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.

Wolfsburg holds off Braunschweig with Vieirinha blast (video)

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Outworked and outperformed in the first half of their playoff second leg at Eintracht Braunschweig, Wolfsburg needed a wake-up call to steady its hopes of staying in the Bundesliga.

That came off the boot of longtime right back Vieirinha, as the Portuguese veteran ran onto a rebound and fired a 17-yard arrow into the goal to boost Wolfsburg aggregate lead to 2-0.

[ MORE: Barcelona names new manager ]

That would mean the 2.Bundesliga hosts would need three goals to give the second tier a third promotion this season. An 82nd minute red card to Braunschweig’s Maximilian Sauer effectively ended those far-off dreams.

Ingolstadt and Darmstadt were relegated in the season, and Stuttgart and Hannover were promoted from 2.Bundesliga.

Barcelona announces Valverde as next manager

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Six days after leaving his post at Athletic Bilbao, another dream job has been signed, sealed, and delivered to Ernesto Valverde.

The ex-Barcelona striker is joining the Blaugranas as the replacement for accolade-winning coach Luis Enrique, who stepped away from the position after Saturday’s Copa del Rey victory.

[ JPW: Huddersfield completes the dream ]

Valverde, 53, played two seasons with Barca in the late 1980s, and previously coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia. His spent most of his playing career at Athletic and began as their manager in 2013.

Here’s what Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu said about Valverde:

“Valverde has the ability, the knowledge and the experience. He promotes players from the youth teams and he has a style and a way of working like ours. He has a philosophy of the game that is very Barça and he is a hard worker. Also, he is passionate about applying technology to both training and matches.”

Valverde becomes the fourth manager to take charge of Barcelona since Pep Guardiola left in 2012 (Tito Vilanova, Gerardo Martino, and Enrique are the others).

Huddersfield seal fairytale promotion to Premier League

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LONDON — Huddersfield Town have been promoted to the Premier League.

Let that sink in.

[ MORE: Wagner reacts to “fairytale” ]

The Terriers, for the first time in their history, will play in the PL and for the first time since 1972 they will be in the top-flight of English soccer.

German-American manager David Wagner has worked a miracle to turnaround a team who finished in 19th place in the Championship last season. They beat Reading 4-3 on penalty kicks on Monday after a tight, tense 120 minutes of action at Wembley Stadium, holding their nerve to seal an estimated windfall of $218 million next season and up to $372 million if they survive in the PL for another season.

All day long, and perhaps all season long, it has felt like Huddersfield were destined for promotion.

Huddersfield sold out their full allocation of tickets, 39,150, and their fans made the most noise all day long. There was no contest.

In central London Huddersfield’s fans piled on to the tube heading to Wembley for their day of reckoning.

“It’s his first full season as a fan!” said a proud mother decked out in a Huddersfield shirt as she hugged her five-year-old son proudly. “What a time to start!” replied a stranger, also a Huddersfield fan.

Excited chatter filled the 15 minute tube ride from Baker Street to Wembley Park as fans “I can’t believe it,” said one fan to another, quietly. “It will hit home when we get into the stadium,” his friend replied.

Steven Sunderland stood outside Wembley with his wife Melanie and their daughter Megan.

He summed up the surprise that Huddersfield were even one game away from the Premier League to start with.

“It would be amazing to play all of the big clubs, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, clubs like that,” Sunderland said. “I never thought we would make it. No chance. I just thought if we make midtable, it would be an improvement on last season because we’ve been struggling with relegation the last few seasons. This season, David Wagner has got the team playing really well, best team spirit I’ve ever seen for a long, long time. The fans are really connected. It shows today, there are nearly 40,000 Huddersfield fans here today and they are up for it.”

Oh yes. Yes they were.

Amid dissecting the struggles of Yorkshire rivals Leeds United, talk of just going up to the PL for one year and then enjoying it “no matter how we do” was rife among the Huddersfield fans. One Terriers supporter puffed out his cheeks, gripping his can of cider nervously as he walked up Wembley Way.

Tense was the word of the day.

