Does Clint Dempsey’s arrival make Seattle an MLS contender?

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Clint Dempsey’s heralded arrival answers a lot of questions around CenturyLink, where the ongoing search for reliable finishers has sometimes guided the Sounders down some tricky and confounding rabbit holes.

Today’s smack-upside the head of major MLS news – easily the league’s biggest signing since David Beckham back in 2007, not to mention the most shocking since than January morning when Becks climbed loudly aboard the Good Ship MLS – also serves to stir new interest and gin up the buzz around domestic soccer’s highest tier. You can never get enough of that in Major League Soccer (especially not with all national TV deals expiring after next year).

But in the end, is it enough to make the Seattle Sounders an MLS contender? Because as of today, the Sounders aren’t even an MLS playoff team, currently in seventh place (although with games in hand on every Western Conference club.)

The problem with Seattle this year is one of “average.” Two of the game-breakers of the last two years, Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales, are either gone (Montero) or faded (Rosales). Steve Zakuani was an emerging game-breaker back in 2010, with 10 goals, 6 assists and sufficient speed to scare the logo off every opposition right back’s cleats. Sadly, Zakuani may never be that same man again.

The defense is OK, with steady ‘keeper Michael Gspurning backstopping a line of defense that is passable, but nothing to knock on the door and tell the neighbors about. Same for a midfield that rightly revolves around the Rock of Alonso – Osvaldo Alonso, that is.

Past Alonso, the league’s top ball winner, guys like Lamar Neagle, Brad Evans, Shalrie Joseph, Rosales and others all have their plusses and minuses.

Again, there is a lot of “just OK” doing the work inside the Sounders’ teeming downtown ground.

Dempsey’s arrival can provide the “something special” that’s been missing. Sounders management thought they had it in Obafemi Martins, and his 6 goals in 13 appearances this year isn’t too shabby. But Martins doesn’t have Dempsey’s drive, nor his ability to create in a numbers of ways.

(MORE: Is it really so hard to understand Dempsey’s move?)

At four goals in 12 matches, Eddie Johnson cannot exactly stamp “difference maker” across his resume for 2013, either. That total shrinks a little further into the background when we consider how desperately Johnson wants to stay in Seattle, coveting that big, fat contract once his deal expires in a few months. That is to say, we might have expected more so far this year from “GAM.”

In Dempsey, Johnson and Martins, the Sounders have a trio of attackers that can stand with some of the best ever seen in MLS, especially if right-sided playmaker Rosales can catch the beat anew.

Last year at this time, we wondered if Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane represented the top attacking trio over seen in around the league?  The Dempsey-Martins-Johnson ensemble isn’t there … but it’s certainly a blue ribbon gathering.

There is a great breakdown here from Sounder at Heart on all the ways Sounders boss Sigi Schmid might use Dempsey. It underscores what is quintessentially Dempey: his useful versatility, that ability to be effective at several positions, primarily out wide where we saw him so much at Fulham or underneath a striker as we see him with the national team.

Either way, Dempsey takes someone of the “average” variety off the field, replacing him with a warrior, someone who lives and breathes for the next match, the next opportunity with the ball at his feet, the next win – and with the skill and instinct that makes it all work.

(MORE: Where Dempsey’s signing ranks in MLS Designated Player history)

Assuming good health for Dempsey and assuming Johnson sees the blockbuster move as it serves the greater good (rather than becoming a locker room distraction because this isn’t the best for him personally), Seattle will make the playoffs.

And one thing has not changed in Major League Soccer through all the years: you just have to squeeze into the post-season. It’s harder today to arrive into the final as a fourth- or fifth-place team, but the lower-ranked clubs can surely get there; Fourth-place Los Angeles and fifth-place Houston reminded us so last year.

Seattle will make the playoffs just based on Dempsey’s arrival. If the defense improves a notch – there’s still time to achieve that aim through a personnel move; Seattle suddenly has an expendable asset or two as trade bait, eh? – and if Alonso can stay healthy, which has been harder to do this year, the Sounders are an MLS Cup contender.

Because right now there is not one team standing out as a kingpin contender – just a few jostling for position to be called one.

