The changing identity of … Seattle Sounders FC

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The public face of Clint Dempsey’s transfer saga unfolded so quickly, it may take some time to come to grips with the implications. It’s difficult to imagine a bigger, more realistic transfer target coming to Major League Soccer, and four days ago, you couldn’t even consider Dempsey realistic. After Adrian Hanauer’s coup, we’ll have to get used to expanding our imaginations.

Once we calibrate, there’ll be a whole new way of seeing the Sounders. Instead of this crowd-drawing juggernaut aspiring to see its competitive goals match off-field success, a new perception will see Seattle as keepers of a war chest capable of eclipsing any in Major League Soccer. Like it or not, that’s often how fans characterize teams. The LA Galaxy are big-spending haves. The New York Red Bulls are big-spending haves. Now, Seattle Sounders are part of that axis of evil.

As Sounders supporters might chant, “no one likes us, we don’t care,” an irreverence that meets a new reality after Saturday truly made them the envy of Major League Soccer. Whether you like Dempsey as a player, whether you like the idea of committing such a large sum to one talent, Seattle did it. They became the first team to reach into Europe and pay a significant fee for a indisputably desirable target. Is Dempsey huge, worldwide headlines big? No, but these are exactly the type of acquisitions MLS fans have wanted since Day 0.

[MORE: The changing identity of … Major League Soccer]

For much of MLS’s history, those expectations have had to be tempered. Not so in Seattle. Now, those consistent 38,000-plus crowds have a new context. Now the backing of people like Joe Roth, Paul Allen, and Drew Carey has potential as well as prestige. For the first time, Seattle has shown hints of realizing the potential written in their DNA. They can indeed be Galaxy north.

With potential becomes expectation. Even though they currently sit in seventh, missing the playoffs is not an option. Once there, the type of collapses Seattle’s recently suffered in Sandy and Carson won’t be acceptable. Though sports history is littered with talented teams that lost for reasonable reasons, the Sounders will be expected to perform to a reasonable, high, championship-level. If they don’t succeed in bringing a title, they better force another team to o something exception.

For a fanbase that defined its team by trophies based on U.S. Open Cup success, silverware will be a priority, especially since the huge commitment of that fan base is what made this move financially possible. More U.S. Open Cups, please, but also Supporters Shields, MLS Cups, and start really competing for CONCACAF Champions League. If not now, at least acknowledge the club is now on that road. Seattle’s scope changed the second Dempsey unzipped his grey hoody.

Much of Major League Soccer, still toiling on the edge of profitability, hamstrung by the realities of a league still in its adolescence, won’t be happy about that. Reasonably (and admittedly), there’ll be envy. That, however, is the new identity of the Sounders, which means if MLS is truly in an adolescence, Seattle’s become the kid drives its BMW to high school, seamlessly aces all the AP classes, and dates the girl you want to ask to prom. And you’re not sure whether you hate them or want to be them.

These are your new Seattle Sounders.

Reports: Jonathan Dos Santos set to join Giovani on Galaxy

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Double Dos Santos DPs in Tinseltown?

That’s again the rumor out of Spain, where Jonathan Dos Santos has reportedly left Villarreal camp with permission to negotiate with the LA Galaxy.

Dos Santos would join his brother Giovani in a move which would not only increase the Galaxy’s attacking portfolio but give the club another feather in the cap as it attempts to ward off incoming Los Angeles FC in the race for the hearts of L.A. soccer supporters.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up in Gold Cup Final? ]

It would be the second time Jonathan joined his brother on a squad, and the third time the two were professional teammates. Both joined Barcelona’s academy in 2002.

Jonathan posted two goals and three assists in La Liga last season, leading the team in key passes per game with 1.3. He added a goal and an assist in UEFA Europa League play, where he also registered a hemorrhagic 2.6 giveaways per contest.

Nevertheless, there’s little doubt the younger Dos Santos brother would shine in MLS, where he could set up his brother and Romain Alessandrini to feast on defenses, and maybe even help Gyasi Zardes find his form.

How might the USMNT line up in the Gold Cup Final?

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The United States men’s national team became the favorite to win the Gold Cup when Bruce Arena called up more than 500 caps worth of experience after the group stage, but there’s one group that wasn’t improved at all by the legendary MLS coach, and that’s defense.

So while Michael Bradley and Tim Howard certainly help the unit take shape and Darlington Nagbe, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore all improve the side’s speed, passing, and creativity, no move was made to help a back line that’s done anything but thrive in this tournament.

