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

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

  • The kids are alright …

Given the slowly diminishing significance of MLS’s Draft, it’s remarkable Colorado found two starters in the 2013 crop, even if one is iffy for tomorrow’s game in Seattle. Deshorn Brown, the 22-year-old  out of Central Florida, will likely be in Oscar Pareja’s attack, though Dillon Powers, a Notre Dame alum who’s been so crucial to the Rapid’s midfield, is still coming back from concussion symptoms. He missed Sunday’s game in Vancouver.

Add in goalkeeper Clint Irwin, defenders Chris Klute and Shane O’Neill, and Panamanian attacker Gaby Torres, and over half of Pareja’s starting XI could be 24-or-younger. Contrast that with the Sounders who’ll only start one player (DeAndre Yedlin, 20) younger than 26.

For Colorado, their youngest starter may be their most important. At least, facing a potential matchup with U.S. international Eddie Johnson, the 20-year-old O’Neill will have to be at his best. In his first year as a starter, the Ireland-born U.S. U-level regular has show all the tools necessary to be one of the league’s best central defenders, but like the rest of his teammates, the question is whether he can apply them in the playoffs.

  • Though they’ll get help from some key veterans, additions.

Gaby Torres’s mid-season acquisition was the big one, the Panamanian international becoming the club’s first Designated Player, but there have been a number of other key additions that have rounded out the Rapid’s youth movement. Acquired from Los Angeles this offseason, Edson Buddle has given Colorado a consistent presence up top, even if that presence is sometimes short on production. Midfielders Nick Labrocca and Nathan Sturgis provide valuable depth, particularly if Powers can’t go.

Vicente Sanchez may have been the team’s most influential addition, however, though the 33-year-old Uruguayan is also a fitness doubt for Wednesday’s game. When healthy, his presence on the left of midfield combines with Klute to form one of the most dangerous wide attacks in Major League Soccer.

  • But will inexperience be their undoing?

It’s not so much the kids can’t perform. Some youngsters don’t perform in the postseason, but veterans aren’t immune a post season dip, either. You either raise your game in response to a more competitive environment or you don’t. Mentality and talent are more important than age.

Where youth could come into play is in realizing the stakes. If Colorado’s lack of playoff experience sees players default to a “just another game” mentality, they’ll be sorely mistaken. A playoff game in Seattle is not just another game, and while you have to remain focused on your team’s plan and your responsibilities, you also need to match the energy of the occasion.

Young players are fully capable of doing that, but that youth often comes with an a lack of experience. While that can be overcome, it also could lead to a naiveté that will undermine Colorado’s hopes.

  • Chris Klute’s going to be a handful

Chris Klute just finished his first full year in MLS, but he’s already the league’s best left back, combining a threat going forward with strength and athleticism that allows him to maintain a presence at the back. For years we’ve been waiting for this type of fullback to become more prevalent in Major League Soccer, and that day may have finally arrived. Leading all defenders in assists (seven), he deserves to be in this year’s Best XI.

Seattle has their own talented attacking fullback, though on Wednesday, DeAndre Yedlin’s defensive acumen may prove more important than his ability going forward. If Sanchez plays, he’ll have to deal with a tandem that’s capable of deciding the game. If the former Schalke midfielder’s out, Yedlin will likely see Deshorn Brown combine with Klute.

Compounding Yedlin’s concerns is a formation tweak that could expose the 20-year-old defender. If the Sounders do go with a diamond midfield, there won’t be a player dedicated to the right flank, potentially freeing up space for Klute to come into the attack.

  • Hendry Thomas is capable of containing Clint Dempsey

The success of Seattle’s diamond (if Schmid even deploys one) will rest on Clint Dempsey’s ability to create for Eddie Johnson and Lamar Neagle, but with a formation that uses two defensive midfielders, Colorado should be well-equipped to contain the U.S. international.

