MLS Whitecaps Sounders Soccer

Are we inching closer to NFL crowds being the norm in Seattle?

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SEATTLE, Wash. – Sounders FC have become renown for their transcendent crowds, but their Major League Soccer-leading numbers always come with an implicit caveat. The team rarely opens up all sections of CenturyLink Field, the usual 38,500 capacity well below what the venue seats (67,000 for Seahawks games). On days when a Portland comes to town with four-digits worth of travelling fans, that normal limit can be pushed to exceed 40,000. But under normal circumstances, Seattle chooses to live within their self-defined limits.

On Saturday, Sounders FC loosened the reins, opened the gates and drew 53,679 for their 3-2 victory over the rival Whitecaps, the first of a four-pack of games that will pad the team’s already prodigious attendance numbers. The pack offers summer games against high-quality opponents for a price that targets the casual fan ($60 per pack), a combination that’s fueled Seattle’s NFL-esque numbers. Buyers also get access to playoff tickets.

“We love big crowds. We seem to do well,” Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid said after the game, his team improving to 5-0-0 in front of crowds of 50,000 or more. ” We wanted to keep the game exciting and close … It had a tremendous atmosphere.”

Last season, in games against Chelsea, LA Galaxy, Vancouver, and Portland, the Sounders drew 236,387 fans, more than Chivas USA, San Jose, or D.C. United collected over their entire 17-match MLS home schedules. And with no friendly on the schedule this season (Chelsea drew the lowest attendance of last year’s four-pack), Seattle could set a new standard for what looks set to become a mid-season tradition.

With that tradition, however, comes familiarity. While drawing over 50,000 to a Major League Soccer game is always noteworthy and come with an undeniably “tremendous” atmosphere, at some point, there’s no new story to tell. For a team that has played in front of five such crowds over the last three regular seasons, what would be record numbers for most teams becomes something that carries expectations.

“It’s a responsibility,” goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said after Seattle’s victory. “If so many [fans] are coming, we don’t want to disappoint them.”

The Sounders didn’t, though after poor defending on set pieces gave Camilo two first early goals, the team went into halftime down 2-1. But thanks to Servando Carrasco’s first career goal (a penalty kick) and Lamar Neagle’s late winner, Seattle won their fifth in sixth games. After an aimless start that saw the MLS Cup-aspirants spend March in the West’s cellar, Saturday’s win vaulted the Sounders into fourth place.

Whether the huge crowd actually had anything to do with result is impossible to say, but for those on the field, the atmosphere was mattered.

“You can sense the energy,” Schmid explained. “It gives you a different feeling when you walk onto the field. The guys recognize that and respond to that.

“Is that the reason that we score goals and win games entirely? Probably not, but right now we’ll keep it going.”

And they’ll have a chance to keep it going in front of what could be even bigger crowds. Last season, the highest attended game of the four-pack was the last one, and although their derby with Portland played a big part in drawing 66,452 people, it’s easy to see casual fans made aware of the special occasions gravitating to CenturyLink as the four-pack moves on.

“We were able to showcase ourselves in front of people who normally don’t get to come to our game,” Schmid said, describing the evening’s crowd. For a team that normally draws just short of 40,000, that meant entertaining over 10,000 people who would not have otherwise had access to tickets.

It forces you to consider: What would happen if Seattle opened the upper deck on a permanent basis? Yes, there are cost issues with staffing the upper level, and if you offer those cheaper seats, will people currently spending more of better seats gravitate toward the bargains? Regardless, with every huge crowd the question comes up: With the Sounders able to consistently break 50,000 for these games, why not go for that number on a regular basis?

This time of year, the weather is right. And with games against Portland, Real Salt Lake, and the LA Galaxy still to come, there is some reason to think that these particular games are predisposed to draw more. Would enough people come if Seattle were hosting an Eastern Conference bottom feeder in late winter?

That’s the worst-case scenario – an inappropriate standard for assessing Seattle’s drawing power. Instead, the better approach would be to look at the entire schedule and judge whether opening the upper deck all the time is cost-effective, something the Sounders have undoubtedly done. After Saturday’s big crowd, though, it remains to be seen whether Sounder nation is inching closer to a magic number that would see CenturyLink’s upper deck opened full-time.

Liverpool announce plans for $62 million training ground

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24:  Players warm up during a Liverpool training session ahead of their UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg match against FC Augsburg at Melwood Training Ground on February 24, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Liverpool have announced plans to move away from their famous training ground at Melwood.

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On Wednesday the Premier League side announced details about redeveloping the site of their current academy training center at Kirkby. They hope to spend over $62 million to update the facilities and house the first team and academy all in one venue.

If Liverpool, who are working with the local council in Knowsley on the project, get the green-light for the impressive project then work is expected to finish in 2019.

Chief operating officer at Liverpool, Andy Hughes, is eager to see the first team and academy players all housed in one facility moving forward.

“Our proposed plans to bring the first team and young players together in one location is a really exciting proposition. The scheme includes state-of-the-art facilities which will be used to support the development of our players and provides all-weather training options.”

The project will also see amateur club Kirkby AFC get a complete overhaul of their facilities, while the local community will benefit from improvements to the current pitches on the site. A public consultation will take place next month with more information on the plans expected.

Why move from Melwood?

Anybody who has ever visited the site can tell you about the glaring issues at the historical training ground which has been home to Liverpool’s first team since the 1950s. First of all, many fans or interested onlookers often hop on a trash can or a small ladder to see right over the fence and watching training which is a big privacy issue for Jurgen Klopp and his team.

