Osvaldo Alonso

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

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Seattle didn’t just survive on Wednesday. That uncertain side we saw close out the season? The one whose rebound from their precipitous fall sill left them skittish against Portland, Dallas, and Los Angeles? The Sounders left them in Tukwila, instead giving their best performance since defeating Real Salt Lake in September. In beating Colorado 2-0, the Sounders took a huge step toward realizing their immense potential.

Seattle was the better team from the opening kickoff, generating a chance within three minutes when a reorganized Rapids defense got too narrow, leaving room in the left of the area for Adam Moffat to fire off an uncontested shot.  Shane O’Neill, normally a central defender, had been given the surprise assignment at right back, but as Seattle moved inside-out, the 20-year-old was caught inside. Clint Irwin’s punch on Moffat’s shot kept the match scoreless.

The Sounders had another huge chance in the 13th minute when Moffat popped up in the right side of the box and beat Irwin from a sharp angle. Drew Moor, however, had dropped back to the line to block the shot, the ensuing rebound barely eluding Lamar Neagle before being cleared.

Controlling the midfield, Seattle was preventing Colorado’s holding pair (Hendry Thomas, Nathan Sturgis) from connecting with attacking midfielder Martín Rivero. With the game staying in the middle of the park, the Rapids couldn’t use their speed out wide. At the same time, Clint Dempsey was taking advantage of a slow start from Colorado’s holders, managing the game with his distribution high in midfield. With Eddie Johnson’s movement into wide areas opening up the defense (as Lamar Neagle probed), the first half-hour was all Seattle.

In the 28th minute, the hosts’ play paid off. Again moving from right-to-left through the midfield, Dempsey found Johnson outside the penalty area before the ball went wide to an oncoming Leo González. The Sounders left back hit a cross into penalty area chaos, but when the clearance went to an abandoned Brad Evans in the right of the area, the U.S. international chest-trapped and shot into the far side of goal, putting Seattle up 1-0.

source: AP
Clint Dempsey has his most influential game as a Sounder, his distribution at the top of midfield playing a part in the team’s opening goal. (Photo: AP Photo.)

When the game resumed Seattle was without right back DeAndre Yedlin, the rookie having turned his ankle just before halftime. They were also without the same level of control they exerted over the first 30 minutes, Colorado’s intensity having picked up with the second half whistle. Going forward, however, the Rapids were still having trouble connecting, with the half’s best early chance coming when a Seattle substitute Marc Burch’s direct kick nailed Irwin’s crossbar.

Once Colorado brought Vicente Sanchez on for Rivero, the Rapids started generating chances, most notably down their left, opposite Evans at right back. Chris Klute was starting to come into the game from left back, and Deshorn Brown was getting opportunities to use his speed against the slower Evans. In the 56th minute, Brown went close (but over) with a shot from just outside the box.

But Colorado’s ascendency proved benign and short-lived, and after a few minutes on the back foot, Seattle adjusted. When they weren’t outright stopping Colorado’s approaches they were still poised for counter attacks. Osvaldo Alonso, strong all night at the base of midfield, was bursting out of his deep-sitting role to try and help Johnson, Neagle, and Dempsey find a match-sealing goal.

That dynamic persisted until near the end of regulation, when Seattle lost their starting goalkeeper. Michael Gspurning, under no pressure on a ball kicked long toward his area, came two yards out of his box to catch the bouncer. After a collision with the late arriving Edson Buddle, Gspurning was shown a straight red card, having intentionally handled a ball outside his area.

It wasn’t long, however, until the 10-man Sounders put the match away. In the 93rd minute, Eddie Johnson got behind the Rapids defense and went in alone on Clint Irwin. As the Colorado keeper came off his line, Johnson put his right-footed shot inside the right post, giving Seattle some needed insurance.

Despite the late drama, Seattle gave their most impressive performance since September, and while a particularly aimless Colorado played a part in their dominance, the Sounders deserve their share of credit, too. With strong performances from Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey supported by a stalwart midfield. the Sounders were never truly challenged. Convincing in their control, Seattle have earned their place in the West’s final four.

[MORE: Evans blast, Johnson insurance sees Seattle past Colorado, into the Western Conference semifinals]

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

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.

Puksas Award finalists: Somehow absent is USWNT’s Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd, USWNT

FIFA announced on Monday its three-man list of finalists for the 2015 Puskas Award, handed out each year to the player who scored the “most beautiful” goal of the past calendar year.

[ MORE: 2015 Ballon d’Or finalists ]

The three men up for this year’s honor are Alessandro Florenzi (WATCH HERE), Lionel Messi (WATCH HERE) and Wendell Lira (WATCH HERE) — all scorers of fantastically beautiful goals this year.

That means Carli Lloyd, who made the original list of nominees before being whittled down to just three, is shockingly tragically scandalously criminally not a finalist for this year’s award. Reminder: This is the goal we’re talking about.

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

So, here’s the case for Lloyd:

  • She scored from midfield
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final to complete a hat trick
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final to complete a hat trick in the 16th minute

How in the world is Carli Lloyd’s midfield goal to complete a 16-minute hat trick and win a World Cup final not a top-three goal of the year? You got some (more) explaining to do, FIFA.