But even if Nathan Sturgis wasn’t helping in front of the line, Hendry Thomas would be a handful for the U.S. international. The Honduran is one of the roughest destroyers in the league, his single-minded, unrelenting approach straddling that line between disruptive and dirty. Thomas’s willingness to get stuck in can be intimidating, and while a player of Dempsey’s experience is unlikely to wilt, he may have to adjust his game to deal with the Rapids’ midfielder.

Unfortunately for Seattle, notorious whistle-swallower Silviu Petrescu will be officiating tomorrow’s game, and while you could argue that also benefits Sounders’ destroyer Osvaldo Alonso, “Ossie” is not dealing with a Dempsey-like game changer. Petrescu’s presence could give Thomas an extra edge.

Klopp, Henderson: Coutinho shows he’s “highest quality player”

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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As it turns out, it was with good reason that Liverpool refused to lose superstar midfielder Philippe Coutinho this summer, despite big-money advances from Barcelona, and the player’s admission that he himself wanted to make the move.

[ PL roundup: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

On Saturday, the 25-year-old Brazilian made his second straight in Premier League play, and reminded everyone just why a club like Barcelona would pursue him with unrelenting vigor. He started with an assist to Mohamed Salah for the game’s opening goal, and chipped in a score of his own, a stunning free kick (WATCH HERE), to double the lead a few minutes later. The Reds would hang (just barely) for a 3-2 win away to Leicester City.

Following the game, Liverpool manager was full of praise for Coutinho, calling him “the highest quality player,” which is something he believes was never in doubt — quotes from the BBC:

“Nobody was in doubt about this. It is clear he is the highest quality player. We are happy to have him around.”

As for the performance overall, Klopp was largely pleased, even if being so required him to completely ignore the (continued) defensive frailties of his side:

“It is not a time to be completely cool but overall I was happy with our performance. The boys deserved the three points. The free kick for the first goal was not a free-kick and it was a foul on Simon [for the second goal].

“At the start of the second half we played the same football like Leicester — kind of hectic. Simon saved the penalty and then I think we really deserved the win.

“I really thought in a moment like this so many things are positive. The three points are the proof for the public that we are still here, everything is good. Let’s make the next step together.”

Captain Jordan Henderson joined Klopp in his praise for Coutinho, echoing similar sentiments about the best player employed at Anfield since the departure of Luis Suarez:

“Coutinho is a fantastic player. He produces magical things at crucial times of the game. This will give us good confidence going forward.”

Bundesliga wrap: BVB stays red hot, Hoffenheim goes second (video)

Bernd Thissen/dpa via AP
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Borussia Dortmund is alone atop the Bundesliga table with 16 points and a plus-18 goal differential, while Hoffenheim moved ahead of Bayern Munich for second place on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]


Borussia Dortmund 6-1 Borussia Monchengladbach

It wasn’t the Christian Pulisic show this time, as star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged a hat trick, Maximilian Philipp added two goals, and Julian Weigl’s knuckling shot from distance rounded out the scoring. Lars Stindl scored for the visitors.

Pulisic went 64 minutes for the hosts.

Hoffenheim 2-0 Schalke

A second-straight start for American central midfielder Weston McKennie unfortunately yieled a second-successive loss, as Dennis Geiger scored in the 13th minute and Lukas Rupp salted away the win in the 90th. McKennie went 74 minutes, won seven tackles, and covered 9.47 kilometers in the loss.

RB Leipzig 2-1 Eintracht Frankfurt

Jean-Kevin Augustin and Timo Werner gave last season’s upstarts a 2-0 before Ante Rebic set the stage for a promising final quarter hour with a 77th minute tally.

Elsewhere
Bayern Munich 2-2 Wolfsburg — Friday
Stuttgart 0-0 Augsburg
Mainz 1-0 Hertha Berlin
Werder Bremen 0-0 Freiburg
Hannover vs. Koln — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hamburg — Noon ET

Premier League roundup: Goals galore on wild Saturday (video)

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The goals started early and kept on coming as four Premier League title chasers won on the road and a fifth buried a visitor on Saturday.

