Playoff preview? Stakes create a slippery slope for Seattle in Portland

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Seattle’s in free fall. We know that. We talked about that here. But if they can’t stop that free fall before the final whistle Sunday at JELD-WEN Field, they may feel the edge of Sunday’s double-edged sword.

That’s because in addition to losing the Cascadia Cup (Vancouver claims it with a Portland result), a loss in Portland makes a playoff match with the Timbers far more likely. Be that by creating more two-versus-three scenarios in the West or paving Portland’s path to the top seed (while bringing fourth into play for themselves), a loss tomorrow makes it more likely Sunday’s game at JELD-WEN won’t be Seattle’s last this season.

[MORE: Seattle routed as Manneh posts first career hat trick.]

Currently one point behind Real Salt Lake, Seattle’s been holding out hope that once they make up their games in hand (as they have over the past couple of months) the Supporters’ Shield will be theirs. But if they lose at JELD-WEN, their games in hand will be gone, and they’ll have fallen to fifth in the Supporter’s Shield race. They’ll be two behind New York and Portland, one behind Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City.

They’ll also be within reach of Los Angeles, currently three points behind Seattle. Come Monday morning, LA will have a game in hand on the Sounders with the teams scheduled to end their regular seasons against each other at CenturyLink. That match could be the difference between playing in the four-five game and going straight into the conference semifinals.

That’s Seattle’s slippery slope, one that could see a team positioned for the Shield playing in the four-five game in a couple of weeks, and while that scenario does involve a lot of ifs aligning, the hypotheticals gain traction in the face of two huge losses and a schedule that includes Portland and Los Angeles. If Seattle can get a result tomorrow, they staunch the bleeding and continue their Supporters’ Shield push. If they can’t, this run goes from bad to worse oh my God what’s going on, we so needed to get a result-bad.

(Incidentally, even a draw would see Seattle lose control of their Supporters’ Shield destiny, as well as their path to the West’s No. 1 seed.)

So where does the “far more likely” to meet the Timbers comes into play? Consider the Timbers’ half of the equation, though stay with me. This is where the ifs really start flying around:

source: Getty Images
Caleb Porter’s Portland Timbers would vault to second in the Supporters’ Shield chase with a Sunday win over rival Seattle. (Photo: Getty Images.)
  • With a Portland win, they go top of the West with 53 points but still have a game with Real Salt Lake, who have two wins and a draw from their three 2013 meetings with the Timbers this year. All-time, Portland’s won one of eight meetings with RSL. With Jason Kreis’s team capable of out-Portering Caleb Porter, Portland could find themselves back in second before their season-ender with Chivas USA, making a two-three playoff meeting with Seattle more likely.
  • And if Portland beats both Seattle and Real Salt Lake? Then only Seattle can keep them from first in the West, though that would involve the free-falling Sounders to reverse a three-game losing streak and beat both Dallas and Los Angeles. With that momentum, though, Seattle may be headed toward the four-five game.
  • If Seattle and Portland draw, the teams remain second and third in the West, and while RSL and LA will have a lot to say about whether that order stays the same, sharing points will make a conference semifinal meeting more likely.

But let’s not forget one very important, very possible if: If, Seattle wins, they go first in the West, and although that increases the chance Portland will fall to fourth (and potentially meet Seattle in the semifinals’ one-four match), the Timbers’ game with Chivas and Seattle’s finale with LA could still leave Portland third, meaning the Cascadia rivals wouldn’t meet until the conference finals (if at all).

And if that meeting happens, Seattle’s confidence will be better for having won at JELD-WEN. Their run-in’s been littered with enough doubts already. Might as well not cede any advantage (mental or otherwise) to their rivals.

Basically, given the nature of the West, anything’s still possible, but if Seattle loses, a lot of these once-remote scenarios come much closer to fruition. Hence the importance of a result tomorrow.

Conte admits nerves through narrow win over Southampton

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Antonio Conte had bad vibes about Chelsea’s visit from wounded Southampton, and his Blues didn’t make the morning at Stamford Bridge any easier on the Italian boss.

Marcos Alonso scored a free kick goal but the Blues could not find a second in a 1-0 win that had Conte proverbially watching through his fingers.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 1-0 Saints ]

Chelsea moves into a tie for second with Manchester United before the Red Devils play Sunday, and Conte is exhaling after the victory. From the BBC:

“When you do not score the second goal, you have to suffer. You are afraid at every corner and free-kick and the opponent has the chance to draw. We dominated the game, shooting 24 times, hitting the post and we needed to score the second goal to be relaxed.

The Blues outshot Saints 24-6, and Southampton only managed to put two shots on target. Chelsea hosts Bournemouth in a League Cup quarterfinal on Wednesday before returning to Premier League action at Everton on Saturday.

