Blitzed: Sounders routed again as Kekuta Manneh records first career hat trick

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Two games, nine goals allowed, and a sea of doubts is all Seattle has to show for their last week’s games, with a hat trick from rookie Kekuta Manneh sending the Sounders to an embarrassing 4-1 loss to the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps. Combined with their 5-1 defeat on Saturday in Colorado, the Sounders have entered a free fall.

Consider some numbers. Ahead of their trip to Commerce, the Sounders had only allowed 29 goals this season, tied for lowest total in Major League Soccer. They’re now seventh in goals allowed, Vancouver’s four-goal onslaught ending Seattle’s 12-game home unbeaten run.

Manneh opened the scoring in the 12th minute when John Kennedy Hurtado’s poor clearance allowed Daigo Kobayashi to put the 18-year-old in on goal. Three minutes before half, the Gambian striker — making only his fourth career start — teamed with Camilo to double the lead as well as his career goal total. Coming into the night, he’s scored twice in Major League Soccer, but thanks to a lead-footed Seattle defense, he was up to four by intermission.

It didn’t take long for the first round pick to complete his hat trick, with Kobayashi feeding Manneh through the right side of the Sounder defense for an all-too-easy third goal, going five-hole on Michael Gspurning.

That was the story on each of Vancouver’s first three goals: Send Manneh through; watch him score – a plan make possible by some uncharacteristically terrible defending. Not only were the Sounders unable to match the Whitecap attacker’s speed, but they were poorly positioned to try and mitigate it. And cutting of Vancouver’s access to their focal point? No chance. Throw in a lack luster and error-prone effort from the players and Seattle had laid the tracks for a second-straight rout.

source: AP
Gambian attacker Kekuta Manneh entered Wednesday’s game with two career goals. Before an hour had passed in Seattle, the first round pick was on five, his hat trick propelling the Whitecaps to a 4-1 win at CenturyLink Field. (Photo: AP Photo.)

For a brief period in the second half, though, it appeared the Sounders would fight back, with Mauro Rosales pulling his team within two half-way through the period. But caught on a break in the 82nd minute, Seattle saw goalkeeper Michael Gspurning let them down, allowing a Nigel Reo-Coker shot from right of goal to go off his hands, through his legs (again), and into the net – a goal that sent Seattle’s normally patient crowd streaming toward the exits.

Among the epidemic of lopsided results Seattle’s suffered over the last two years, this one may have been the most disappointing. It came after another rout, on that should have put the team on high alert. But instead of fighting to regain their form, Seattle allowed Vancouver to run through them. A fortnight away from season’s end, this team has real problems, and although they were without two key pieces (Brad Evans, Eddie Johnson), it’s unclear how either of them would have been decisive tonight.

If, as we mentioned in yesterday’s preview, this match was going to shine light on either Martin Rennie or Sigi Schmid’s plight, we couldn’t have gotten a clearly clue. Martin Rennie had his team prepared for a must-win game and saw his players respond. In contrast, it was one of Seattle’s worst games of the year, right up there with their performances in Carson and Commerce.

But remember: Seattle controls their Supporters’ Shield fate – a needed piece of perspective. Without a doubt, the team is playing poorly, but they haven’t lost anything yet. They could still with the Shield. They could still claim Cascadia Cup (which they would have with a win tonight). And tonight’s loss does almost nothing to damage their MLS Cup hopes. They just need to get their act together. Desperately.

Vancouver, on the other hand, finally gets their breakthrough win in Seattle. Without it, their postseason dreams were toast. Now they’re within three points of Colorado and Los Angeles ahead of a season-ending home-and-home with the Rapids. They also lead the Cascadia Cup standings. If Seattle doesn’t get three points in Portland on Sunday, the coveted regional trophy is theirs.

Oh, how quickly things change for Martin Rennie, who suddenly has a landmark result to use in his defense. For Sigi Schmid, however, the prosecution was just handed a damning piece of evidence.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday