Colorado Rapids v Seattle Sounders

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Seattle ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with Colorado

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Ahead of Wednesday’s first round playoff between Seattle and Colorado, here are the most knows about the Sounders ahead of the 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff (NBCSN):

  • This is not your normal Sigi defense

Seattle’s used to having one of the best defenses in the league, a combination of Sigi Schmid’s approach, Osvaldo Alonso’s ball-winning, and Michael Gspurning’s quality in goal. But Gspurning has struggled, the team’s shakeup (Dempsey, Moffat additions) has left questions through the middle, and Schmid’s failed to find answers. As a result, a solid-if-beatable core of defenders has been left exposed.

While the team’s moved on from performances that conceded nine goals over two games (Oct. 5, 9), fans have only seen stopgaps, not solutions. Seattle’s 42 regular season goals allowed is second-worst amongst teams that qualified for the playoffs, leaving questions as to how they’ll handle Deshorn Brown, Gaby Torres, and Vicente Sanchez.

  • Obafemi Martins is probably out

Dempsey continues to be the focus, but Obafemi Martins was the Sounders’ original statement of intent, albeit one that’s limited to 17 starts. Word out Seattle this morning leaves Martins unlikely to play on Wednesday, the Nigerian international skipping Tuesday’s training with a groin injury that’s cost him four of the Sounders’ last five games.

With Sigi Schmid switching to a diamond midfield (deploying Dempsey at its tip), Martins’ fitness seems to absolve Seattle of a tough decision, though it’s looking less-and-less likely a choice between Martins and Lamar Neagle will have to be made. This late in the season, you wonder a healthy Martins may be relegated to a super-sub’s role, Seattle needing to find a winning formula before the big-ticket acquisition can have an impact on this postseason.

  • Confidence has got to be an issue

Seattle played well in Sunday’s first half against Los Angeles but came out of intermission with a different mindset, eventually regressing into a defensive posture that saw them holding on for dear life far too early in the match. Robbie Keane’s 78th winner would cost them full points, relegating them to Wednesday’s playoff.

Those aren’t the actions of a confident side, a mentality that shouldn’t be surprising given the team’s October swoon. But with a squad full of veteran, accomplished players, Schmid should be able to convince his team they can do better. It’s not as if his crew have no history of success to draw on.

If the Sounders pull ahead of the Rapids, they need to kill off the match, not sit back and pray Colorado won’t find a goal. That mentality cost them on Sunday. On Wednesday, they have no room for error.

  • In Eddie, they may have to trust

Eddie Johnson provides a great Get Out of Jail Free card. When all else fails — when tactics or the confidence of a broken team can’t be turned around — Seattle can always play it to Johnson. They can win corner kicks, try to earn fouls, and hope the U.S. international can get the best of Drew Moor or Shane O’Neill.

It’s not the most complicated plan, but it’s one even a struggling team can execute. If all else continues to fall, Seattle may have to rely on the matchup they can win: EJ against that Rapids central defense.

  • The obvious: This game is very important to Siegfried Schmid

Speculating about a coach’s job is always precarious, more so when you’re talking about a unique situation like Seattle’s. After joining the Sounders at the dawn of their MLS adventure, the 60-year-old became the face of the franchise. He’s become much more than a coach.

But there’s no appetite for failure right now. If Seattle bows out in the first round, it will be hard to justify keeping him on. Joe Roth has made the financial commitment, and Adrian Hanauer expected this team to compete for titles (even before acquiring Dempsey and Martins).

If they come up five games short, Schmid may be gone, opening up the most attractive coaching job in Major League Soccer.

Higuain to seal $98.7 million Juve move; Pogba to Man United closer?

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 22:  Paul Pogba of Juventus is tackled by Gonzalo Higuain of Napoli during the 2014 Italian Super Cup match between Juventus FC v SSC Napoli at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on December 22, 2014 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
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A major domino has reportedly fallen in the summer transfer window pack.

Gonzalo Higuain is set to complete his monster move from Napoli to Juventus in Serie A.

Sky Italia says that the deal for Higuain has been completed with the Argentine ace arriving in Turin for a transfer fee of $98.7 million (his release clause) and on a four-year contract worth over $8.2 million per season.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC

Higuain, 28, scored 36 goals in 35 games for Napoli last season and has scored 71 goals in 104 Serie A appearances since arriving from Real Madrid in 2013. Obviously he can score goals but is he worth $98.7 million? At his age, maybe not, and especially with Juve making so many impressive signings already this summer as Miralem Pjanic, Mehdi Benatia and Dani Alves all on board, plus Paulo Dyabla looking razor sharp in preseason.

That $98.7 million transfer fee would make Higuain the third-most expensive signing of all-time, although he could be overtaken by one man very soon: Paul Pogba.

Apparently Juve are locked in talks with Manchester United to try and finalize a move for Pogba, 23, and this huge outlay of cash on Higuain could suggest they’ve agreed the reported $130 million transfer of the French international midfielder.

[ MORE: Winter break pros and cons for PL ]

Pogba has been seen laughing and joking on vacation in Miami with his agent, Mino Raiola, but it is believed that deal is being held up due to the teams not agreeing on who should pay the reported agent fee of up to $22 million. No wonder Raiola is laughing.

Seriously, though, let’s see how this plays out but it is highly unlikely Juve would’ve dropped that much cash on Higuain if they didn’t have some major cash coming in from selling a certain player.

We all know who that is…

Premier League winter break talks ongoing: What are pros, cons?

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City - Premier League
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What if the Premier League had a winter break?