(MORE: Steve Nicol, Dempsey’s former manager, comments on Saturday’s big move)

Chile 1-1 Australia: Chile moves on despite Aussie show

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Australia looked the better side for good stretches of the match, and while it wasn’t enough to earn a semifinal place, the Asian champions will go home with a hard-earned point against a top South American team in Moscow. Had it not been for a pair of ugly misses in front of net, the Australians may have had a chance to advance. Alas, an equalizer by Martin Rodriguez was enough to cancel out Massimo Luongo‘s opener and send Chile through.

With Chile holding all the meaningful possession through the first half-hour, their best chance came in the 27th minute. Alexis Sanchez controlled a long ball from Eugenio Mena and was free on goal. While trying to settle and shoot, he was dispossessed from behind by Mark Milligan who recovered brilliantly. Sanchez went to ground, and after no initial call, VAR took a look and determined there was no reason to award Chile a penalty.

[ MORE: Germany eases by Cameroon 3-1 ]

Australia refused to be intimidated by their opponents’ stature. In the 36th minute, James Troisi lofted a brilliant ball for Luongo who had made a scything run into the box. Luongo slid to redirect the ball on net, only stopped by a charging Claudio Bravo.

That was a harbinger of what would come six minutes later. A shot by Robbie Kruse from just inside the top of the box clipped off a defender as he let loose, and the deflection sent the ball straight to Troisi who was free at the far post. With Bravo closing, the Melbourne Victory attacker looped the ball over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net for a shock lead.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The game opened up from there, and both sides had a chance on net before halftime. Arturo Vidal headed from close range, but it was blocked by a defender out for a corner. Down the other end, somehow three Australia attackers worked free on a failed offside trap, but Trent Sainsbury embarrassingly skied it well over the bar with nobody there to challenge.

After the break, it was more of the same as Australia proved dangerous, forcing Bravo into a number of saves. However, it would be Chile to score next and level the score. Past the half-hour mark, Australia failed to clear, and Eduardo Vargas headed back in front of net where Rodriguez was there to touch it in. Chile nearly took the lead moments later, but Vargas headed just wide after great work by Sanchez.

Australia had another golden opportunity to take back the lead, but when Troisi’s pinpoint ball to the far post found substitute Jamie Maclaren, the Brisbane Roar striker flubbed the huge chance, scuffing his first-time attempt, sending the ball skittering well wide. Chile’s point saw them through into the semifinals, where they take on Portugal. Australia’s two points were not enough to keep them in contention.

Germany 3-1 Cameroon: Germany cruises to Group B win

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The favorites in Group B completed the task as they topped 10-man Cameroon 3-1 in Sochi behind strikes from first-time international goalscorers Kerim Demirbay and Timo Werner.

Germany had a few decent opportunities early, but the best came on 20 minutes as Emre Can opened a bit of space to his right and ripped off a shot from outside the top of the box that skittered just wide.

[ MORE: Bright Australia performance earns 1-1 draw with Chile ]

The favorites held much of the meaningful possession, but had few truly solid chances. Cameroon was pesky down the other end, with a chance for Christian Bassogog that slipped away after a poor touch, and a dangerous free-kick from the left that somehow evaded all attackers in the box.

They had the best chance of the first half just before the whistle as a cross from Ernst Mabouka was misjudged by Josh Kimmich and fell to Andre Zambo Anguissa who hit it on one hop in an effort to chip Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but the German goalkeeper produced an acrobatic tip over the bar.

Straight out of the break, Germany took the lead on the moment they were waiting for and doomed Cameroon to a trip home. Julian Draxler fed Kerim Demirbay with a sumptuous bit of skill, and as nobody closed down the Hoffenheim attacker, he let loose an absolutely vicious strike that found the top corner for a 1-0 lead and his first international goal.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Die Mannschaft nearly had a second minutes later as Timo Werner was clean through, but his poke was clipped by goalkeeper Joseph Ondoa and Kimmich’s follow-up was also saved as Ondoa recovered.

Things would get worse for Cameroon as Mabouka was sent off for a high boot foul on Emre Can. Initially the referee showed Mabouka a yellow card, but after a review changed the decision to a straight red. Immediately after going a man up, Germany bagged their second as Kimmich crossed into the box for Werner who was wide open and opted to use his head for his first international goal and a 2-0 lead.

