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’.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.