Clint Dempsey

MLS Playoff Preview: Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders

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  • Seattle winless in seven ahead of Wednesday’s match.
  • Colorado won last meeting, 5-1 on October 5.
  • Winner meets Portland in Western Conference semifinals.

Speculation Seattle had won MLS Cup with the purchase of Clint Dempsey was rash, but with the Sounders closing their campaign winless in seven, those prognostications look downright foolhardy. History (particularly MLS’s) is littered with examples of teams overcoming financial disadvantages. Seattle’s purchases of Dempsey and Obafemi Martins have shown: There’s no guarantee talent alone can deliver an MLS title.

Colorado’s in a position to prove that point on Wednesday, when the meet at CenturyLink Field in the Western Conference’s winner-take-all opening round (10:30 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN). While not the most hamstrung team in the league, the Rapids just signed their first Designated Player this season (Panamanian international Gaby Torres). Compare that to Seattle, who have had nine (NINE!) Designated Players in their four-year history.1 Not all Designated Players are created equal, but in the case of Seattle and Colorado, the contrast helps illustrate the divide between an MLS have and an one of the league’s have nots.

To counter that, Colorado’s built with youth. They added Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown in this year’s draft. Chris Klute was purchased from NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks last year. Clint Irwin’s emerged after an injury to Matt Pickens, and Shane O’Neill has held down a place next to Drew Moor in central defense. All five, completing their first seasons as MLS regulars, helped the Rapids transcend their predicted also-ran status. Unexpectedly, the team kept a regular place in the West’s top five.

In that sense, Colorado may have already accomplished what they set out to do, but matched up against a Seattle squad they routed at the beginning of the month, the Rapids have a chance to do much more. Win at CenturyLink on Wednesday, and Colorado not only secures a 36th and 37th game of the season, they also make Malcolm Gladwell’s precepts come to life, becoming the MLS David that toppled the well-funded Goliath.

Given the problems they gave Seattle on Oct. 5 (the 5-1 shellacking at Dick’s Sporting Goods part), there’s not reason this David might be Wednesday’s Goliath. All of the Sounder problems that were exposed in Commerce may still exist. Seattle’s defense is still a collection of average (at best) defenders that rely on a strong midfield and good goalkeeping. If Michael Gspurning isn’t his 2012 self and the opposition finds a way around Osvaldo Alonso, the Sounders’ backs are sitting ducks. The Rapids proved it on the fifth, and three days later (before the midfield and goalkeeping improved), Vancouver reiterated the point.

It highlights the obvious. Seattle just needs to play better. They did so in Portland (losing 1-0). They did so on Sunday against LA. But when a home draw is all you can get from your month’s best performance, your team’s in big trouble.

If Seattle somehow finds their former selves before Wednesday’s kickoff, everything we learned on October 5 becomes irrelevant. The seven-match unbeaten run becomes extraneous, and the turmoil and speculation that’s accompanied this unexpected collapse is rendered moot. The focus shifts to Portland.

But given we have no idea what this team’s “former self” is, what’s Seattle trying to return to? An abstract idea we’ve inferred from their individual talents – something that’s never been allowed to come together on the field. Ahead of Wednesday’s winner-take-all, injuries, call ups, and suspensions have left us no proof Seattle can become that juggernaut, let alone reverse the momentum the Rapids carry from Colorado.

Either Seattle paints a new picture for themselves or starts their offseason a month earlier than expected. Who would have thought do-or-die would come this soon?

1- Those nine Designated Players: Dempsey, Martins, Mauro Rosales, Shalrie Joseph, Christian Tiffert, Fredy Montero, Alvaro Fernandez, Blaise Nkufo, Freddie Ljundberg.

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Lineups and Live Stream)

AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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Tottenham Hotspur’s thin hopes of winning the Premier League demand all three points from its visit to Chelsea on Monday (Watch live on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra).

Spurs are eight points behind Leicester City, and a loss or draw makes the Foxes the 2015-16 champions.

