Full night’s timeline: How Clint Dempsey’s first match in Seattle played out

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Not that a Seattle-Portland contest needs ginning up; it’s the top rivalry in Major League Soccer by a long, long way.

Still, it was Clint Dempsey’s home debut, adding further theater to the sold-out night at CenturyLink Field, where the league’s second largest crowd ever for a stand-alone match was there to watch. Here’s a quick timeline of how things went for Dempsey, now the league’s highest paid man:

Pre-match: ESPN’s Alexi Lalas talks to Dempsey just before warm-ups, asking the U.S. captain if he’s nervous? Looking calm as a man waiting for the bait and tackle shop to open on some sleepy Wednesday morning, Dempsey says: “I wouldn’t say nervous, I’m excited. Any time you get a chance to play before in front of 66,000 67,000 fans, it’s a dream come true. That’s what you dream about as a little kid.”

He also tells Lalas that he’s not worried about anyone who says the ol’ career is moving the wrong way with a move back to MLS. Dempsey says he’s doing what’s best for his family. And you can tell the man means it. So there.

Lineups: Dempsey is operating as a second striker, tucked behind Eddie Johnson in a fairly standard 4-4-2. We still do not know how Sounders’ manager Sigi Schmid will arrange things once Obafemi Martins is healthy, because the club’s other DP striker remains injured.

2nd minute: Dempsey’s first meaningful touch. The crowd gasps audibly. (It’s not like the guy is a sorcerer; he’s not going to spin magic with every touch, guys.)

8th minute: Dempsey’s free kick from shooting range goes well high and wide. He has hit some gorgeous dead balls before. In fact, Dempsey’s 23rd goal back in that breakout 2011-12 season for Fulham, also his milepost 50th career Premier League goal, was a free kick special.

25th minute: The game is fast, and Dempsey is finding his touches – although perhaps a little too far from goal. He is arriving into pockets 40-or-so yards from goal. At the other end, Portland is getting the better chances.  Uh, they know this is Dempsey’s night, right?

26th minute: Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts spills a simple cross. Dempsey nearly gets chopped in half as he charges in for the rebound. It’s a tough tackle, but probably fair. And they say the Premier League is physical!

(MORE: Seattle takes huge Cascadia Cup match, 1-0)

35th minute: The stats show each team with three shots. Well, phooey on stats; Only some good work from Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning and the goal post is keeping Portland off the board.

Halftime: Dempsey’s heavy touch on a burst through the middle in the 36th was his best chance. Ricketts, who is roughly the size of a snow cone stand that Dempsey would have visited as a kid back in East Texas, got in the way of that one.

Plus, Dempsey does not look 100 percent comfortable on the artificial surface. No surprise there; he hated the stuff going back to his days in New England. In all honesty, though, Eddie Johnson’s blonde ‘do is probably just as distracting as the turf.

60th minute: Johnson helps make sure Dempsey’s home debut is not bust, beating Ricketts with a glancing header off Mauro Rosales’ sharp free kick delivery. Dempsey, by the way, once drove three-plus hours as a high school kid to train with FC Dallas; Johnson was an FCD man then, hence the pair’s still-strong friendship.

69th minute: Portland’s defense looks increasingly rickety. Dempsey put Lamar Neagle through with a well-weighted ball, almost gets onto a corner kick and then tries a flying kung fu maneuver near goal, all within about 90 seconds.

The big adjustment: Shalrie Joseph was subtracted shortly after the break for the far more attack-minded Mauro Rosales, and it all changed or Seattle. With Rosales creating from wide areas, Dempsey was able to play closer to goal, and closer to Johnson, causing problems for the Portland center backs who had been way too comfortable before Schmid’s alterations.

80th minute: Why, that sly fox! Dempsey dashes across the middle and, from about 30 yards, unleashing an unexpected left-footer with no wind-up whatsoever. Ricketts does quite well stretch and push the low shot just wide. It is Dempsey’s closest brush with scoring Sunday.

Final whistle: Not bad from Dempsey, although no bottom-line production. Which is fine, so long as Seattle is winning. What the U.S. captain told Lalas post-game: “It felt good. I got some good touches. Got some looks on goal. Most important, we got three points, so I’m happy about that.

And on the rave green atmosphere of CenturyLink? “Good atmosphere,” he said. “Some tackles flying in. A little bit reckless I thought. But at the end of the day, we showed a lot of character. Like I said, we got three points.”

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.