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’.

Surprises, disappointments halfway through Champions League group stage

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Clubs have met each of their group mates once, giving us an imperfect but workable sample size for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Five groups have a side boasting a 3-0 record, while four clubs have yet to seize a single point.

[ CHAMPS LEAGUE: Tuesday | Weds. ]

Some of the strugglers, like 0-1-2 Maribor and 0-1-2 APOEL, are not surprises. And it’s no shock to see Manchester United at perfect 3-0 given its draw.

Others? Well, that’s not the case.

Status down 

While Manchester United is a perfect 3-0 in Group A, raise your hand if you figured Benfica would have just one goal and zero points through three matches. Benfica’s also played two of its three home ties, making the knockout rounds a dream.

Atletico Madrid has found the UEFA Champions League Final in two of the last four seasons, but finds itself with work to do moving forward. Atleti’s Wednesday draw at Qarabag leaves it three points behind Roma and five back of leaders Chelsea. Diego Simeone’s men still host Roma and Qarabag, so points are out there.

Serie A play has been gorgeous for Napoli, who has failed to bring that momentum to Group F. It’s worth noting that a missed penalty by red-hot Dries Mertens could’ve earned the Neapolitans a point at Man City on Tuesday, but as it stands Napoli is three points back of Shakhtar and could be six back before the Ukrainians visit on Nov. 21.

It turns out you can’t sell everyone and expect the youth to come through shining. Monaco is at the bottom of a very winnable group, having lost at home to Porto and Besiktas. Still just three points behind RB Leipzig, they’ll need to win at Monaco and/or Besiktas to have any hope of the knockout rounds.

Borussia Dortmund got a rough deal from officials when it visited Wembley Stadium, but losses to Spurs and Real Madrid can happen in a group stage. Tuesday’s draw at APOEL Nicosia, however, is close to a backbreaker.

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).

Status up

Spurs draw at Real Madrid may have been aided by a huge performance from Hugo Lloris, but goalkeepers — as you know — are actual components of a team. This is in fact a group of death, but the North Londoners are holding a scythe. If Mauricio Pochettino can lead a home win over Real Madrid at a raucous Wembley on All Saints Day, well, look out!

Cenk Tosun has gone from sleepy transfer target to the tip of many gossipers’ tongues, as Besiktas is a perfect 3-0 including wins at Monaco and Porto. Anderson Talisca and… wait for it… Ryan Babel (!!) have also starred for the Turkish powers who will almost certainly see the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Pep Guardiola‘s done this Champions League dance, you know, and Manchester City has weathered all storms. That includes conceded two penalties — one was saved by Ederson — as a down performance versus Napoli still ended with a home win. If City can win at the Stadio San Paolo on Nov. 1, Pep can sleepwalk into the final two matches (though that’s not his style).

Roma has a classy draw at Chelsea and has gathered five points including four away from home. Mimic that mark and i Lupi will be a challenge in the knockout rounds.

Neymar was best pals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez last season at Barcelona, but having a less-than-perfect relationship with Edinson Cavani hasn’t hurt a thing in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain is for real, scoring 12 times and yet to concede in wins over Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht.

Grey area

Liverpool leads its group and advancing is really the only goal, but there’s something off-putting about the home draw against Sevilla. The 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow looks better now that the Russians hammered Sevilla 5-1, but a return visit from Maribor next should help the Reds buttress their stock.

Be careful how finely you analyze a club as accomplished as two-time reigning champs Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s men don’t look so hot. Still well-positioned to move on, keep a close eye on how they look at Wembley in a few weeks.

Holding pattern

Chelsea‘s 3-3 draw versus Roma today was its first real stumble of the UCL, but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells considering their injury problems and Roma’s desperation. Consider their status even, especially given their clever win at Atletico Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is doing a fine job with Manchester United, but it’s really hard to praise the club too much for doing what’s expected in a glorified Europa League group. Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in the icing some of the draw balls again…

UCL wrap: Barcelona, PSG roll; Dzeko scores stunner (video)

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There were a few more zeroes on the board in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action, but that doesn’t mean the day failed to entertain by any stretch of the imagination.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Chelsea and Roma staged a slugfest at Stamford Bridge, while PSG and Barcelona saw its stars shining, and Jose Mourinho orchestrated another away defensive masterclass for Manchester United.

Chelsea 3-3 RomaRECAP

There’s a lot to say about this one. Chelsea goes up 2-0 through solid goals from David Luiz and Eden Hazard, but finds itself down and needs another Hazard goal to rescue a point.

