Seattle’s the hottest team in MLS, so why not more buzz?

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Who’s the hottest team in Major League Soccer? Judging by wins and losses alone, there’s no doubt. It’s the Seattle Sounders.

Twelve points in their last four games is an unmatched haul. Expand the scope to a team’s last five, six games (when Clint Dempsey joined the team), and Sigi Schmid’s team is still the league’s form side. Since July 29, the Sounders have won seven of eight, climbing from near the bottom of the West and into second place.

So why isn’t there more buzz about the Sounders? Big analysis pieces about their rise? Videos comparing them to Real Salt Lake, asking whether the West’s leaders should be scared? Why aren’t we asking whether this is the year Seattle will break through?

People who’ve watched the games know, and if you look beyond mere wins and losses, it’s easy to spot. Seattle’s last five victories have all by one goal, hinting at a fragility that belies their rise.

Portland’s injury issues. Columbus’s inability to capitalize 11-on-10. Game-winning own goals from Doniel Henry and Gonzalo Segares. The mere quality of Chivas USA. These aren’t circumstances that wow, particularly with RSL scoring 11 goals in their last three games.

But for Seattle, it’s all part of a process – a process that makes the current hot streak a welcome bonus. Clint Dempsey is neither in full shape nor fully familiar with his new teammates. Along with Eddie Johnson, he’s been away from the team on international duty. Obafemi Martins has been hurt. Now Brad Evans has gone down. Seattle hasn’t even been able to discern who their best XI is, let alone give them time to gel.

And that was supposed to be the goal all along. When Seattle acquired Dempsey, they were outside the playoff picture, though with a glut of games in hand, they always looked good bets to finish in the top five, provided their improved on the field.

source: AP
With two games in hand, Sigi Schmid and the Seattle Sounders are only two points behind Western Conference leading Real Salt Lake, their 1.77 points per game the best rate in Major League Soccer. (Photo: AP)

That was the only mission. Start playing better, and making the playoffs will take care of itself. And rather than worry about tracking down RSL or finishing at a certain level in the standings, the real value for a team hungry to claim an MLS Cup would be playing the best soccer possible come the postseason. If near-term results had to be sacrificed for long-term form, so be it, even if short-term results where still important.

That’s leads to a scary thought, in light of Seattle’s impressive run: What happens when Schmid’s attack really begins to click? Since Dempsey arrived, they’ve failed to score more than one goal in a match without the help of an opponent’s own goal (averaging exactly one conventional goal per 90 minutes). Certainly that attack will improve, if from increased familiarity alone. Yet while they’re still finding their stride, they’ve gone 5-1-0.

The other factor in this run: Seattle’s only faced one playoff-sitting team since Dempsey arrived. That was a depleted Portland, at home – a game in which Portland were the better side over the first 45 minutes. Starting with Friday’s match against RSL, all that changes. Six of Seattle’s final eight games will be against playoff-sitting teams, including two games against the defending champion Galaxy.

So yeah, there are reasons why we’re not talking about Seattle, yet, but that’s likely to change. They’ve ridden a string of close results against relatively easy competition to second in the West, but as their attack improves, they’ll start to transcend those performances. Against a tougher schedule, that may not lead to improved results, but we should get a better idea as to whether Seattle’s worth title-contender buzz.

A couple of big wins over RSL or LA, and those “is this the year” pieces will come.

Chelsea chase Alexis Sanchez; Man United want Dier

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The summer transfer rumors are heating up long before the heat of summer arrives…

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

On Wednesday it is being claimed by the Guardian that Alexis Sanchez has become Chelsea’s “No.1 target this summer” as the Arsenal and Chile forward has yet to sign a new deal with the Gunners.

Per the report, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has drafted up a shortlist of the players he wants to sign this summer and Sanchez is at the top of the Italian managers wishlist as he is also close to signing a new deal at Stamford Bridge.

Sanchez, 28, has a deal at Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but if the north London club fails to agree a new deal with him this summer (as well as Mesut Ozil and Arsene Wenger, but that’s another story…) then they’ll have to sell him on or risk losing him for nothing as a free agent next season.

The striker scored twice for Chile in their 2018 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela on Tuesday and has been essential all season long to Arsenal, scoring 18 goals and adding nine assists after playing through the middle on his own for much of the campaign.