Also the current Melwood site has a concrete wall surrounding it and is penned in by houses and roads, so it has reached capacity and there is no more room for new pitches.

With the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Manchester City and Southampton developing impressive new training grounds in recent years, Liverpool don’t want to be left behind.

Having the first team and academy together makes sense, especially with the likes of Steven Gerrard taking up a new role in Liverpool’s academy and the fact that Klopp continues to give plenty of youngsters a chance to shine in the first team.

LIVE: Europa League – St. Etienne v Man United headlines

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Manchester United aim to finish off Ligue 1 outfit St. Etienne on Wednesday in the UEFA Europa League.

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Jose Mourinho’s men lead 3-0 from the Round of 32 first leg as Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued his stunning recent form by bagging a hat trick last week at Old Trafford. Ahead of their EFL Cup final against Southampton at Wembley on Sunday, United have fielded a strong team with Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and Zlatan Ibrahmovic all starting in France.

Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones have not traveled with the team and are in a race against time to be fit for the EFL Cup final.

In the other two Europa League last 32 second leg ties taking place on Wednesday (the other 13 take place on Thursday, the traditional night for UEL action) evening across Europe Schalke also have a healthy 3-0 advantage from their first leg against Greek outfit PAOK, while Turkish giants Fenerbache will be hoping to overcome a 1-0 deficit as Russian side Krasnodar come to Istanbul.

Click on the link above for live scores, updates and stats from the three games on Wednesday, while we will have updates and analysis on all the action right here at Pro Soccer Talk.

Here’s the Europa League schedule below, with the score from the first leg in parenthesis.


Wednesday’s Europa League Round of 32, second legs

St. Etienne vs. Manchester United (0-3) – 12 p.m. ET
Schalke 04 vs. PAOK (3-0) – 12 p.m. ET
Fenerbache vs. Krasnodar (0-1) – 12 p.m. ET

From champs to a relegation battle: Why are Leicester struggling?

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What the heck has happened to Leicester City this season?

That debate has been present in bars across the world as the reigning champions of the Premier League are battling against relegation and are in terrible form in 2017.

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The Foxes are in the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League but are just two points off the bottom of the Premier League after suffering five-straight defeats and not scoring in nay of their last six PL games.

With N'Golo Kante gone, plus Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez struggling to regain their form from last season, everything is stacking up against Claudio Ranieri‘s side.

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Ahead of their big game against Liverpool at the King Power Stadium next Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) they badly need a boost to spark a surge away from the relegation zone.

In the latest PST Extra Jenna Corrado and I discuss what’s gone wrong this season and if Leicester can drag themselves away from trouble.

Click play on the video above for your latest PST Extra fix.

CCL Preview: MLS teams enter quarterfinal stage

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of New York Red Bulls celebrates a goal against the D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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CONCACAF Champions League action is back.

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Three teams from Major League Soccer remain in the tournament as an all-MLS tie takes place at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday between the Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls.

The first leg of their quarterfinal will provide an intriguing peek as to the offseason work both Carl Robinson and Jesse Marsch have done to crank their teams up a few notches, as both clubs will rely on plenty of young talent once again this season. Marsch has handed the captains armband to U.S. national team midfielder Sacha Kljestan after Dax McCarty’s departure in the offseason, while the Whitecaps have never lost at RBA in three previous visits.

Former Seattle Sounders star Fredy Montero won’t make his debut for the ‘Caps as he continues to work on his fitness but he could play on Mar. 2 in the return game at BC Place, while this tie at least confirms that one MLS team will be in the semifinals of North America’s top club competition.

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Reigning MLS Supporters’ Shield champs FC Dallas also kick off the first leg of their CCL quarterfinal against Arabe Unido from Panama on Wednesday as the Texas outfit host the opener before heading down to Central America next week for the second leg. New DP signing Cristian Colman has impressed and given the absence of the injured Mauro Diaz, Oscar Pareja will look at him to make Dallas’ offense tick against a Panamanian outfit who went a perfect 4-0-0 in the CCL group stage.

In the two other CCL quarterfinals not involving MLS clubs, Costa Rican powerhouse Deportivo Saprissa drew 0-0 at home against Liga MX side Pachuca on Tuesday in the first leg of their quarterfinal. El Tri star Hirving Lozano was kept quiet by Saprissa but Pachuca will fancy their chances of advancing with a home game to come in the second leg. On Wednesday two Liga MX teams do battle as Tigres host Pumas in Monterrey as the runners up from last season look to make another charge to the final.

Below is the full schedule for the CCL quarterfinals, while you can stream the games on Facebook Live here.


CCL quarterfinal 1st legs

Deportivo Saprissa 0-0 Pachuca – Played on Tuesday, Feb. 21
New York Red Bulls vs. Vancouver – Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET
Tigres UANL vs. Pumas – Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. Arabe Unido – Thursday, 8 p.m. ET

CCL quarterfinal 2nd legs

Pachuca vs. Deportivo Saprissa – Tuesday, Feb. 28 – 10 p.m. ET
Arabe Unido vs. FC Dallas – Wednesday, Mar. 1 – 8 p.m. ET
Pumas vs. Tigres UANL – Wednesday, Mar. 1 – 10 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. New York Red Bulls – Thursday, Mar. 2 – 10 p.m. ET