[ MORE: Burnley clinches promotion to the Premier League ]

Reigning champion Chelsea, in an odd twist, can play the spoiler for either its London neighbors or the fairytale Foxes.

 

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Begovic; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Mikel, Matic; Willian, Fabregas, Pedro; Diego CostaSubs: Amelia, Baba, Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Oscar, Hazard, Traore.

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris (c), Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Dier, Dembele; Lamela, Eriksen, Son; Kane. Subs: Vorm, Davies, Wimmer, Carroll, Chadli, Mason, Clinton.

“It’s magic” — Goal hero Vokes hails Burnley’s Premier League return

BURNLEY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 02:  Sam Vokes of Burnley (obscured) scores their first goal past goalkeeper Matt Ingram of QPR during the Sky Bet Championship match between Burnley and Queens Park Rangers at Turf Moor on May 2, 2016 in Burnley, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Sam Vokes‘ 61st minute header has Burnley back in the Premier League at the first time of asking, and there’s only one way to describe it.

Magic.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood to Hamburg for $4 million? ]

Burnley clinched automatic promotion thanks to its 1-0 win over QPR and Brighton’s draw earlier in the day. With Brighton facing Middlesbrough this weekend, only one could pass Burnley in points.

Take away the math, though, and Burnley is flying off the emotion of the 1-0 win.

From the BBC:

“It’s magic, it’s a great feeling. You could feel the anticipation around the place when we kicked off. We knew what we had to do after the Brighton result earlier. Magic scenes here today. Getting that goal sparked relief around the place. I missed a lot of the Premier League last season but hopefully I’ll get another chance next season.”

And here’s Sean Dyche, classically stoic in the face of extreme emotion:

“That was well off our performance level but the result was all that mattered today. The resilience, belief and character got us through. You can’t be brilliant every week, we don’t think we’re the real deal, but we’re a real group that sticks together.”

If you don’t know much about Burnley, we suggest Joe Posnanski’s SportsWorld piece from last season’s Premier League campaign.

Congrats to the Clarets.

Burnley clinches automatic promotion to the Premier League

PRESTON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 22:  Andre Gray of Burnley holds up one finger to indicate the score to opposing supporters as he is substituted during the Sky Bet Championship match between Preston North End and Burnley at Deepdale on April 22, 2016 in Preston, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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One claret and blue team has been relegated from the Premier League, but another is taking its place.

Sam Vokes did not score in 15 Premier League appearances last year with Burnley, but his goal on Monday boosted the Clarets back into England’s top flight.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood to Hamburg for $4 million? ]

Vokes, 26, headed home in the second half to give Burnley a 1-0 lead over Queens Park Rangers, and the Clarets held on to make sure their absence from the Premier League was a mere season long.

The win gives Burnley 90 points with one match to play. With Middlesbrough and Brighton & Hove Albion sitting on 88 points and playing each other on the final day of the season, only one winner can pass the Clarets.

Report: USMNT striker Wood would cost Hamburger around $4 million

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Bobby Wood #7 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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There seems to be growing interest in USMNT striker Bobby Wood, who is having a sensational season for Union Berlin in 2.Bundesliga.

Linked with Liverpool in March, Wood is now said to be desired by Hamburg in Germany’s top flight.

[ MORE: Klinsmann calls up 40 for Copa America camp ]

Hamburg’s strike corps consists of young target forward Pierre-Michel Lasogga, ‘Gladbach loanee Josip Drmic and veteran Ivica Olic.

Bild.de says the fee is around $4 million, but that the club has yet to begin discussing terms with Union.

Wood has 17 goals and 3 assists in league play this season, and has also become a mainstay with the U.S. team under Jurgen Klinsmann.

[ MORE: Timbers striker wanted by Palace, St. Etienne ]

Union Berlin is sixth in 2.Bundesliga, while Hamburg is 11th in Bundesliga.

Fellow USMNT striker Aron Johannsson has faced a long injury lay-off with Werder Bremen, while a similar situation has faced Terrence Boyd. The latter is with Red Bull Leipzig and is set for a promotion to the Bundesliga barring extreme unlikelihood over the final few weeks.