Stoke City 0-3 West Ham United: Arnautovic embraces villain role

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  • Controversial PK helps WHU in front
  • Arnautovic booed all day, makes it 2-0
  • Irons out of the drop zone

Marko Arnautovic got the last laugh on a subplot heavy day at the bet365 Stadium, scoring a goal and constantly threatening his old club as West Ham United beat Stoke City 3-0 on Saturday.

The match was delayed an hour thanks to a power outage, but Arnautovic had the electricity ramped up early and he certainly celebrated his second half goal against his former club with vigor.

Mark Noble converted a controversial Manuel Lanzini-won penalty to make it 1-0, and Diafra Sakho completed the scoring off a Lanzini feed in the win.

David Moyes and West Ham move out of the drop zone with the win, moving 15th with 17 points. Stoke is now just a point ahead of 18th place Newcastle United.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The home crowd was all over Marko Arnautovic, who left Stoke for West Ham this summer, and the early tackles for both teams showed an ornery nature.

Yet it was Stoke who saw an effort bound off the post in the 17th minute, though the optimism was short-lived as a counter attack saw Manuel Lanzini dive into Erik Pieters to earn a penalty.

Noble converted the penalty, and West Ham was up 1-0 in the 19th.

Butland got the crowd in full throat when he saved villain Arnautovic’s breakaway shot. Then Lanzini knuckled a shot at Butland which the English goalkeeper turned away.

Arnautovic had another chance to burn his old team, but Kevin Wimmer got a slight deflection on his countryman’s 59th minute attempt.

He’d continue to do everything but score, cranking a left-footed shot off the crossbar in the 68th.

Charlie Adams crossed for Ryan Shawcross in the 72nd minute, but the big man couldn’t head the ball down on goal.

Arnautovic finally got his goal on a cute 1-2 with Lanzini, and he certainly celebrated against his old side.

It should’ve been 3-0 thanks to deft work from Chicharito, but Diafra Sakho needed too many touches before back heeling a shot wide of the far post.

Sakho would get his goal off a neat feed from

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Brighton 0-0 Burnley: Seagulls continue barren spell

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  • Seagulls without a win in seven
  • Murray misses first half PK
  • Wood denied twice in second half

Brighton and Hove Albion drew 0-0 with Burnley at the Amex Stadium on Saturday with Chris Hughton‘s side now without a win in seven games and they’ve scored just once in their last six Premier League encounters.

Glenn Murray blazed over a first half penalty kick to add to Brighton’s woes, while Burnley were denied by Mat Ryan in the second half as the spoils were shared.

With the point Burnley move on to 32 points, while Brighton have 18 and are just three points above the drop zone.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brighton did most of the pressing early on with Murray causing plenty of problems and Burnley could hardly get out of their own half.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson had a shot which flew just wide but that was as close as the Clarets came.

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Before the break Anthony Knockaert‘s shot hit the post and then Lewis Dunk‘s header was cleared off the line by Phil Bardsley, before a massive moment arrived.

James Tarkowski bundled over Murray in the box but the Brighton forward blasted the penalty kick over the bar as the Seagulls wasted a glorious opportunity.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Chris Wood forced Mat Ryan into a save early in the second half but the chances kept coming for Brighton.

Knockaert squirmed an effort just wide of the far post for Brighton and then Wood had the ball in the net after Scott Arfield was twice denied but he was in an offside position.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ryan denied Wood again late on as he closed down the onrushing Burnley forward brilliantly, and both teams had to settle for a point on the South Coast.

Watford 1-4 Huddersfield Town: Mooy at the double for Town

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  • Town build 3-0 lead
  • Mooy scores, converts PK
  • Deeney, Hogg sent off

Aaron Mooy scored a pair of goals and both teams finished with 10 men as Huddersfield Town battered Watford 4-1 on Saturday at Vicarage Road.

Elias Kachunga and Laurent Depoitre also scored for Town, which moves 11th with 21 points.

Abdoulaye Doucoure scored Watford’s goal, as the Hornets stay ninth with just one more point than Town.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Kachunga caused some early problems for Watford, winning a fifth minute corner kick.

That corner bred another one, and Kachunga deposited it behind Heurelho Gomes after a series of sloppy, cagey touches from both sides.

Kachunga then needed to be removed from the match after just 16 minutes following a left knee injury.

Richarlison had a chance to level the score in the 21st minute, but the tricky shot arrowed over the frame.

Mooy made it 2-0 when Watford missed a pair of chances to deal with a cross and the Australian was in the catbird seat to tap home.

And it went from bad to worse for the Hornets when Troy Deeney picked up a straight red card for a two-footed scissor tackle in the 33rd minute.

Depoitre scored shortly after halftime to pile woe on Marco Silva‘s men. It just wasn’t their day, though a second yellow card to Jonathan Hogg did put both teams on 10 men with 28 minutes to play.

Doucoure put a little drama in the match with a terrific goal from 20 yards, besting Town goalkeeper Jonas Lossl.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]