Most of this is not Arena’s fault. John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, and Geoff Cameron were given time to focus on their European careers, and “next batch” backs Tim Ream and Timothy Chandler fit into that overseas bunch as well.

[ MORE: Palace signs Ajax CB/DCM/LB ]

That doesn’t change the fact that the easy weakness for the USMNT right now has a big chance to be exposed by opponents Jamaica, who — as funny as this sounds — are possibly a worse match-up for the Yanks than the side it upset in Mexico’s ‘B Teamers’.

While player ratings are far from the be-all, end-all, we’ve had two writers handle the Americans’ five matches of Gold Cup. Here are the ratings for the eight backs on the roster by appearance.

Jorge Villafana — 6.5, 5, 6; Omar Gonzalez — 6, 5, 7, 5; Matt Miazga — 7; Matt Besler — 7.5, 6, 8; Eric Lichaj — 5, 7; Justin Morrow — 6, 5; Graham Zusi — 6, 5.5, 4; Matt Hedges — 5, 5.

Only Besler has avoided a dud so far, and keep in mind that Arena has not subbed a back in the tournament and also loves Gonzalez.

[ WAYBACK: How U.S. lost to Jamaica in 2015 Gold Cup semi ]

Dealing with speedy Jamaica is a challenge for a group that’s looked pretty mixed up when it comes to dealing with counter attacks. This is especially challenging for one player, Matt Hedges, who is better suited for teams that want to attack through the air.

As for the midfielders and forwards, remember that Arena pulled Paul Arriola after 66 minutes in the semifinal and let Darlington Nagbe and Jordan Morris go all 90.

Considering all that, here’s how Arena may try to win the Gold Cup and put one American foot in Qatar for the 2021 Confederations Cup (That’s still happening, by the way).

Howard

Lichaj — Gonzalez — Besler — Villafana

Bradley — McCarty

Arriola — Corona — Zardes

Altidore

As a bonus, here’s how we think the subs may play out given player use in the run-up to the final. Call this between the 65-80 minute marks, and it can work with the lead or pushing for an equalizer or winner:

Howard

Lichaj — Gonzalez — Besler — Villafana

 Acosta/Pontius — Bradley — McCarty — Nagbe

Altidore — Morris

Ajax reunion at Palace as De Boer signs center back

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Crystal Palace has added much needed depth and youth to its corps of center backs with 20-year-old Ajax man Jairo Riedewald.

The left back in Ajax’s UEFA Europa League loss to Manchester United, Riedewald completed better than 92 percent of his passes in Eredivisie play. He also nabbed 2.2 interceptions per match.

[ MORE: Russia’s straw stadium ]

Fellow Palace center backs James Tompkins, Scott Dann, and Damien Delaney average age is 31.3.

Riedewald played for Palace boss Frank De Boer at Ajax. From Palace’s official site:

“He will be an excellent addition to our squad, Jairo is a young player but already has a lot of experience. I know he is looking forward to playing in the Premier League.”

Riedewald played the majority of his Eredivisie matches at center back, but has 18 appearances as a defensive midfielder and another 12 at left back.

He’s Palace’s second addition of this summer, the other being a loan of Ruben Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea.

Russian farmer’s straw stadium pokes fun at World Cup costs

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KRASNOYE, Russia (AP) Russia is desperate to control its spending on the 2018 World Cup, and a farmer might just have the answer – straw.

In a project straight out of the “Three Little Pigs” fairytale, Roman Ponomaryov has built a straw replica of the 43 billion ruble ($700 million) stadium in St. Petersburg which will host World Cup semifinals.

His arena made of 4,500 straw bales comes with tiered seating for 300 and flagpoles. It hosted its first tournament – for local teams only – last weekend using modified soccer rules.

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“It’s good to get people excited and create a sports atmosphere ahead of the World Cup,” Ponomaryov said in a recent interview.

The real St. Petersburg Stadium has drawn ire for its cost, corruption scandals, delays, and workers’ deaths.

Ponomaryov is a fan of the Zenit St. Petersburg club and says he modeled his straw stadium on Zenit’s new home in a gentle dig at the problems around the construction.

“It seemed pretty strange … how the cost of the stadium and its construction timeframe were increasing,” he said. Russia’s total World Cup budget is around $10.7 billion.

Zenit has accepted the straw stadium with good humor, offering Ponomaryov a ticket to a game at the real thing.

The harvest will keep him on the farm for the next few weeks, though, and he has in mind another project – organizing a Straw World Cup.