Odds stacked against Seattle in tonight’s CONCACAF Champions League showdown

2 Comments

Seattle could do something next to impossible over the next few days, executing a high wire act in high wind against Mexico’s powerful Santos Laguna.

It could happen.

But if we’re being honest, there is no compelling reason to like the Sounders’ chances in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series that begins tonight in the Pacific Northwest. Kickoff on Fox Soccer Channel is set for 10 p.m. ET.

Sigi Schmid’s team is struggling mightily in MLS, anchored to the bottom of the Western Conference standings with one measly point from four matches. Last week’s early capitulation in Utah sounded the loudest alarm bells.

And there’s some butt-ugly history here, a painful moment that might just qualify as the worst memory for Sounders supporters since the club joined MLS in 2009. Seattle took a 2-1 lead to Torreon, Mexico, against this very same Santos side. Optimism ran high that Schmid’s Sounders could get the result and move on that evening last March – but the wheels flew off this moving vehicle spectacularly.

Santos tore the Sounders apart, brushing aside the visitors in a 6-1 result.

Credit the Sounders for putting that one behind them and going on to have a highly credible MLS campaign. But the team still wears the scars of that ambush in Torreon, and they will carry that baggage tonight, heavy with the knowledge that conceding so much as one goal at CenturyLink Field could undo this year’s Champions League efforts.

Odds of keeping the visitors off the board take a hit because steady goalkeeper Michael Gspurning is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Considering his heroic play over the weekend, that’s a huge bummer for the 20,000 or so expected around the rave green ground for this one.

So Marcus Hahnemann, the longtime third-choice U.S. man, is on the spot tonight. That’s not bad. There’s no chance he’ll buckle beneath the weight of this thing, but his shot-stopping and ability to get off his line – good as it looked in preseason – won’t match Gspurning’s.

As for personnel in front of Hahnemann: Patrick Ianni remains out, which means Jhon Kennedy Hurtado will be back in the lineup at center back – and fans can only hope he gets his act together for this one. Hurtado was pretty bad in Saturday’s loss to Real Salt Lake.

At the other end, forward David Estrada appears to be out. That wouldn’t be such an issue except that Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins are questionable, too.

Again, it could happen. But Schmid’s team needs supreme focus in the back, plus something special on the offensive end in order to set up any reasonable chance in next week’s return leg in Mexico.

Sanchez, Mkhitaryan transfer still up in the air

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The player-swap/trade/transfer between Arsenal and Manchester United still appears to be heading towards completion, but it was further delayed Friday.

Multiple reports in England state that while Alexis Sanchez seems set to move to Manchester United, Henrik Mkhitaryan has yet to agree to move the other way, as talks between the player’s agent and Arsenal continue. Mkhitaryan was seen training at Manchester United’s practice facility on Friday, and because the latest delay, both players would be unable to debut for their new teams this weekend after missing the Premier League registration deadline.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks]

Arsenal hosts Crystal Palace Manchester United travels to Burnley, both on Saturday at 10 a.m. (Watch Arsenal live on CNBC, Manchester United live on NBCSN, and both live on NBCSports.com)

The London Evening Standard reports that Mkhitaryan would command a $242,000-per-week salary but that as of Friday morning he had yet to undergo a medical for the transfer. Arsenal reportedly still wants a transfer fee included for Sanchez, while Manchester United would prefer to just swap the two players.

It’s also looking as if that won’t be Arsenal’s only business in the transfer market. While it seemed like a far-fetched rumor at first, the links between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal have only grown stronger in the past few days, and the Gabon international appears to be in the Gunners sights. It appears that Bordeaux’s young striker Malcolm is now off the table.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images
1 Comment

Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
Leave a comment

Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
2 Comments

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.