MLS Preview: Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders

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  • The Sounders have won seven in a row in this series. Seven!
  • Osvaldo Alonso is available for Seattle; the club is 2-4-1 this year without him
  • Rapids rookie Deshorn Brown is sure to challenge a potentially depleted Sounders back line

In a league of relative parity, we seldom see a series stranglehold like the one Seattle currently enjoys over Colorado.

For whatever reason, the Sounders clearly have the Rapids’ number, now winners of seven in a row over the club from just outside Denver — and we just don’t usually see these extended streaks of one-sidedness in MLS. The next chance to Colorado to upend the dominance happens Saturday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. ET.

Seattle is dealing with a litany of injuries, now exacerbated by the U.S. call-up of Eddie Johnson. Good news did arrive late this week as versatile midfielder Brad Evans seems to be ready. Plus, the team got a little more important relief with the news that Osvaldo Alonso’s suspension was rescinded by Major League Soccer. That means the team’s two most important midfield figures will be available to face Oscar Pareja’s team.

(In fact, the Sounders are just 2-4-1 without Alonso in the lineup, but 5-3-2 with the league’s top ball winner.)

The status of Sounders’ center back Djimi Traore is less clear, and that’s certainly a concern for Sigi Schmid’s side. The French defender has started 16 of 17 matches for Seattle this year. And steady goalkeeper Michael Gspurning has been ruled out as well.

All the injury drama, especially when combined with international absences here and there, have become quite topical around CenturyLink. More specifically, is the team struggling because of the absences, or can that sentiment be tagged “just an excuse.”

Schmid, who will need to use his 18th different lineup this year on Saturday, seems have found some middle ground in the debate: What he told the Seattle Times: “I think the reason for the losses for us in the recent streak has just been the inconsistency of the lineup that we’ve been able to bring to the table. … As a coach, my philosophy has always been that maybe the less talented you are, the more structure you bring to your team; the more talented you are, you give the players that freedom to improvise and innovate, because that’s the reason you brought those players here.”

The raw numbers don’t look good for two of the team’s top offensive threats: top goal scorer Eddie Johnson and top assist man Mauro Rosales have done very little scoring or assisting lately. With no contributions from either player, the Sounders are 1-3 over their last four MLS matches, shut out three times in that time.

The standings say this is an important match because the Rapids are currently sixth in the West, the Sounders just one spot behind in seventh (but with four matches in hand on the Rapids.) Neither team is currently in a playoff spot, and with Round 20 (of 34) now upon us, pressure to move in among the top five will only grow.

For Seattle, the opportunity to make up some ground certainly is present, if only because of that odd stretch of dominance.

Thing is, a lot of the Rapids’ most important pieces haven’t been around for the habitual beatings. In fact, Colorado has two legitimate candidates for MLS Rookie of the Year, and another one who is certainly earning his rookie keep, even if he isn’t being mentioned for the league honor.

Rookie forward Deshorn Brown (pictured above) is proving an absolute handful for opposition defenders, and still has an outside shot at matching Damani Ralph’s MLS rookie scoring mark. The speedy Brown leads his team in goals (5) and assists (4).

Rookie midfielder Dillon Powers has helped hold the center during a period of transition around DSG Park.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.