Clint Dempsey

MLS Preview: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers

  • Second-largest MLS crowd expected at CenturyLink.
  • Clint Dempsey set for his MLS home debut.
  • Sounders, Portland drew last meeting, 1-1.

People noticed moments after Clint Dempsey transferred back into MLS. His first home game would be against the Portland Timbers, a matchup so enticing it almost justified the cost.

Perhaps not, but with at least 66,500 expected at CenturyLink Field, the Sounders should record the second-highest single-game attendance in Major League Soccer history, with only the Galaxy’s inaugural game against the MetroStars in 1996 left to top that total (drawing 69,255 at the Rose Bowl). Sunday’s crowd should also top the number that attended the last match between the teams at a fully open CenturyLink – last year’s 3-0, October win by Seattle, a game that drew 66,452 (the current second-highest total in league history).

That’s why, for all the hype he’s brought to the league over the last three weeks, the Seattle-Portland rivalry has overshadowed Dempsey’s home debut. With or without Dempsey, this game would have drawn a huge crowd. The fact that MLS’s highest profile player is set to take part only adds another subplot to the league’s marquee derby.

Whether Dempsey is ready to make a major impact remains to be seen. In his first game, two weeks ago in Toronto, Dempsey was effective as a focal point out of the back as Seattle killed off a 2-0 halftime lead (holding on to win, 2-1). In Houston, the Dynamo never allowed him to get into the game, controlling the match against the visiting Sounders en route to a 3-1 win.

Over the course of that near-150 minutes, we’ve yet to see Dempsey in an ideal situation. As a result, he’s yet to have a major impact. In Toronto, he was brought on prematurely for an injured Obafemi Martins. In Houston, Seattle was playing without the suspended Eddie Johnson and the injured Martins, leaving “Deuce” to form an unlikely strike partnership with Lamar Neagle. We may not see that combination again the rest of the season.

On Sunday, Martins is expected to be back, though head coach Sigi Schmid has remained coy. The team’s best defender, Djimi Traore, is in the same boat, both players listed as questionable. Osvaldo Alonso, the midfield anchor that proved so important in the teams’ earlier meeting in Seattle, practiced on Friday and looks likely to go.

That leaves Portland with all the injury worries. Captain Will Johnson is probably out, unlikely to be ready while recovering from a shoulder problem. Frederic Piquionne is questionable with an ankle sprain, while Jack Jewsbury, out recently with his own ankle problem, may be pressed into action with Diego Chara suspended (yellow card accumulation). Given central defender Futty Danso is also out, the corps most important to protecting goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts have been significantly thinned out.

With Portland’s possession-based approach, the Timbers have other ways of mitigating their exposure. Schmid’s tactics could play into that, though with Ben Zemanski, Pa Modou Kah, Andrew Jean-Baptiste and possibly Jewsbury through the middle, smart decisions from Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Rodney Wallace will become even more important. If Alonso can reek havoc and find the likes of Mauro Rosales and Brad Evans, Seattle’s attack of Dempsey, Johnson, and Martins could produce another lopsided result.

What they are saying

Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid, on the lack of tickets available for Sunday’s game: “It’s a good problem to have. You never would’ve thought that as you started into the career of the Sounders in their second reincarnation here, in MLS. Now to realize that might’ve been the case. Maybe you could’ve sold 75,000 for this week. It’s a fantastic feeling to have.” [source]

Clint Dempsey, on derbies: “It’s big. The fans are really going to be up for it, as you can see — 67,000-68,000 fans coming out to the game. But yeah, I’m used to the derbies and used to the rivalries and I understand the importance of it. Hopefully I can open my account this weekend against them.” [source]

Portland head coach Caleb Porter, on the occasion: “[I’ve] never been a big believer in the big game, because it takes away from the other games. The reality is every game — as cliché as it sounds — is a big game. In this league, points are points. But I’ve tried to build as a culture where the players approach every game like it’s the biggest game. So clearly there’s some external factors that play into this game, perhaps being a bit more buzz to it, but I really try to avoid that psychology with my team.” [source]


Seattle will have the more talented, healthier team, but most teams Portland face are more talented. Porter’s system, to this point, has offset that advantage, and while most coaches are reluctant to change their approach for one game, Schmid needs to adjust. The extent to which he can do so while preserving his attackers’ threats should determine Seattle’s success … though you could shoehorn that analysis into any match.