That is a topic of hot discussion in the UK after new England manager Sam Allardyce called for a midseason break during his opening press conference as the new Three Lions manager on Monday.

[ MORE: PL preseason schedule

With the Premier League confirming that discussions between themselves, the English Football Association and the Football League are ongoing, it is obviously something the governing bodies which run English soccer are seriously considering.

It is believed that if a winter break was given the green light, it wouldn’t take place until the 2019-20 season at the earliest.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game live ] 

On Tuesday the executive chairman of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, discussed the notion of a winter break and was asked by Sky Sports about the feasibility of Allardyce’s proposal.

“He’s been very consistent. He’s been calling for it for a very long time, as has every England manager. We are not against a winter break,” Scudamore said. “We have gone on record saying that we are in discussions with the people we need to be in discussions with which is the Football Association and the Football League. It is an integrated calendar. Those discussions are taking place. I don’t know how close or far we are because I wouldn’t want to compromise those negotiations or those discussions.

“Even if the three of us, the three [governing] bodies come up with that solution, we then of course have to road test that with the clubs that are involved and the fans and everything else. We are in discussions, there is a willingness to make it happen but I can’t put anything like a timescale on that.”

Intriguing comments from Scuadmore as the PL seems to be in favor of at least giving the winter break a try. The English FA have been pushing that agenda for quite some time as they believe that heading into an international tournament the English national team suffer due to the long, hard slog of a season with a packed schedule through the winter months. At least, that’s what they’re going with after so many disappointing tournaments in recent years…

So, it’s worth asking, how much of a difference, if any, would this make? What are the pros and cons of a winter break?

Straight off the bat, it must not eradicate the traditional Boxing Day or Dec. 28 games. Those dates are sacrosanct in the UK sporting calendar. My proposal would be to keep those two matchdays and then have a break from Dec. 28 until Jan. 12, giving the teams over two weeks off.

In the PL there are obviously 20 teams which means that it isn’t quite as easy as the Bundesliga, for example, having a winter break as Germany’s top-flight teams only has 19 teams, meaning teams only have to play 36 games instead of the 38 games each Premier League side has to play. The FA Cup opening rounds would also have to be slotted back to late January but it could be more beneficial for the English national team and PL teams playing in European competitions as they would also have the same amount of rest as teams in Spain, Germany and Italy who all have winter breaks.

Well, regardless of what you think, here’s a quick list below looking at some of the potential positives and negatives of trying out a break.

Pros

  • Players rested, less injuries
  • PL teams could advance further in European competitions
  • English national team may have better chance in major competitions
  • Higher intensity in games throughout the season
  • Less midweek games during the season, more spread out schedule
  • Midseason breaks to warmer climates, small friendly tournaments could take place in USA or Middle East

Cons

  • Possibility of reduced games around the festive period
  • Confusion around when FA Cup third round would begin
  • Season running longer into May, possibly June, meaning less time before international tournaments

Report: Sakho sent home from Liverpool’s US tour by Jurgen Klopp

International Champions Cup 2014 - Manchester City v Liverpool
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Mamadou Sakho‘s days at Liverpool seem numbered.

According to multiple reports the French international defender has been sent home from Liverpool’s tour of the USA by Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC ]

Per the reports, Klopp is said to be upset with Sakho’s behavior on the trip to California as he turned up late for the flight to the USA and that was brought up in one of Klopp’s interviews while the team visited Alcatraz.

Sakho’s attitude around team training sessions at Stanford University was also questioned by Klopp but the towering defender isn’t actually training as he continues his recovery from an Achilles injury which will see him miss the start of the upcoming Premier League season.

All of this caps off a turbulent few months for 26-year-old Sakho who was only cleared of a doping violation by UEFA earlier this month. European soccer’s governing body accused Sakho of failing a drugs test following a Europa League Round of 16 win over Manchester United in March.

Sakho hasn’t played since April — which forced him to miss the Europa League final and France’s EURO 2016 campaign — and now his future at Anfield must be in serious doubt.

It is believed Sakho will arrive back in the UK on Tuesday and will continue treatment on his injury at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground.

Klopp’s side face Chelsea at the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Wednesday in their first International Champions Cup game, before then facing AC Milan on Saturday in Santa Clara, Calif. Their U.S. tour concludes with a friendly against AS Roma in St. Louis, Missouri on Aug. 1.

Report: Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker out five months with serious injury

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Per Mertesacker of Arsenal celebrates at the end of the UEFA Champions League Qualifier 2nd leg match between Arsenal and Besiktas at the Emirates Stadium on August 27, 2014 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Numerous reports are claiming that Arsenal will be without their BFG until 2017.

German central defender Per Mertesacker has not traveled with the Gunners on their tour of the USA with the club confirming their vice captain suffered a knee injury during their friendly win over Lens last Friday.

[ MORE: Spurs lose to Juve in ICC ]

Sky Sports in the UK claim that Mertesacker, 31, could be out for five months and they believe the club will announce that news in the next 48 hours.

That leaves Arsene Wenger with a real problem at center back.

Gabriel has also not traveled with Arsenal due to tonsillitis and Laurent Koscielny is also missing after being given extra time off following his part in France’s run to the EURO 2016 final.

That means only Calum Chambers and new signing from Bolton Wanderers, 20-year-old Rob Holding, are around as center back options for Wenger. Nacho Monreal could also slot in for the time being but Arsenal may now look to get another center back in before the end of the transfer window this summer.

The Gunners have arrived in the USA and play the MLS All-Stars in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday, then Chivas de Guadalajara next Monday at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.