Panama v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Night of vindication all around for Seattle, fans

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SEATTLE — The sellout didn’t happen, but as Seattle’s soccer fans showed, it didn’t matter. Besides, it’s hard to imagine 42,000 would have meaningful louder than the 40,847 who turned out to CenturyLink Field on Tuesday night. In voice, spirit, if not in the highly anticipated number, the fans were more than enough.

It was the seventh-largest home crowd in U.S. qualifying history, one that had no problem delivering the expected atmosphere. U.S. fans proved every bit as capable of filling Seattle’s cavernous venue with chants and songs that rivaled the Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC groups that cheer on the Sounders.

And after days of debate about Seattle’s expected attendance — increasingly nuanced explanations confounded an already loaded issue — the scene at CenturyLink left only two conclusions: Seattle’s fans delivered; and the community had earned its vindication.

“Amazing crowd,” was Jurgen Klinsmann’s assessment, words echoed in some form by ever player within a breath of a microphone Tuesday night. “It was just a wonderful atmosphere that the players enjoyed tremendously. We all did.”

“[It was] the best crowd I’ve played in (front of) in the United States, without a doubt,” Michael Bradley said. “People don’t know what a difference it makes when you play in an atmosphere like this.”

Perhaps the difference was evident in their performance. In some ways, the U.S.’s play wasn’t that different from what we saw in Jamaica. The team was threatened early but generally dictated tempo. They scored first through Jozy Altidore. The team eventually won.

The differences: The U.S. pushed for a second goal out of halftime in Seattle, an effort a large, supportive crowd could have bolstered; and the team didn’t give up a late goal, something the crowd’s encouragement could have promoted.

It’s all speculation, but when you hear a player like Bradley say onlookers “don’t know” how the support influences players, you wonder if, in those moments where you can see a clear difference from one game to the next, the crowd wasn’t the necessary condition.

But support wasn’t the only area where Seattle proved vindicated. The imported sod surface, much maligned all weekend, held up better than expected, even if the match’s early moments saw a number of players have trouble with their footing.

Yet probed after the match, no player had a negative word to stay. Instead, their reactions echoed their coach’s, who commended a CenturyLink ground crew that did everything they could to improve the field between Saturday and Tuesday.

“The field was totally fine,” Klinsmann said. “The players were totally fine with it. [The staff] did a tremendous job … They accommodated every wish we had. Water it here. Water it there. They rolled it again this morning. I can just give the biggest complements here for the field.”

With pitch issues set aside, the lasting story of Seattle’s first qualifier in 36 years will be its much-renown supporters – a community that justified U.S. Soccer’s decision to fly from Kingston  to play in front of its fans.

“Columbus is great and Kansas City has been fantastic,” Tim Howard explained, “but this was rocking. They did themselves justice tonight …

“It’s the best crowd around … We can’t get back to Seattle soon enough.”

On Tuesday, hours before the match, I asked what Seattle was getting out of this qualifier. Amid the criticism, much of which came off as opportunistic envy, what incentive did Seattle have to solicit another event that could act as a catalyst for negativity?

The Panama match completely destroyed that premise. In the span of a few hours, what looked like a no-win situation was overcome by the pure power of 40,000 screaming voices.

As the stadium shook after each U.S. goal, you saw what was in it for Seattle. They get a World Cup qualifier, a chance to contribute to the cause, and an opportunity to remind the rest of U.S. soccer culture: It will take more than the cried of skeptics to derail the Seattle phenomenon.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.