But this goal, one of two from Edin Dzeko, is why we watch this wonderful sport. Aleksandar Kolarov also scored and had an assist as ex-Man City men came to play at Stamford Bridge.

Benfica 0-1 Manchester UnitedRECAP

The perfect road match, more or less, though United scored its lone goal thanks to goalkeeper error. Marcus Rashford took the free kick that was carried across the goal line, and United completed more than 500 passes to double Benfica’s output at the Estadio da Luz.

Barcelona 3-1 Olympiacos

It’s not much of a surprise to see Barca triumph at home over Greek opposition. An own goal joined Lucas Digne and this historic Lionel Messi marker to build a 3-0 lead at the Camp Nou.

Anderlecht 0-4 Paris Saint-Germain

In case you think PSG cannot make a run this year, consider its list of goal scorers on Wednesday: Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Neymar, and Edinson Cavani.

Elsewhere
Qarabag 0-0 Atletico Madrid
Juventus 2-1 Sporting Lisbon
CSKA Moscow 0-2 Basel
Bayern Munich 3-0 Celtic

Mourinho: Tactics involved targeting young Benfica backstop

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho knew that promising Benfica backstop Mile Svilar would be facing some big nerves.

The 18-year-old was making his UEFA Champions League debut, and Mourinho instructed his Red Devils to challenge the backstop at every turn.

[ RECAP: Benfica 0-1 Man Utd ]

That paid off when Svilar carried Marcus Rashford‘s free kick into the goal, the lone marker of a 1-0 loss that keeps United atop Group A and Benfica three points behind second- and third place.

“I knew how good the goalkeeper was, I told the players that. We had a little bit of a strategy, especially on set-pieces to make him uncomfortable. We put men around him on corners so he cannot come out. He risks a lot, but only top keepers do that. He was unlucky for the goal,” Mourinho said.

Svilar looked dejected after the game, apologizing to fans at the Estadio da Luz and getting consolation from a fellow Belgian in Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.

Nemanja Matic laid out United’s strategy a bit more, from the BBC:

“The manager said to us to try and shoot and get some crosses towards their goalkeeper because he is young and playing in his first game. This is football and I know he is a great goalkeeper and I wish him well for the future.

“We had control, some difficulties in the first 30 minuets but then we controlled the pitch. We used our experience. We could not find the second goal but did not make any mistakes at the back.”

Rashford limped out of the game, and Mourinho says he initially thought it was cramps. Instead, it’s a problem with his left knee. Simon Peach of the Press Association quotes Mourinho as hoping the injury is not bad.

United completed more than 500 passes, doubling Benfica’s production. Some have been critical of Mourinho’s penchant to play it safe, and he winked at them after the match in calling his tactics “a crime.”

“We were in control, David De Gea did not have one save to make. I never felt we could concede a goal and were solid defensively. Sometime I feel being good defensively is a crime, but that is a way of getting results.”

Chelsea 3-3 Roma – Thrills at the Bridge

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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  • Luiz, Hazard put Chelsea up 2-0
  • Kolarov, Dzeko brace flip lead
  • Hazard nabs equalizer
  • U.S. U-20 mid Scott on bench for Chelsea

Eden Hazard scored twice as Chelsea overcame the sacrifice of a 2-0 lead and the Blues drew AS Roma 3-3 at Stamford Bridge in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday.

David Luiz also scored for Chelsea. Ex-Man City men Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov starred for Roma, with Dzeko scoring twice and Kolarov adding a goal and an assist.

Chelsea has seven points to lead Group C, two more than Roma and five ahead of third-placed Atletico Madrid. The sides will meet again in Rome on Halloween.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Luiz started the scoring with a delightful strike. Call it a second bite at the proverbial apple if you must, but then admit he sunk his teeth into it.

Eden Hazard made a darting run to double Chelsea’s lead, but Kolarov pulled Roma within one with a deflected strike past Thibaut Courtois.

Diego Perotti curled a shot that hardly troubled Courtois in the 63rd minute, the Chelsea keeper just leaving his feet collect it.

Dzeko and Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Then the former Man City striker struck again, seeing a long diagonal ball over his shoulder and whizzing a perfect left-footed volley through the flailing arms of Courtois.

Dzeko then made a late move before a Kolarov free kick to lose his mark and nod home a go-ahead goal.

It wasn’t over, as Hazard found his way to space and a cross from Pedro.

The Belgian headed his chance beyond a diving Alisson, and it was 3-3 with 15 minutes to play.

American-English midfielder Kyle Scott did not make his Chelsea bow. The 19-year-old has represented England at the U-16 level and the U.S. at the U-18 and U-20 levels.