MLS Preview: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers

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  • 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]

Prediction

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.

Groin injury costs Arsenal’s Welbeck at least three weeks

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When Danny Welbeck landed awkwardly against Chelsea, many Arsenal fans feared another long absence from the English striker.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be too bad.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for major award ]

The 26-year-old forward is set for at least three weeks out with a groin injury. Arsene Wenger says his status will be reassessed after the international break ends in mid-October, which doesn’t bode well for his England availability either.

Welbeck had started all five Premier League matches for the Gunners, scoring on Opening Day against Leicester City and posting a two-goal, one-assist day versus Bournemouth.

The Gunners sit 12th with seven points after five match days.

American teen McKennie gets first Bundesliga start vs. Bayern

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A Tuesday quartet of Bundesliga matches features one of extreme interest to American soccer supporters.

Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with Christian Pulisic, nor Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, and Alfredo Morales.

[ MORE: PST talks with McKennie ]

Nope, that’s because Bayern Munich’s visit to Schalke will stand as the first Bundesliga start for 19-year-old American midfielder Weston McKennie.

The youngster turned 19 a couple weeks behind his buddy Pulisic, and has four senior appearances for Schalke. He will certainly receive a USMNT call-up soon.

A central midfielder, McKennie is paired with prized asset Leon Goretzka. An even match through 20 minutes, Bayern has just got ahead through a Robert Lewandowski penalty kick given through VAR.

LIVE – Premier League big boys enter League Cup

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Buckle up. 11 League Cup games are coming your way on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Latest League Cup scores ] 

The third round of the League Cup (known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship purposes) sees the seven Premier League teams in European competitions enter the tournament.

Three all-Premier League ties have been set up with Leicester hosting Liverpool, Crystal Palace clashing with Huddersfield and Bournemouth having another South Coast derby against Brighton just a few days after their first-ever top-flight meeting.

Four Premier League teams face teams from the Championship as West Ham host second-tier strugglers Bolton, Burnley welcome Championship leaders Leeds United, Swansea head to Reading and Stoke City head to second-tier Bristol City in some potential banana skin ties for PL clubs.

Five more League Cup games take place on Wednesday with Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton all hosting lower-league opponents.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s League Cup games with all games kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday’s League Cup schedule

Bournemouth vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Aston Villa vs. Middlesbrough
Brentford vs. Norwich City
Bristol City vs. Stoke City
Burnley vs. Leeds United
Crystal Palace vs. Huddersfield Town
Leicester City vs. Liverpool
West Ham United vs. Bolton Wanderers
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Bristol Rovers

Reading vs. Swansea City – 3 p.m. ET
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Barnsley – 3 p.m. ET

Ramos extends US deal as youth director, U20 coach

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Tab Ramos is one of the most influential people for U.S. Soccer.

It will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

[ MORE: Pulisic the Golden Boy? ]

Ramos, 50, has been in charge of the U.S. U-20 national team since Oct. 2011 and has held his role as the youth technical director since Nov. 2013.

In that time the U.S. has seen plenty of promising youngsters (Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin, Kellyn Acosta and Jordan Morris to name a few) graduate to the USMNT and Ramos’ leadership has been integral to that pathway.

Speaking to U.S. Soccer about his decision to sign a new deal as both the youth technical director and the U-20 coach, Ramos believes he can now help to accelerate the development of youth players.

“I am very excited to continue my work at U.S. Soccer as Youth Technical Director and U-20 Men’s National Team head coach,” Ramos said. “I am pleased with the historic results we have achieved on the field over the last few years as we continue pushing to set higher standards. We have provided great experiences to players who are now beginning to make room for themselves on the Senior National Team. My Youth Technical Director role gives me the opportunity to continue the integration of all our Youth National Teams as well as helping with the implementation of our Player Development Initiatives nationwide which will help our youth players develop at a much faster rate for years to come.”

With the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Erik Palmer-Brown, Brooks Lennon, Tyler Adams and Josh Sargent all impressing for the U-20 side in both the CONCACAF Championship (which the U.S. won) and the U-20 World Cup (the U.S. reached the quarters) earlier this summer, it seems like Ramos is ready to push on the next crop of youngsters who can push for spot in Bruce Arena’s full national team.

Ramos’ resume as a player and coach is not only impressive but garners respect from every single person connected with U.S. Soccer. He played at three World Cups in a 13-year stint for the USMNT and was part of the coaching staff at the 2014 World Cup as well as leading numerous youth teams to their respective World Cups.

Very smart move from Sunil Gulati and Co.