MLS Preview: Vancouver Whitecaps at Seattle Sounders

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  • Seattle clinch 2013 Cascadia Cup with win.
  • Vancouver could be eliminated from post season with loss, Colorado result in San Jose.
  • Sounders missing Brad Evans, Eddie Johnson.

Seats are getting warmer in the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver’s undergoing their second straight late season dip, while Seattle is coming off another all-too-common, inexplicable thrashing. Because both of the teams expect better, you’re starting to hear rumblings:

Could Martin Rennie be in trouble? What about Sigi Schmid’s future in Seattle?

That’s the underlying tension behind tomorrow’s Cascadia Cup match at CenturyLink Field, with the Supporters Shield-contending Seattle Sounders hosting a Vancouver Whitecaps team desperately seeking a playoff lifeline (10:30 p.m. Eastern). Coming off a 5-1 shellacking in Colorado, Seattle sit one point behind Real Salk Lake in the West yet may still be favorites to claim the Supporters’ Shield (games in hand, yo).  Vancouver, on the other hand, are all but eliminated unless they claim full points in Seattle.

Lose to the Sounders, and the Whitecaps will be six points back of Colorado and Los Angeles with two games left. Los Angeles would win a tie-breaker thanks to their edge in wins (LA: 14; VWFC: 11), while Vancouver could edge the Rapids on goals scored (44-42, right now). That sounds nice, but Vancouver would still need to a.) win their last two games, b.) have Colorado lose their remaining three to bring the tie-breaking into play, and c.) have San Jose only claim one point (at most) in their season’s last two games after beating the Rapids on Wednesday. So … while it’s not mathematically certain, if Vancouver loses on Wednesday, they’re done.

That’s why things are heating up for Martin Rennie. Last season the first-year coach got his team into the playoffs and gave LA a scare in the four-five game, but a nose-dive after mid-season tinkering made the young Scot’s first year more learning experience than success. Unfortunately, whatever was learned hasn’t translated into better 2013 results. Again, Vancouver’s stumbled as the leaves have turned.

Camilo’s Sunday goal salvaged a draw and may have quieted the inevitable: Discussion of Rennie’s job. That’s not to say the talk hasn’t already begun. If Vancouver bows out of the playoff race with two games left, the thread through the coach’s two MLS seasons will be talented teams with promising starts undone by mid-season tinkering. Should Bob Lenarduzzi trust Rennie to get it right a third time around?

A similar discussion could explode in Seattle should the Sounders stumble home. As with Rennie, there are already whispers about whether Sigi Schmid’s the right man for the job, complaints that intensified after showing’s like Sunday’s. The 5-1 in loss commerce (tied for worst in the team’s MLS history) was reminiscent of their 4-0 defeat in Carson on May 26. Fans also remember the first leg of last year’s conference final in LA (3-0), the 6-1 loss in Torreon last March, and  the 3-0 loss in Sandy to open the 2011 playoffs. Though Seattle’s had more then their fair share of favorable scorelines during that time, people see one of the league’s most talented clubs and ask why they seem particularly prone to getting inexplicably blown out.

The situation around Schmid is much more complicated than Rennie’s, though. The former Galaxy, Crew boss is one of the most successful coaches in Major League Soccer history. Whether we know the secret to his success or not, there’s no way he’s a bad coach. He also enjoys a status that’s more akin to owner than a coach. Leaving a successful Columbus team to move to the northwest when Seattle joined MLS, Schmid became the face of the franchise. It would take an unexpectedly poor finish from the Sounders to bring his job into question, though given the high standards they set for themselves at the start of the season (and the huge amounts of money they’ve spent sense), another early playoff exit could meet that “unexpectedly poor” threshold.

Particularly with the acquisitions of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, life is becoming an increasingly bottom line business in Seattle. That Schmid is perceived as being decisive in letting the Portugal-shredding Fredy Montero go also plays into this, too. The team’s had great U.S. Open Cup success, but with the Supporters’ Shield in their grasp and MLS Cup glory an expressed preseason goal, slipping in October and November may no longer be acceptable.

If Seattle drops points on Wednesday, they’ll still be in the thick of it for the Supporters’ Shield. And of course, they’re going to the playoffs. But where once it looked like the Shield was theirs to lose, a draw against a weakened New York and a thrashing by Colorado have brought the Red Bulls, Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, and maybe even Portland into the middle of the picture. Given the hunger in Seattle for some non-U.S. Open Cup hardware, dropping home points to Vancouver could calcify dissension at the season’s most inopportune moment.

So the Sounders will have to overcome the losses of Brad Evans, a crucial part of their midfield, and Eddie Johnson, their most valuable player this season. Both are with the U.S. men’s national team. They’ll have to overcome the uncertainties they brought back from Colorado and put themselves back on the road to the Supporters’ Shield.

And if they do, all but eliminating Vancouver from the postseason in the process, Seattle will take the heat on their coach and add it to pressure mounting on their rivals’.

Money from Wembley replay will “support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years”

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone