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.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.