Would Arsenal really sell Sanchez to a PL rival? It wouldn’t be ideal but it’s not like they haven’t done that in the past. Think of Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.

The thought of Sanchez on one wing with Diego Costa up top and Eden Hazard on the other wing at Chelsea should be enough to get Arsenal to offer their star man whatever cash he wants — the report states he wants $310,000 a week which would almost double his current $160,000 a week salary — when they sit down to discuss the new deal at the end of this season.


Elsewhere in north London, Tottenham Hotspur’s versatile defender Eric Dier has been linked with a $50 million move to Manchester United this summer.

According to Neil Ashton of the Sun, Dier, 23, is being lined up to replace Michael Carrick in the holding midfield role at United.

Now, Tottenham are notoriously tough to do business with and chairman Daniel Levy will not want to lose one of his top prospects and an England international to a direct rival in the Premier League.

That said, Dier has been used in multiple positions by Spurs this season and Mauricio Pochettino appears to prefer Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele as the holding midfielders and the emergence of Harry Winks has seen Dier’s importance questioned by some.

The fact that Dier can play in holding midfield or anywhere across the back line will also suit Moruinho who likes to have a smaller squad to work with and per the report the Portuguese boss has been a long-time admirer of Dier. His power to break up the play and also use he ball safely could work very well alongside Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.

PHOTOS: Bizarre Cristiano Ronaldo statue unveiled

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Hang on, is that really meant to be Cristiano Ronaldo?

On Wednesday the Portugal and Real Madrid legend had Madeira Airport named after him just outside his hometown of Funchal and during the ceremony a bust of his head was put on show.

Except, it looked horrendous…

Take a look for yourself in the photos below. See.


 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic confirms Man United contract talks

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in talks with Manchester United about extending his stay at Old Trafford beyond this season.

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The veteran Swedish striker, 35, has scored 26 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions this season, and he has an option to extend his contract for another year. However, that option hasn’t been triggered yet by Ibrahimovic and United’s fans seem to be getting rather tetchy about the prospect of him not being around next season.

Ibrahimovic is enjoying life in England and revealed to the Manchester Evening News that he is in talks with the club about extending his stay in the Premier League.

“Let’s see what happens, we are talking,” Ibrahimovic said. “I have an option for another year, I want to do great as long as I’m here, so let us see, there is a lot of time. I’m enjoying being at a fantastic club, without doubts, one of the biggest clubs in the world with a great coach (Jose Mourinho).

“I know him before (from our time at Inter Milan), he’s a winner, he’s the perfect coach for this club. Being a Manchester United player, I don’t know how many people have that possibility but I am a Man United player, people wanted me here, I chose the club, I chose the best English club, that’s the way it works.”

Ibrahimovic also hinted that he would stay by stating he “never leaves a job unfinished” when talking about his dedication.

“I’m a person when I go into something I put my head 200 per cent, and I do what I’m good at. I go in, I go for the kill and I go out,” Ibrahimovic said. “And when I go out there is no complaints, that’s what I do. I never leave a job unfinished. I always go in, do my job, and in the way that is a fair play, a fair deal, that is what I do.”

With offers reported pouring in from Major League Soccer and the Chinese Super League, Ibrahimovic will likely have those kind of deals on the table next summer too. His current deal at United sees him paid over $310,000 per week but after joining from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer it could be one of the best pieces of business in United’s history if he helps them win the Europa League and/or finish in the top four in the PL this season.

If he leads the Red Devils back to the UEFA Champions League and has one more season as the talisman for Mourinho at Old Trafford, then leaves to finish out his playing days elsewhere, the legendary forward will go down as a hero in the eyes of United’s fans.

Portugal airport to be named after Ronaldo near his hometown

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FUNCHAL, Portugal (AP) Welcome to Cristiano Ronaldo Airport.

That will be the message awaiting passengers in the Madeira Islands from Wednesday, when the local airport will be renamed after the local star by the regional government.

Ronaldo is expected to attend a ceremony at the airport outside his hometown of Funchal on Wednesday, a day after his Portugal side lost 3-2 to Sweden in the city in a friendly.

The name change attracted a lot of attention locally, with many politicians opposing it.

Portugal’s squad landed on Monday at the airport displaying the trophy it won at the 2016 European Championship in France.

Funchal also has a Ronaldo statue and a museum about the player, as well a hotel complex named after him.