Clint Dempsey

Evans blast, Johnson insurance see Seattle past Colorado, into the Western Conference semifinals

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The seven-match winless streak’s no more, and while the game may have had only one goal between the sides for most of the match, the Sounders finally looked like a team that could do damage commensurate with their talent. Discarding the form that saw the one-time Supporters’ Shield contenders plummet into the West’s first round game, Seattle posted a convincing 2-0 win at CenturyLink Field, eliminating the Colorado Rapids from the 2013 Major League Soccer playoffs.

The game’s opening goal — a 17-yard, 28th minute Brad Evans blast from the right of the penalty area — prove the game-winner for Seattle, who came into the match winless in seven games. That streak included a 5-1 loss on October 5 in Colorado, the Rapids having kicked off the Sounders’ slide from first in the West to the conference’s fourth seed. On Wednesday, Colorado failed to summon any of their form from Commerce, rarely challenging Seattle.

In the 85th minute, however, Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning gave Colorado a potential opening, inexplicably leaving his area to catch a long ball sent to the edge of his penalty area. Silviu Petrescu’s red card was obligatory, leaving the Sounders to play out the match’s final minutes with 10 men. Marcus Hahnemann, unthreatened on the ensuing restart, saw out the remainder of Seattle’s clean sheet.

Three minutes into stoppage time, with the Rapids pushing for an equalizer, Eddie Johnson broke in on Clint Irwin and finished inside the Colorado keeper’s left post from eight yards out, eliminating any doubt Gspurning’s mistake would come back to haunt Seattle.

[MORE: How it happened: More details on Seattle’s big win over Colorado]

[MORE: PST Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson edges Brad Evans]

The win puts Seattle back in the West’s semifinals, where they’ll be matched up against the conference’s top finishers: the Portland Timbers. The two-legged Cascadia derby starts on Saturday at CenturyLink – the rivals’ first ever meeting in the postseason.

Until then, the Sounders can enjoy the levity of shedding crisis’s weight from their shoulders. On Wednesday, Seattle not only moved beyond their seven-game slide. They may have provided a glimpse of a team that will challenge deeper into this tournament.

Goals

Seattle: 28′ Evans, 93′ Johnson

Lineups

SEATTLE: Michael Gspurning; DeAndre Yedlin (45′ Marc Burch), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Djimi Traoré, Leo González; Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, Adam Moffat; Clint Dempsey; Lamar Neagle (88′ Marcus Hanhemann), Eddie Johnson

Subs: Zach Scott, Shalrie Joseph, Andy Rose, Mauro Rosales, David Estrada

COLORADO: Clint Irwin; Shane O’Neill, Drew Moor, German Mera, Chris Klute; Nathan Sturgis (85′ Marvell Wynne), Hendry Thomas; Atiba Harris, Martín Rivero (61′ Vicente Sanchez), Deshorn Brown (73′ Edson Buddle); Gabriel Torres

Subs: Matt Pickens, Anthony Wallace, Nick Labrocca, Dillon Serna

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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  • Man Utd leads all-time 43W-34D-28L
  • Clubs even in last six (2-2-2)
  • Red Devils unbeaten in 16
  • Stoke winners of two-straight

After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.

Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.

Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.

 

What they’re saying

Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United“There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”

Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia“I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”

Prediction

United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.

AFCON wrap: Results keep Group C undecided

Ivory Coast's Wilfried Bony controls the ball on his head during their training session at the Stade Akoakam, Oyem, Gabon, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match against Congo. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Like Group A, Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations has very little decided ahead of the final group stage match.

[ MORE: Guardiola “said goodbye to title” ]

Ivory Coast 2-2 DR Congo

A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.

DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.

Morocco 3-1 Togo

Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.

Saturday’s matches

Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.