[ MORE: Celtic continues Old Firm Derby run


West Ham United 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur — RECAP

Harry Kane scored a pair of goals and Christian Eriksen also scored for Spurs, whose 3-0 lead was jeopardized by a red card to Serge Aurier.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez made it 3-1 before the sending off, and Cheikhou Kouyate lowered the deficit to one only to see Spurs hold on for the win.

Stoke City 0-4 ChelseaRECAP

Alvaro Morata’s hat trick propelled Chelsea into the Top Three, and the Spaniard was very good in bagging his three goals. Pedro also scored for Chelsea, who moves to 13 points.

Leicester City 2-3 LiverpoolRECAP

With Liverpool this season, it certainly hasn’t been easy but it’s often entertaining. The Reds had 2-0 and 3-1 leads, the first through a fantastic Philippe Coutinho free kick, but needed a Simon Mignolet stop of a Jamie Vardy penalty kick to hold on for all three points.

Everton 2-1 Bournemouth — RECAP

Joshua King‘s opener had the Cherries dreaming of a second victory and Ronald Koeman likely wondering about his job, but Oumar Niasse — yep — scored a pair of second half goals to give Everton a much-needed win.

Burnley 0-0 Huddersfield TownRECAP

The surprising top half teams split the points despite five total shots on target.

Swansea City 1-2 WatfordRECAP

Tammy Abraham‘s equalizer had the Liberty Stadium hopeful of at least a point, but Richarlison joined Andre Gray on the score sheet as Marco Silva‘s men rebounded nicely from their blowout at the hands of Manchester City.

Southampton 0-1 Manchester UnitedRECAP

Don’t give the big Belgian two bites at the apple. Romelu Lukaku scored off his own rebound after Ashley Young sent in an early cross at St. Mary’s, then United held on through Jose Mourinho’s sending off to top Saints.

Manchester City 5-0 Crystal PalaceRECAP

Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne played a game of “Can you top this?” with service to their teammates, and Sane also scored as Man City clobbered struggling Palace to doom the Eagles to a Premier League-worst (ever) six matches without a goal to start the season. Raheem Sterling had two of City’s goals, with Sergio Aguero and Fabian Delph also netting markers.

Leicester City 2-3 Liverpool: Reds hold on to win

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Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho, and Jordan Henderson scored as Liverpool built a pair of two-goal leads before holding on to beat Leicester City 3-2 at King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Shinji Okazaki and Jamie Vardy for Leicester, but Simon Mignolet stopped a Vardy penalty to preserve the three points.

The win moves Liverpool fifth. Leicester sits 16th with four points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jamie Vardy raced past Liverpool’s backs to trouble Simon Mignolet in the sixth minute, and Riyad Mahrez put the rebound wide of the Reds’ goal.

Liverpool should have gone ahead when Emre Can‘s blast off the post rebound to Mohamed Salah, but the in-form winger missed his point-blank chance in howling fashion.

He turned to the bench and gave a thumbs up, so it’s no surprise that Salah made amends moments later with a back post header of Philippe Coutinho’s cross.

Coutinho scored a beauty of his own in the 23rd minute, as the Brazilian lorded over a free kick before spinning a goal just off the top of the wall and past a flying Kasper Schmeichel.

Okazaki had a goal ruled null when Harry Maguire‘s assist was rightly deemed offside, but made it 2-1 in the third minute of stoppage time. A corner kick bounded off Maguire and a lunging Okazaki beat Mignolet to the loose ball.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Vardy had a shot blocked which turned into a Liverpool counter goal through Henderson, but the English striker restored the deficit to one when he nodded a Demarai Gray rebound past Mignolet in the 69th minute.

And the industrious striker drew a penalty within two minutes when Mignolet missed a clearing attempt and took down Vardy. It wasn’t malicious, but it was a foul in the box.

Mignolet saved it!

Can nearly gave away a second PK with a handball moments later, but the linesman ruled that there was no intent in Can’s arm striking the ball.