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


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.”

Allow England defender Alfie Mawson to charm you

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Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson is at England national team camp, and the young man is conducting himself in downright adorable fashion.

It seems the 24-year-old London defender cannot quite believe Gareth Southgate called his name for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“A lot of people wouldn’t have even heard my name until this call up,” Mawson told the BBC. “You know it’s down to performing well at certain times, it’s down to doing the right things and sometimes it’s down to being a nice person.”

Mawson has played every minute for Swans this season, picking up two goals and an assist. More importantly, he’s won 3.3 aerial battles per game and 6.3 clearances.

While this won’t necessarily serve him well against the Netherlands and Italy in this week’s friendlies — they don’t put a lot of hopeful balls into aerial or clearing positions — it’s kept Mawson on the England radar for this summer’s World Cup.

Mawson is two seasons removed from playing in the Championship, and was loaned to lower league clubs like Maidenhead United and Welling United. At the time, he was going to “car boot sales with my girlfriend” which from my limited Googling seems the English equivalent of a yard sale and flea market combined.

“We are in a good position now where we don’t really have to do the car boots unless she wants a bit of excitement on a Sunday morning.”

Pretty good position, yeah.

FIFA urges Russia to hasten work on delayed World Cup arena

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SAMARA, Russia (AP) FIFA has urged Russia to speed up World Cup preparations at a stadium which needs “a huge amount of work” to be ready on time.

With less than three months to go until the World Cup, the 45,000-seat Samara Arena is the only one of 12 stadiums which doesn’t yet have a pitch installed.

The stadium in the Volga River city of Samara was already badly delayed due to a complex roof design, but now cold weather in the Russian spring is causing further problems. The pitch can’t be installed until the weather warms up.

“Obviously we would expect further progress than this,” FIFA’s chief competitions official Colin Smith said on a visit to the arena Wednesday. “We don’t yet have a pitch, and obviously we need to wait for some warmer weather conditions in order to get this pitch installed.”

As of Tuesday, instead of a field, there was an area covered with tarpaulins and snow. Temperatures are forecast to stay slightly below freezing for the rest of the week.

“There’s a huge amount of work still to be done,” Smith added. “From the information we’ve received there’s nothing stopping all these areas being completed on time. It just requires commitment and more manpower to get it done on time, and when we talk about on time, we’re talking about the commissioning date of the end of April.”

If that date passes, it could restrict FIFA’s ability to test the stadium with Russian league games and install World Cup equipment. Outside the arena, deep snowdrifts cover much of an area that is due to be landscaped for the tournament and will host some facilities for fans.

Alexander Fetisov, deputy governor of the Samara region, said the stadium will be ready.

“I’d like to avoid unnecessary dramatization of the situation,” he said. “Everything is being done so that the stadium is commissioned in the time required.”

Samara isn’t the only World Cup field which has drawn attention in recent weeks. The stadium in Kazan has been widely criticized by Russian fans after a brown, muddy surface was used for league games after the winter break.

Smith said FIFA was offering Russia help to get its fields ready, adding, “We’re doing everything possible and we’re convinced that we’re going to have a very, very high standard of pitches at this tournament.”

Key newcomers for USMNT friendly

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While the excitement potential is high amongst big club USMNT call-ups like PSG’s Tim Weah and Everton’s Antonee Robinson, there are several other relative newcomers who are facing a more acute focus.

So yes, of course, we’re most excited to see the young guns fire away, but a few others will be under the microscope for different reasons.

[ MORE: Best PL summer buys ]

Paraguay is leaving some big names behind — Dario Lezcano, Jesus Medina, Edgar Benítez — but won’t be using as “B” or “C” of a squad as the USMNT. Key defenders Junior Alonso (Lille) and Gustavo Gomez (AC Milan) will be staring down the U.S. attack, while Atlanta United star Miguel Almiron will try his luck against the Yanks’ backs.