Cameroon earned a consolation in the 78th minute as ter Stegen failed to aggressively take a cross by substitute Nicolas Ngamelu, and Vincent Aboubakar attacked it instead, glancing a header off the goalkeeper’s hands and into the back of the net for an own-goal.

Werner got his second with 9 minutes left on a cut-back from Benjamin Henrichs, and that put things to bed. The three points sent Germany to the summit of Group B, enough to top Chile after their draw with Australia. The Germans will take on Mexico in Sochi in the semifinals.

Reports say Monaco offers Mbappe huge contract

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Kylian Mbappe is one of the hottest transfer targets in recent memory, if not ever.

And yet, there’s now significant noise that he could actually stay at his current club, despite world record offers and massive contracts on the table.

According to a report in French tabloid Le Journal du Dimanche, AS Monaco has offered the 18-year-old star a huge new contract in the hopes they can keep him at least another year.

The report says the offer on the table from Monaco features a $181,000 per week salary, which translates to about $9 million a year. That would leave Mbappe even with strike partner Falcao’s earnings.

Staying with Monaco would clearly net Mbappe an immediate pay raise and keep him at a club that clearly values his minutes on the pitch. However, there’s still a serious drawback. With the club having sold a number of other assets vital to their Champions League semifinal run such as Bernardo Silva plus others like Benjamin Mendy, Thomas Lemar, and Tiemoue Bakayoko soon to leave, it’s unlikely the club can repeat its success of last year that saw Mbappe leap onto the world stage.

It’s also possible that reports of a new contract offer were leaked to give interested clubs a sense of urgency and potentially drive up Mbappe’s price. Reports all over Europe suggest that Real Madrid has already seen a world record $145 million offer rejected, and Monaco could be playing for more. With Arsenal also reportedly in the mix, the sharks circling could be alerted by this leak.

Watch Live: Chile vs. Australia, Germany vs. Cameroon

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Now that two of the four semifinal spots are secured from Group A, it’s Group B’s turn to send two of its four on to the knockout round. Chile takes on Australia in Moscow, while Germany battles Cameroon in Sochi at 11 a.m. ET live on Telemundo Deportes.

Chile and Germany are in the driver’s seat in the group, each with four points to Australia and Cameroon’s one. That means a draw or win for either favorite will see them through. However, there are no teams yet eliminated, and anyone can make a move with an upset.

[ WATCH LIVE: Chile vs. Australia live on Telemundo Deportes ]

To advance, both underdogs would need not only the three points, but also enough goals to overcome their goal difference disadvantage. Australia’s -1 goal differential sees them two behind Germany and three back of Chile, while Cameroon sits at -2. Therefore, each team would need a win by at least two goals to have a shot at moving on.

For Chile, Claudio Bravo is back between the sticks after missing the first two games with an injury. Alexis Sanchez leads the front line with Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal holding down the fort in the center of the pitch. Gary Medel is rested after coming off injured in the 74th minute of Chile’s draw with Germany, while Jean Beausejour is also moved to the bench after playing the full 90 minutes in the competition’s first two games.

[ WATCH LIVE: Germany vs. Cameroon live on Telemundo Deportes ]

Germany sports another young lineup, highlighted by Hoffenheim attacker Kerem Demerbay’s first competitive start for his country in his second-ever cap. Marc-Andre ter Stegen mans the sticks for the second straight match in favor of Bernd Leno, both of whom have looked shaky in this tournament. Bayern Munich youngster Josh Kimmich has gone the full 90 minutes (or more) in 16 straight matches for Germany and again gets the start.

LINEUPS

Chile: Bravo, Jara, Diaz, Mena, Isla, Silva, Aranguiz, Fuenzalida, Vidal, Sanchez, Vargas.

Australia: Ryan, Sainsbury, Troisi, McGowan, Milligan, Luongo, Eraltay, Irvine, Juric, Cahill, Kruse.


Germany: Ter Stegen, Plattenhardt, Sule, Ginter, Can, Rudy, Rudiger, Kimmich, Werner, Draxler, Demirbay.

Cameroon: Ondoa, Teikeu, Ngadeu-Ngadjui, Fai, Mabouka, Siani, Anguissa, Mandjeck, Aboubakar, Moukandjo, Bassogog.