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.

VIDEO: American teen Wright scores first 2.Bundesliga goal

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For all the talk about Schalke’s 18-year-old American wunderkind, Weston McKennie, it’s easy to forget that three young Yanks signed for the Bundesliga side.

One of them, Haji Wright, scored four goals in a preseason match before being loaned out to Sandhausen in 2.Bundesliga.

Ex-New York Cosmos striker Wright, 19, came off the bench for Sandhausen in its league opener Saturday, and didn’t wilt when given a clear scoring chance alone in the 18.

[ MORE: Bundesliga preview with Howedes, Nastasic ]

Wright has scored 31 goals at the U.S. youth national team level, and Bruce Arena will be quite familiar with him given a four-year stint with the LA Galaxy Academy.

Fellow American striker Andrew Wooten is on the books at Sandhausen, but the veteran was not in the 18.

Here’s video, found by American Soccer Now’s Brian Sciaretta:

Watch Live: Swansea host Manchester United

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Swansea City welcome Manchester United to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Jose Mourinho’s side aiming to stay top of the Premier League table.

[ STREAM: Swansea v. Man United ]

Yes, it’s early days, but the Red Devils were imperious in their thumping 4-0 win against West Ham United to open their season. Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic dominated and Mourinho’s men are now a powerful, well-oiled machine.

As for Swansea, they struggled at Southampton but came away with a draw, however the main storyline surrounding the South Wales side this week has been losing Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton for over $60 million. Paul Clement will have to act fast to spend that cash wisely, but there is no doubt the Swans will miss their Icelandic playmaker.

In team news Swansea bring in Kyle Bartley and Roque Mesa as they line up in a 3-5-2 formation with Jordan Ayew and Tammy Abraham up top.

Man United are, unsurprisingly, unchanged.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski; Fernandez, Bartley, Mawson; Naughton, Mesa, Fer, Carroll, Olsson; Ayew, Abraham. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, van der Hoorn, Fulton, Narsingh, Routledge, McBurnie.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Blind; Matic, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Lindelof, Smalling, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Martial

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.