  1. The goalkeepers — With full respect to Bill Hamid and his five caps, the trio of backstops who could play against Paraguay are unknown entities on the senior international level. There are reasons to be excited about Alex Bono (Toronto FC) and Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew) going against Los Guaraníes — and Hamid, too — and standing behind a young and untested group of center backs should give plenty of chances to make a name for whoever is chosen (If Sarachan is more “woke” this go-round, it’ll be multiple keepers).
  2. Andriya Novakovich — The Telstar striker is checking all the boxes: 6-foot-4, productive on the youth level, and now succeeding overseas. The 21-year-old has 17 goals on loan from Reading in the Dutch second tier. While that’s far from a “Woah” figure considering the top-tier in the Netherlands isn’t exactly a defensive hot bed, it’s intriguing for Tuesday in North Carolina.
  3. Rubio Rubin — We’re hopeful Sarachan goes with a 4-4-2, which would allow both Rubin and Novakovich to get runs next to Bobby Wood. Rubin is seeing some time at Liga MX side Club Tijuana after his European adventure stalled following a hot start for Utrecht. He had an assist in CONCACAF Champions League play against Red Bulls this month.
  4. Tyler Adams — Speaking of that match, the Red Bulls got a goal from Adams. It’s fair to say he’s got the chance to be as special a player as Schalke youngster Weston McKennie (and would apparently like to join his USMNT teammate overseas). Adams and McKennie together could legit be an engine room for years. Will that begin on Tuesday?
  5. Cameron Carter-Vickers — The 20-year-old center back has shown resilience in England. His hot start to life at Sheffield United, on loan from Tottenham, cooled enough to have him sent back to North London, but Carter-Vickers has rebounded to become a key part of Ipswich Town’s back line. With 22-year-old Matt Miazga the only clear center back on the roster and older than him, CCV can quiet a lot of doubters.
  6. Kenny Saief — This guy has excited at nearly every turn since bursting onto the scene with Gent via the Israeli national team, and an injury cost him some momentum with the USMNT. Now healthy and on loan with Anderlecht, the same side which refined the fire of Sacha Kljestan, the once-capped Florida-born man is as intriguing as ever.

Season strugglers: Some ignominious PL performances

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Tuesday found us breaking ties on our “Most Impactful Premier League Summer Buys” rankings by digging through some advanced statistics sites.

In doing so, something struck us: We rarely if ever check out which players are faring the worst when it comes to those next level numbers.

Ah, the international break: Good for off-the-wall posts.

[ MORE: Alonso, Pedro have Morata’s back]

At the risk of kicking a player while he’s down, here are some negative numbers that stand out from the pack.

Of the 358 players who’ve played at least 10 Premier League matches, Joe Hart is having the worst season of the bunch according to Squawka. That’s a bit misleading due to how the site’s metrics operate, considering eight of the bottom 20 players are goalkeepers (and several, like Jonas Lossl and Jordan Pickford, are having outstanding campaigns).

So the unfortunate honor goes to Swansea defender Martin Olsson, who edges James McClean of West Brom for the infamy. Since the site does heap numbers on players by action accumulated, perhaps it’s better to single out the per-game and per-90 strugglers. Olsson and McClean are still very much near the bottom, but surprisingly Yannick Bolasie is the worst per game, and Swansea’s Wayne Routledge is having the least effective season per 90 minutes.

As for WhoScored, its metrics are hammering forwards, with Lys Mousset, Andre Gray, and Benik Afobe at the back of the back (ahead of McClean, again, who is a multi-site struggler).

These stats aren’t perfect, of course, and I like the idea of having McClean on my squad. But there are some other odds stats in the pack.

 These players might want to pass their next opportunity to the keeper. Of players with 10 or more shot attempts this season, Adam Lallana (11), Renato Sanches (12), Lewis Cook (14), and Dale Stephens (15) have failed to put a single shot on target.

— Of the 81 players who’ve tried their luck 30 times or more, these are the worst accuracy rates

— For perspective, Harry Kane has put 56 percent of his league-leading 162 shots on target, while second place man Mohamed Salah is 61 percent of 118.

— Defensive errors also can be increased significantly by the times a player is put under pressure by his team, which is why goalkeepers are high on Squawka’s list. Take them out, and you get a list with Spurs’ Eric Dier up top. Two of his six errors have led to goals against Tottenham, with Zanka (Huddersfield Town), Alfie Mawson (Swans), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), and Shane Duffy (Brighton) next with four errors.