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.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”