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.

STREAM: Every 10am game; Premier League “Goal Rush”

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With four games coming your way on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET you have plenty of options as to how you watch them.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

First up, you can stream every game live online via the links below as Arsenal host Stoke City, Swansea and Sunderland clash in a relegation battle, Burnley welcome Bournemouth and Hull host Crystal Palace at 10 a.m. ET.

All the action will also be available via “Premier League Goal Rush” in a RedZone-like format which you can watch on the NBC Sports App, on NBCSports.com and on a dedicated Premier League Extratime channel as goals from all four matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be shown simultaneously as live look-ins occur around all the grounds in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being very similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

The feature game this weekend on “Goal Rush” will be Arsenal vs. Stoke City and as goals and incidents occur around the league, you will be transported to the action as it happens.

More info is available here, plus the schedule for all four games at 10 a.m. ET is below. You can stream each game live by clicking on the links below or above.


10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Stoke City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Sunderland – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Crystal Palace – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]

Watford 3-2 Everton: Hornets win pulsating clash

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  • Four-straight PL away defeats for Everton
  • First Watford win vs. Everton since March 1987
  • Okaka scores first two PL goals
  • Watford move on to 21 points

Watford fought back from 1-0 down to secure a well-deserved 3-2 win over Everton at Vicarage Road on Saturday, as Ronald Koeman continues to struggle with the Toffees winning just one of their last 10 Premier League games.

Romelu Lukaku put Everton ahead with a calm finish but Watford came roaring back and Stefano Okaka made it 1-1 at the break thanks to his fine back heel finish. In the second half Walter Mazzarri‘s side cranked up the pressure and made the most of some poor Everton defending from set pieces as Sebastian Prodl and then Okaka scored from headers to make it 3-1.

Lukaku headed home with five minutes to go to make it 3-2 and set up a nervy finish but the Hornets held on for a big win.

The victory moves Watford onto 21 points for the season and momentarily up to seventh, while Everton remain on 20 points and have now lost three of their last five games.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Early on Everton looked lively and they almost went ahead as a corner from the right was played short to Gerard Deulofeu and his dipping cross almost caught out Heurelho Gomes at the near post but the Watford goalkeeper hooked the ball off the line.

Watford began to come into the game with Etienne Capoue causing problems but soon Everton were ahead. A clipped ball over the top from Gareth Barry caught out Watford’s entire backline and Lukaku latched onto the loose ball and slotted home his first goal in five games and his eighth in the Premier League this season. 1-0 to the Toffees.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Soon after Troy Deeney was found in the box by Nordin Amrabat but a heavy touch saw the chance for him come and go. Watford huffed and puffed and eventually they were level through a wonderful finish from Okaka.

Amrabat’s cross from the right was met by the Italian striker at the near post and he sent in a beautiful back heel effort to score his first goal for Watford. 1-1. Before half time the Hornets had a great chance but Deeney didn’t anticipate Seamus Coleman missing the ball at the back post and the teams went in level.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half Everton started the better of the two teams and at the other end Prodl headed over from a good position inside the box but soon he would make up for that miss. Jose Holebas’ free kick from the left was nodded home by Prodl as he made it 2-1 and was completely unchallenged.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Watford were flying as Miguel Britos then forced Maarten Stekelenburg into a magnificent save as his header at the back post was tipped over and from the resulting corner the Hornets went further ahead.

Okaka sent a flicked header at the near post towards the back post and the ball crossed the line with Leighton Baines trying to clear it. 3-1.

Everton brought on Ross Barkley, Enner Valencia and Aaron Lennon with the latter crossing for Lukaku who headed home to make it 3-2 and then Gomes spilled a cross but no Everton player reacted with the clock ticking down.

The Hornets held on, and put back-to-back defeats behind them with an important three points.

Atletico Nacional to honor Chapecoense at Club World Cup

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: A detailed view of the Chapecoense badge during a minutes silence ahead of the EFL Cup quarter final match between Arsenal and Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on November 30, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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OSAKA, Japan (AP) Colombia’s Atletico Nacional arrived in Japan for the Club World Cup on Saturday still dealing with the trauma of the recent airplane crash that caused the cancellation of the Copa Sudamericana final.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Atletico was to play Brazilian club Chapecoense in the final but the plane carrying the Brazilian team to the game crashed, killing almost all on board.

Nacional qualified for the Club World Cup by winning the Copa Liberdatores in July and vowed to honor the memory of their rivals when they face either South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns or Japanese champions Kashima Antlers on Wednesday.

The directors of Atletico asked the governing body of South American football to award Chapecoense the Copa Sudamericana championship.

Atletico is hoping to advance to a final against Spanish giants Real Madrid on Dec. 18.

VIDEO: Stefano Okaka scores stunning flicked back heel goal

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10:  Stefano Okaka of Watford (33) scores their first and equalising goal during the Premier League match between Watford and Everton at Vicarage Road on December 10, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Stefano Okaka has arrived in the Premier League.

The Watford striker, 27, scored his first goal for the club and in England with a majestic back heel flick to draw the Hornets level against Everton at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports

Okaka started the play as he put the ball out wide to Nordin Amrabat and then got himself in the box as he converted the cross with a delightful back heel finish on the turn.

Watch the video below to see Okaka get off the mark in the Premier League.

Not a bad way to do it, Stefano…