Colorado Rapids v Seattle Sounders

So now comes the hard part: Where and how does Seattle play Clint Dempsey?


Days before Clint Dempsey was introduced at CenturyLink Field, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid was on local KJR radio. Seattle had just opened a Designated Player spot by renegotiating Shalrie Joseph’s contract and with his team sitting outside of the playoffs, Schmid was asked what the team would be looking for in a new Designated Player.

Hoping to “add something significant,” the Sounders would be looking to strengthen their spine. “[D]efinitely somebody in the middle of the field,” Schmid told KJR, though he also told host Dave Mahler about the Dempsey rumors, “there’s really nothing to it. There’s nothing to say.” I’m not sure how much we can trust this guy.

Given what we learned today, the Dempsey deal seemed to come together relatively quickly. At today’s press conference, Adrian Hanauer told a story that stretched back two years, but from real start to end of this move, it was only a couple of weeks. Dempsey’s people made some calls in mid-July. Seattle quickly decided they wanted to do it. The league worked out how to pay for it, and after Dempsey gulped a few times and jumped, and the thing was basically over.

Now comes the hard part: the part where Schmid has to win games. That means finding a quick fit for Dempsey in Seattle’s system (or “a” Seattle system), as any prolonged adjustment period would leave the seventh place Sounders gone come November. With Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson already occupying spots up top, this is not a plug-and-play scenario.

If we’re willing to re-trust the guy a little, Schmid said wants help through the middle, which hints Dempsey’s likely to occupy an attacking midfield spot behind Seattle’s two strikers. With Osvaldo Alonso an obligatory starter at the base of midfield, that only leaves two more spots beyond Seattle’s defense and goalkeeper.

Among the candidates, there are two obvious choices:

  • The respect Schmid has for Brad Evans shouldn’t be underestimated. No matter the talent that Seattle’s acquired since joining Major League Soccer in 2009, a healthy Brad Evans has always been given a chance to contribute. If there are two spots available in midfield, Evan’s versatility and intelligence is sure to claim one.
  • The other selection is just as obvious, at least at the start. There’s a reason Mauro Rosales now wears the armband for the Sounders. Schmid has tremendous respect for what he brings to the team beyond his playmaking, skill on the ball, crossing and set piece delivery. Rosales slots into the other spot.

Getting those pieces to fit will be tricky. Do you go with a diamond in midfield? A line for three behind the strikers, with Evans (left) and Rosales flanking Dempsey, relying on Alonzo to be his typical, equalizing self? Or do you do something more tailored to your players? Perhaps playing Evans slightly left of middle, allow Rosales to play a right wing, and rely on Brad and Clint’s versatility to use and defend that left flank?

Or maybe Schmid takes a page out of Jurgen Klinsmann’s playbook are starts Eddie Johnson wide? With Rosales on the opposite side, the opportunity to cross onto an oncoming Johnson challenging a right back is tantalizing.

There are various ways to make this work, and the challenges go beyond merely putting the pieces together. When playing attacking midfield for the national team, Dempsey is often too easily forced into negative balls, at times leaving the U.S. with huge possession edges and little to show for it. The Kyle Beckermans and Hendry Thomases of the world are sure to take note, and if they’re able to force those wide and backward passes, the team might find itself unduly relying on Alonso’s and Evans’ distribution.

If, however, Schmid can get around that, perhaps utilizing Rosales’s skill set and allowing Dempsey the freedom to perform at his opportunistic best, there’s no reason this move can’t be as big as the rest of MLS fears. We’ll begin to find out Saturday in Toronto whether this is the turning point in Seattle’s season or the 2013 Sounders become the latest example of a talented team that just couldn’t make it work.

Klinsmann side-steps blame, calls USA-Mexico one of world’s best rivalries

Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT
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The rivalry between the national soccer teams of the United States and Mexico is one of the fiercest and most unique of its kind in the world of sports. Anyone who’s participated in, or simply attended, a competitive fixture between the two sides will immediately attest to that.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Speaking to ahead of Saturday’s clash against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, it’s quite interesting to hear current USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann describe the rivalry from his point of view, both before and after having coached in it on a number of occasions.

Before we get to that, though, Klinsmann had a bit more blame side step regarding his side’s fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, the USMNT’s worst-ever showing at the tournament for CONCACAF nations.

Q: What did you learn from this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where you lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals?

