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.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

[ MORE: Go behind the scenes at NYCFC’s new training facility ]

Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.