Even if Portland can dictate the game’s tempo, their set piece defending could be a problem. And if they can’t control the match, Seattle will torch them. No surprise given Portland’s health and the game’s location, the Timbers should be seen as underdogs.

Three things we learned from Arsenal’s win vs. Manchester United

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-0 on Sunday at the Emirates, as the Gunners ran riot after scoring three times in the opening 19 minutes.

[ MORE: Alexis’ stunner extends Gunners lead ]

Two stunning goals from Alexis Sanchez and another from the brilliant Mesut Ozil did the damage early on and the Gunners eased to victory as they moved into second place in the Premier League standings.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Here’s a snippet of what we learned from Arsenal’s big win and United’s demoralizing defeat.


Much was written and said in the week about Arsene Wenger‘s side losing 3-2 to Olympiakos in the UEFA Champions League to leave their European dreams hanging by a thread. Not least about his decision to start David Opsina in place of Petr Cech. Wenger was close to walking out of his pre-match press conference on Friday as he was asked repeatedly about that decision and became a rather surely customer. Wenger’s mood will have been much different after the opening 19 minutes at the Emirates on Sunday as his side led United 3-0 with three flowing moves finished off ruthlessly. That’s not something you can usually say about the Gunners. They came racing out of the traps, dominating play with 76.5 percent of the ball in the opening 15 minutes. Sanchez and Ozil (more on the latter further down) were especially majestic, with the Chilean now scoring five times in his last two PL games as he’s finally recovered from his involvement in the Copa America over the summer which delayed his return to preseason for the Gunners. With Walcot running behind United’s defense, Sanchez and Ozil floated wide and cut inside to create havoc. Francis Coquelin‘s importance as a key cog in the Wenger machine cannot be underestimated, with the French midfielder nipping balls back to launch counter attacks and pushing high to engage United’s veteran central midfield duo of Bastian Schweinsteieger and Michael Carrick. Plus Cech’s return in goal saw him save from Anthony Martial at the end of the first half, plus he denied Wayne Rooney and Schweinsteieger in the second half. His importance to Arsenal also can’t be underestimated.

[ MORE: Standings | schedule | stats ] 

A word must also go to Walcott. Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet, the 26-year-old finally seems to have established himself as Arsenal’s first-choice central striker ahead of Olivier Giroud. He set up Ozil for his strike and was influential in stretching United’s dumbstruck defensive unit. In the second half he used his blistering pace to close down an opponent and the home fans rose to their feet to chant “THEO, THEO!” in a salute to his supreme workrate. Walcott was rewarded with a lucrative long-term deal over the summer and after almost 10 years with the Gunners, he’s finally turning into the player who can carry the weight of expectation on his shoulders.  Going into the international break, Arsenal is now two points behind first-place Manchester City and with a kind fixture list on the horizon (trips to Watford, Swansea, West Brom and Norwich away, plus home games against Tottenham and Everton), they look poised to battle with City for top spot between now and the festive period. The Gunners may be struggling in Europe, but they’ve rebounded well in the PL.


Just seven minutes into Sunday’s clash between “two title contenders,” Manchester United were found out. Specifically their makeshift backline. The Gunners ripped through United’s defense in the first half, with Sanchez scoring twice and Ozil’s strike sandwiched in-between. Arsenal’s front three of Sanchez, Walcott and Ozil tore United apart as Matteo Darmian‘s lack of pace was exposed — he was taken off by Louis Van Gaal at half time — on two of the opening three goals, plus Daley Blind let Ozil slide past him too easily to set up Sanchez for the first.

