Eddie Johnson, Jack Jewsbury

MLS Playoff Preview: Seattle Sounders FC vs. Portland Timbers, first leg

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  • First Cascadia Cup rivalry playoff matchup in MLS history. Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers split three regular-season games in 2013, each winning one and one ending in a tie.
  • Seattle will be on short rest, having played Wednesday in the play-in game and defeated the Colorado Rapids, 2-0. The Sounders won’t have to travel, but they’ll be without starting goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who was sent off.
  • This is Portland’s first MLS playoff game in franchise history, while Seattle looks to avoid a heavy loss in the first leg similar to those that led to elimination the past two seasons.

Major League Soccer has its dream playoff matchup, as Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers get set to face off over two legs. More than 50,000 fans will pass through the turnstiles across those two games, providing a good advertisement for the league to fans watching the MLS playoffs.

The teams met three times in three different leagues’ playoffs throughout the years. Portland won in the 1975 North American Soccer league quarterfinals, while Seattle won both the 2004 A-League conference semifinals and the 2005 USL First Division first round. The first two series went to extra time, while the USL-1 series ended 3-0.

Watch Sounders-Timbers (Sat., 10 pm ET) on NBC Sports Live Extra

Based on the last regular-season meeting between these teams, the fireworks on the field shouldn’t be far behind. Timbers midfielder Kalif Alhassan scored the only goal of the game just before halftime, and Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso saw a straight red card for an elbow to Will Johnson’s face behind the play.

It was another moment of bad blood between two bitter rivals. Last year, Fredy Montero and Lovel Palmer both received red cards in the same match. Not to mention the words and trash talk that have flown back and forth down Interstate-5 among the years.

source: AP
The Timbers’ Caleb Porter is an MLS Coach of the Year candidate after leading one of the biggest turnarounds in league history between 2012 and 2013. (Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP)

Home-field advantage has proven to be huge in this matchup the last couple seasons, especially if the Sounders draw a large crowd. The Timbers escaped with a point in an early season game this year, then lost by a single goal in their second visit to CenturyLink Field in front of 67,385. Likewise, Portland won by Alhassan’s lone marker three weeks ago at JELD-WEN Field.

On only five occasions throughout the season have Caleb Porter’s men failed to get at least a tie on the road and all three points at home, which bodes well for the rookie coach in his club’s debut playoff series. However, that season of consistency is only a memory in the playoffs, when a single mistake, injury or red card could cost a team its season.

Meanwhile, the Sounders have finally started to figure out how to be effective with Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson on the field at the same time. A change to a diamond midfield formation a couple games ago has given Seattle two of its best recent performances, with Dempsey scoring once and assisting once and Johnson adding a goal of his own.

Obafemi Martins could still be out for the first leg with a groin injury, though, giving Lamar Neagle another chance at the forward spot next to Johnson. In goal, Marcus Hahnemann will take over for Gspurning, as he did before the loss earlier this month against the Timbers.

For Portland, Maximiliano Urruti and Diego Valeri continue to manage their injuries. Urruti hasn’t played since leaving the Seattle game with a hamstring strain, while Valeri has played through some pain caused by an adductor strain through the last couple weeks of the season.

As it happens with all rivalry games, the team that can rise above the emotion and intensity to play its best soccer will win. And any team that survives a Cascadia playoff series will be dangerous to play in the rest of the post-season.

(MORE: Goalkeeping drama leaves hometown hero between pipes for rivalry match)

(MORE: Seattle Sounders’ new system allows star attackers to shine)

(MORE: Football Focus: Portland Timbers tactically transform under Caleb Porter in 2013)

Memphis jersey biggest seller in Premier League

during the Barclays Premier League match between XXX and XXX on September 26, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.
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Memphis Depay‘s name has been printed on more Premier League jerseys than anybody else.

[ PHOTOS: Must-see Klopp merch ]

According to Kitbag.com, the Manchester United winger is the biggest climber on their top 10 list and fans have flocked to have “Memphis” printed on the back of their United jerseys.

The Dutch winger, 21, has had an up-and-down start to life at Old Trafford but that is not detracting fans from having Memphis, the name he prefers, emblazoned on the back of their shirts. Folks from an unnamed city in Tennessee, have you been buying lots of jerseys on the internet? No doubt the number of United fans in that region has sky-rocketed in the last few months. No doubt.

[ MORE: Dust settles, questions remain for USMNT ]  

Anyway, below is the list of the top 10 players name printed by Kitbag.

Top 10 selling jerseys worldwide

1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona
2. Cristiano Ronaldo – Real Madrid
3. Memphis Depay – Manchester United
4. Bastian Schweinsteiger – Manchester United
5. Eden Hazard – Chelsea
6. Wayne Rooney – Manchester United
7. Neymar – Barcelona
8. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City
9. Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal
10. Philippe Coutinho – Liverpool

New Arsenal contracts on the way for Alexis, Ozil

Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil
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Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are both in line to be handed new contracts by Arsenal.

The attacking duo, who have been in fine form in recent weeks after slow starts to the season, both have current deals which run until 2018 but the Gunners are said to be keen on locking the attacking midfielders down to contract extensions.

[ MORE: Dust settles, questions remain for USMNT ] 

According to the Daily Mail, Sanchez is set to become Arsenal’s top earner with a new deal on the table in excess of $220,000.

Sanchez is currently being paid $197,000 per week but is not the highest paid player at the Emirates, with Ozil taking that mantle and earning a cool $215,000 a week. Speaking of Ozil, talks over a new deal for him are also being prepared by Arsene Wenger and club officials with the German playmaker finally showing consistency this season, which is his third campaign in the Premier League following his $63 million move from Real Madrid in 2013.

[ MORE: Sanchez, Ozil dazzle in Arsenal’s win vs. United ]

Sanchez, 26, missed most of Arsenal’s preseason after winning the 2015 Copa America with Chile on home soil this summer, but he is now back in his groove and the former Barcelona forward has scored five goals in his last two PL games and seven times in his last four outings for club and country.

Ozil scored his first goal of the season against Manchester United in Arsenal’s recent 3-0 win, as Ozil and Sanchez ripped United’s defense apart in a stunning 19-minute spell at the beginning of the match.

[ MORE: Klopp merchandise you need to see ]

With Theo Walcott locked down to a new long-term contract in the summer, Wenger now looks to have found his go-to front three as Walcott, Sanchez and Ozil possess a superb combination of pace, power and trickery. It’s no surprise to hear reports about new deals being prepared for Sanchez and Ozil, as the duo have that extra bit of class which has seen the Gunners win back-to-back FA Cups and comfortably finish in the top four of the PL.

Now, can they kick on and contend for the title this season? If Sanchez and Ozil stay fit and in-form, there’s no reason why not.