A: There were so many things that happened in the tournament and decisions that were made that affected the outcome. It was difficult for the players to know what to expect. For Mexico and for Panama it was the same thing. The lesson is that you just have to roll with it and try to control the things you can.

What’s the no. 1 thing players can’t control? Who gets called into the team/plays in the games.

What was the no. 1 problem for the USMNT at this summer’s Gold Cup? Who got called up/played game after game despite performing very poorly. Ultimately, it’s what undid them in the semifinals and third-place game.

Just once — once — would it hurt Klinsmann to answer a question with an “I,” or “me,” or even “we?” The question was “What did you learn,” yet the answer always come back to “the players,” or “they,” or “them.” At this point, Klinsmann either believes he’s infallible, or he’s simply trying to see how many ridiculous statements he can get away with.

Q: You’ve been in the top US job for almost five years now and you’ve met Mexico many times. How would you define the rivalry between these countries on the pitch? Can you compare it with others you’ve experienced?

A: The USA-Mexico rivalry is one of the greats in world football. For me, it compares to Germany-Holland in terms of the intensity and emotion it brings out in the fans. As USA coach, it was a learning curve to understand how much this rivalry means to our fans. We had won some games against big nations, but the reaction from everyone to when we went down to [Estadio] Azteca and beat Mexico there for the first time was just amazing.

Q: What makes the rivalry unique?

A: What is unique is that there are so many Mexican-Americans living in the United States, so the rivalry crosses borders. We have seen many times in these last years that younger Mexican-Americans will wear a Mexico jersey to our game, and when we start doing well they take it off and have a U.S. jersey underneath! More and more they’re supporting us, and we hope to continue to win them over.

Klinsmann gets this one absolutely right. With the two countries situated right next to each other, the aforementioned immigration of so many Mexican soccer fans into the U.S., and the classic battles between the two sides over the years, USA-Mexico not only feels amazing to get one over on your rivals, but perhaps more than anything it’s avoiding that feeling of defeat, of embarrassment, of being taunted and haunted for days, weeks, months and sometimes years, that makes beating the old foe so satisfying.

Ozil, Coquelin: Arsenal can win the title this season

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal FC
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I suppose, in theory, that any Premier League club that fields a team could win the league title for a given season, so the above headline could have been written in reference to any one of 20 teams a few short weeks ago.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Fast forward eight rounds of fixtures to the present day, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer with every passing week that it’s a three-horse race — Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, who currently sit 1-2-3 atop the league — for the 2015-16 Premier League title.

So — and stick with me for just a second — why not Arsenal? [The crowd gasps loudly] Arsenal midfielders Mesut Ozil and Francis Coquelin believe the Gunners have what it takes to win the title this year, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Ozil and Coquelin, on Arsenal’s progression to title contenders — quotes from the Guardian:

Ozil: “We have a great team with many world-class players. Our goal is to win the Premier League and I think that this season it’s possible to do it, if we all stay healthy. But the season is long.”

Ozil: “I didn’t expect [Bayern Munich] to beat Dortmund 5-1. Their recent results show they are simply in great shape … But our victory against Manchester United was a sign: when we play and want it 100 percent, then we can beat Bayern.

“We are playing at home. Although we have respect for them, we don’t have any fear. We know how to score goals against Bayern and we can be successful. It will be difficult – but we have the potential to beat any team.”

Coquelin: “We proved a lot of people wrong. Inside the dressing room we knew we could do good things this season. We knew we could be contenders, but obviously we have to be consistent.

“We are getting stronger against the big teams. We beat City last season, now United. It’s all about consistency. The league is getting tougher, so we need to be getting results every week … We knew we had to put it right after Olympiakos and that’s what we’ve done.”

Coquelin is absolutely right — no one expected Arsenal to throttle Man United the way they did on Sunday. The Gunners acquitted themselves quite well, though it should be mentioned that Louis Van Gaal set up United to fail miserably with the immobile midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger against a quick, dynamic Arsenal unit.

[ MORE: “Super computer” predicts final Premier League standings ]

That’s not meant to take anything away from Arsenal’s scintillating performance, because they did exactly what they should be doing against a poorly planned side — that’s not always been the case for Arsenal against top teams. The Gunners will play hosts to Man City on Dec. 19; perhaps we’ll better be able to dub them contenders or pretenders based their showing that day.