Playing a winger in Ashley Young at left back and a central midfielder in Blind at center back was always going to be found out eventually. In truth, this was United’s first big test of the season and van Gaal’s men failed miserably. Before their capitulation at Arsenal, the only game they had played against a team likely to finish in the top six was an under-strength Liverpool at home. United won that 3-1 but like most of their other wins this season, they looked far from convincing. Forwards Rooney, Memphis Depay and Martial had days to forget, but United’s biggest issue is at the back. With Luke Shaw out injured, Marcos Rojo not fancied, the same could be said for Phil Jones and LVG’s failure to bring in a top class center back in the transfer window (ahem, Nicolas Otamendi) United”s defense is devoid of pace and was unable to cope with the movement of Arsenal’s front line. We all know the Gunners can click and blow teams apart when everything slots into place, but this was a combination of United being poor and Arsenal being very, very good. United’s next three PL games will truly test their resolve and their quality, with a Manchester derby at Old Trafford against City sandwiched in-between two tough trips to Everton and high-flying Crystal Palace. If Louis van Gaal’s side can


With a deft flick early in the game to help set up an Arsenal attack, you got the sense that Ozil was in the right frame of mind on Sunday. When the enigmatic German international is on, he can rip teams apart. Central to Arsenal’s stunning opening 19 minute spell which yielded three goals, Ozil raced clear of Blind and clipped in a perfect ball to Sanchez to flick home the first. Moments later he then applied the coolest of finishes after Walcott set him up to make it 2-0 with seven minutes on the clock. The criticism of Ozil has often been that he can’t do it in the big games and he’s certainly struggled to consistently provide the goods in big moments in the past. In truth, like most of Arsenal’s players, he drifted through the second half but Ozil did the damage early and orchestrated a ruthless shaming of United’s defensive frailties.

Since his $60 million move from Real Madrid in September 2013, Ozil has both frustrated and excited Arsenal fans and neutrals. More often than not, the former. However, when he is allowed time on the ball and is ready to put on a show, Ozil is world class. There are few players able to see four or five plays ahead, but he’s one of them. When he’s tuned in he can destroy teams. Ask United, they found that out on Sunday as the one thing Wenger will crave from Ozil is more consistency from his talismanic playmaker. If he does, Ozil interchanging with the pace of Sanchez and Walcott is a frightening proposition for any PL defense to face. Going forward, this has to be Arsenal’s first-choice three in attack and if they click the way they did early on Sunday, talk of winning the title will swiftly return to the red half of north London.

Swansea 2-2 Tottenham: Eriksen free-kick double atones for Kane blooper

during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.
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  • Andre Ayew’s powerful header gave Swansea the opener
  • Christian Eriksen struck two brilliant free-kick goals
  • A Harry Kane own-goal left Spurs feeling unlucky

Tottenham will feel unlucky to be left without all three points thanks to a cringe-worthy own goal by Harry Kane, but a pair of free-kick goals from Christian Eriksen left Spurs feeling the better side and gave the visitors a 2-2 comeback draw at the Liberty Stadium.

Things started slowly, with Nacer Chadli‘s saved shot in the 12th minute the first real effort on goal, but the game would explode open with the opener just four minutes later.

Jefferson Montero collected the ball on the left edge of the box, and he chipped across the penalty area to Andre Ayew who generated shocking power with a thumping header into the far corner of the net for the game’s first goal and his fourth of the season. The goal is the first from open play for Swansea since August.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Spurs began slowly moving themselves into the ascendency and would get a reward for their efforts. Dele Alli was chopped down by Federico Fernandez just outside the box, and Christian Eriksen immediately took ownership of the free-kick. The Danish attacker ripped his hit just over the wall, and with Lukasz Fabianski poorly guessing the wrong way, it settled into the back of the net to equalize on Eriksen’s first goal of the year.

It wouldn’t stay level for long. With Swansea pushing forward, a corner swung into the box but failed to get past the first man. Unfortunately for Spurs, that first man was Harry Kane, whose ugly, wayward touch found the wrong net and gave Swansea a stunning lead.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The second half saw slight chances for either side, but Christian Eriksen was the hero again for Spurs five minutes past the hour mark. Jonjo Shelvey gave away a free kick when he fouled Alli, and as Eriksen stepped up again, he struck his second, this time a brilliantly curling effort that Fabianski had no chance to stop.

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]

Spurs nearly had the winner but Andros Townsend shot right at the goalkeeper and Fabianski was nearly wrong-footed but he saved the bobbler with his foot. Late on Eric Dier picked up a yellow card with a late challenge on Andre Ayew, his fifth on the season which leaves him suspended for next week’s match.

The points are shared, leaving Spurs with 13 to go level with Everton, and Swansea pushes up to 10 to move above Watford in 11th on goal differential.