth Cascadia Cup goal.

The Timbers finished with a 13-7 edge in shots and 55 percent of the game’s possession, but both were season lows. Between his decision to exploit Steve Zakuani’s edge on the left and his team’s second half adjustments to the Portland’s style, Sigi Schmid played his cards right. Portland only had two shots on goal and few significant chances on the night.

Unfortunately, Schmid again had no answer for RodneyWallace.

Man of the Match

He was the focal point of an attack that had to do wide, a role that forced Steve Zakuani to produce. In the 13th minute, he did, creating the match’s only goal, and although Seattle couldn’t replicate that moment of brilliance, his play along the left (in combination with Eddie Johnson’s) continuously threatened Portland.

As usual, Osvaldo Alonso played a huge part, with the Seattle midfielder destroying almost everything that came into the middle of the park. Often venturing up to became Seattle’s most advanced midfielder, Alonso was also instrumental forward, though his distribution was the subject of Schmid criticism after the game. While praising the holding midfielder’s defensive contributions, Seattle’s coach said his all-star needed to be quicker moving the ball.

Threesome of Knowledge

  • Portland’s defense still a problem

For the first time this season, Portland didn’t allow multiple goals, but the team still made the type of mistake you’d see maybe once-per-month from other teams. Chara’s giveaway was an act of carelessness. In a system that continuously throws people forward, it was a crippling error, but when nobody in defense tracked Johnson’s run, it cost Portland on a scoreboard.

Mikael Silvestre had his best match yet, and Ben Zemanski (a surprise starter at right back) had a strong audition in an unfamiliar position. But the defense as a whole continues to be a problem. Portland’s now allowed six goals in three games.

  • Remove all doubts: Steve Zakuani is back

Let’s forget about Zakuani’s performance: A strong but not overwhelming game (many may disagree he was Man of the Match). The mere fact that he’s good enough to be a focal point tells of what Sigi Schmid is seeing day-to-day in practice. Zakuani is strong enough to be leaned on, which means this is the last time this bit is newsworthy: Zakuani is fully back.

If it wasn’t for strong play from Silvestre and Zemanski, Zakuani and Johnson would have created more than the one goal. The duo were constantly lining up and beating whomever happened to be on Portland’s right. Had Seattle not changed gears in the second half, Zakuani’s performance may have been more pronounced.

  • Why did Seattle change gears?

But the Sounders definitely did change gears, something Schmid admitted wasn’t the plan. After the match he lamented the team’s inability to keep possession or win more second balls. After taking the lead, the Sounder players looked more willing to hold their positions rather than pursue their opponents.

So what happened? Tired legs were brought up by multiple people, with eight Seattle starters playing their second match in six days. Both were big games. Both were on turf, and both required 90-minute efforts.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Ben Zemanski, acquired from Chivas USA in the preseason, made his first start of the season. It was a surprise inclusion, particularly considering the position: Right back. Ryan Miller, Portland’s starter in each of their first two games, didn’t get in the game.
  • Jack Jewsbury also made his first start of the year, playing at the base of midfield as the Timbers changed formation. Switching away from a 4-2-3-1 that Caleb Porter has identified as a 4-3-3, Portland played a 4-4-2 variant on Saturday, with Darlington Nagbe, Will Johnson and Chara defending in a line in front of Jewsbury.
  • Seattle was initially without two of their regulars, though Mauro Rosales played most of the second half. The back injury he incurred on Tuesday improved enough to allow him to come off the bench. Brad Evans, however, was out with a calf injury.
  • New Designated Player Obafemi Martins made his debut, playing 20 minutes in the second half. He nearly created a goal shortly after coming on, with Eddie Johnson failing to get a toe to a ball that could have been the game-winner.
  • Controversy struck in the 25th minute when Jhon Kennedy Hurtado went down in the box to win a ball at Ryan Johnson’s feet. Kevin Stott, with an unimpeded view of the play, saw it as a good tackle. Replays showed Kennedy had wrapped his legs around Johnson while playing the ball.

Highlights

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“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.