With the future of both clubs on the line, the game itself didn’t deliver end-to-end excitement. With an estimated $218 million on the line for next season and $370 million if they manage to stay up one year in the PL, the economic benefit for Huddersfield the club, and the town, will be huge.

When Michael Hefele headed wide and Isaiah Brown missed a glorious chance early on, you began to wonder if it was Huddersfield’s day. In the end none of that mattered.

Christopher Schindler stepped up and slotted home the winning penalty kick after Danny Ward saved from Jordan Obita as Huddersfield had reached the promised land.

Huddersfield chairman Dean Hoyle summed up his emotions after taking over the club and putting in a prudent plan for promotion involving loan players and a budget less than $12 million this season.

“I’m so emotional. To say I’ve been supporting this club since 1969, to be a Premier League team now – dreams come true,” Hoyle said. “It’s huge what it means for Huddersfield, we’re on the big stage. It proves you don’t have to blow your brains to get promoted. We’ve done it the right way.”

What impact will this have on the Yorkshire town?

Sunderland and his family summed it up perfectly as yet another underdog, just like Bournemouth, Blackpool and Burnley before them, has risen to the promised land.

“It is massive. It is the land of milk and honey if you like, the place where everybody wants to be,” Sunderland said. “It will be brilliant, for the town. Just that little bit of success makes a big difference. We’ve been on TV this season more times than we have been the last 10 seasons. Next year it will be high profile very week. Match of the Day, on TV… Champions League the year after!? You never know.”

What did Wagner have to say? He told ProSoccerTalk he wants Huddersfield to keep the identity he has helped build and nurture.

“We have to be focused on ourselves and this football club has to be focused on themselves. This football club has created an identity and this was always our target, that we create an identity and a style of football where even if we wear neutral jerseys people from outside are able to say ‘okay, that could be Huddersfield.’ I think it makes no sense to compare ourselves with other small clubs. This football club has its own story and I think, we are on the way.”

They certainly are. Even if their fans can’t quite believe it.

As some posed for photos outside the electronic board at Wembley which said “congratulations Huddersfield!” others stood around in disbelief.

A group of three young Yorkshiremen sat on the tube back to Baker Street in stunned silence.

“We are going to be on Match of the Day!” said one fan, rubbing his hands in glee as he recites an intro to next years show which, of course, features Huddersfield top of the bill.

Discussion then switches to which games they’re most looking forward to. Arsenal, Liverpool and Man United away tops the list.

“We can’t believe it. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said one fan as they looked at each other with dropped jaws.

Believe it, lads.

Watch out, Premier League. Huddersfield are on their way.

David Wagner reacts to Huddersfield’s promotion

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LONDON — There will be an American coach in the Premier League next season.

David Wagner, 45, led Huddersfield Town to its first-ever promotion to the Premier League as the Terriers beat Reading 4-3 on penalty kicks after a tense Championship Playoff Final at Wembley which ended 0-0 after 120 minutes.

Speaking after the nail-biting win, Wagner was delighted that his team proved everyone wrong and came from nowhere to reach the top-flight for the first time since 1972.

“A lot of the pundits wrote us off before the season,” Wagner told Sky Sports. “Over the season I thought we could do a little bit more, I thought around Christmas when we’d played everyone we had a chance. What happened is an unbelievable story – a fairytale.”

The former U.S. national team forward has galvanized the club, linking the team and fans together with passion and a plethora of loan players from the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.

What he has achieved this season has left Huddersfield fans stunned as the former Borussia Dortmund II boss, who left the German giants in November 2015, has built a hardworking, organized team.

ProSoccerTalk asked Wagner if he will look at any of the smaller teams who have been recently promoted to the PL — the likes of Bournemouth, Burnley et al. — to follow a blueprint of how to plan ahead.

“We have to be focused on ourselves and this football club has to be focused on themselves,” Wagner said. “This football club has created an identity and this was always our target, that we create an identity and a style of football where even if we wear neutral jerseys people from outside are able to say ‘okay, that could be Huddersfield.’ I think it makes no sense to compare ourselves with other small clubs. This football club has its own story and I think, we are on the way.”

They are certainly on their way and we will be hearing a lot about the Terriers in the days and weeks to come.