Clint Dempsey, Donovan Ricketts

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.”

Men In Blazers podcast: Leicester, Spurs continue to defy the odds

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog and Davo break down Leicester City’s 3-1 win at Manchester City, marvel at Spurs going second in the table, and talk about the headlines surrounding the mid-table clash between Chelsea and United.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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VIDEO: Previews of all 10 Premier League games in Week 26

Arsenal v Burnley - Premier League
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You ready for the weekend? It’s only Thursday, but of course you are.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Week 26 of the 2015-16 Premier League season promises to be a pivotal one at both ends of the table with seven games on Saturday and three on Sunday.

[ MORE: Latest PL standings

In the 10 videos below yours truly takes a look at the key headlines, news, injuries and more on each PL game.

Enjoy.


Arsenal vs. Leicester City, Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Aston Villa vs. Liverpool, Sunday (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Bournemouth vs. Stoke City, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Crystal Palace vs. Watford, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra)

Everton vs. West Brom, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Norwich City vs. West Ham, Sunday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra)

Man City vs. Tottenham, Sunday (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Sunderland vs. Man United, Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Swansea City vs. Southampton, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Ahead of huge top four showdowns, who are the title favorites?

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This weekend is massive. Huge. Monumental.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview ]

In terms of the Premier League title race having two games between all of the current top four means one thing: bedlam.

Following the Arsenal vs. Leicester City (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) and Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) encounter, we should be provided with a much better idea of where the title is heading.

[ VIDEO: Man City-Tottenham preview

Then again, if Arsenal beat Leicester and Man City draw with Spurs, there will be just five points between all four teams. With 13 games to go this is tight and tense and the most open title race we’ve had in decades. It is also awesome.

[ MORE: Arsenal to play in 2016 MLS All-Star Game ] 

Let’s take a look at all four title contenders and try to see who has the best chance of winning this thing on May 15.


Leicester City
Current position: 1st (53 points)
Biggest plus: No pressure, they were meant to be relegated
Biggest negative: None of their current squad have ever been in this situation. How will they cope?
Key man: Jamie Vardy – A few off days in front of goal recently for the PL’s main man. If he regains his touch, the Foxes will win it.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Arsenal, Apr. 30 at Man United, May 15 at Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule (1 is weak, 10 is tough): 2/10 – The best of any of the title contenders, on paper, and no cup games.


Tottenham Hotspur
Current position: 2nd (48 points)
Biggest plus: Mauricio Pochettino. He’s met every major challenge head on.
Biggest negative: Having the FA Cup and Europa League to contend with. Relatively small squad compared to the rest.
Key man: Harry Kane – If he can hit yet another purple patch, combined with Spurs’ solid defense, then that will be huge.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Man City, Mar. 5 vs. Arsenal, Apr. 9 vs. Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule: 3/10 – A very soft run-in for Spurs between now and the end of the season.


Arsenal
Current position: 3rd (48 points)
Biggest plus: They have the biggest squad and with Cech in goal their defense looks very settled.
Biggest negative: How many times have we been here before? Have to get over mental barrier, plus UCL and FA Cup to focus on too.
Key man: Alexis Sanchez – Hasn’t quite hit top form since returning from his hamstring injury. Can he hit top gear during crunch time?
3 key games: Feb. 14 vs. Leicester City, Mar. 5 vs. Tottenham, May 7 at Man City
Strength of remaining schedule: 6/10 – Probably the toughest out of all the contenders. Really need Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to pull through.


Manchester City
Current position: 4th (47 points)
Biggest plus: Strongest squad and Vincent Kompany should be returning soon. That, and wanting to send Pellegrini out on a high.
Biggest negative: Guardiola arriving means plenty of uncertainty. If Aguero or Kompany go down injured, title run could be over.
Key man: Vincent Kompany – City will always score goals with Aguero, Sterling, Silva and De Bruyne but they need Vinny back. Big time.
3 key games: Mar. 2 at Liverpool, Mar. 20 vs. Man United, May 7 vs. Arsenal
Strength of remaining schedule: 5/10 – Marginally easier than Arsenal’s because they play United and the Gunners at home. Still. Very tough.


 

Arsenal named as 2016 MLS All-Star Game opponent in San Jose

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Mesut Ozil (C) of Arsenal celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mates Hector Bellerin (L) and Aaron Ramsey (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Arsenal is coming to San Jose, California.

On Thursday it was announced that the Premier League giants will take part in the 2016 MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

The decision to play against another PL opponent makes it the ninth time that’s happened and MLS’ best will have faced seven different PL clubs in Fulham, Chelsea, West Ham United, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham and now Arsenal.

The venue for the 2016 ASG will be San Jose’s splendid, yet slightly compact, Avaya Stadium and the game will take place on July 28 at 9 p.m. ET.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview

Gunners fans in North America hoping to get tickets for the clash will have to act fast as the ‘Quakes home only holds 18,000 people, but there will be another chance to watch Arsenal play as they will face Chivas Guadalajara at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. on July 31.

Safe to say Arsene Wenger won’t need to don his famous long padded jacket for matches in California this July…

As well as seeing Arsenal stars Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Petr Cech, Olivier Giroud and more, the chance to watch young U.S. international Gedion Zelalem in action will excite many. That said, with the game coming late in July, plenty of Arsenal’s top stars may be on extended breaks due to their exertions for their national teams at the 2016 European Championships and the 2016 Copa America Centenario also being staged in North America.