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)

Joel Matip set to miss a month as FIFA dispute continues

DERBY, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20:  Joel Matip of Liverpool in action during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Derby County and Liverpool at iPro Stadium on September 20, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Liverpool could be without central defender Joel Matip for another month.

[ MORE: Costa trains on own ]

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

Now, Matip and Liverpool are in limbo and the Reds do now want to risk facing a FIFA sanction for playing someone who is deemed ineligible for selection.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules which are as follows:

“A player who has been called up by his association for one of its representative teams is, unless otherwise agreed by the relevant association, not entitled to play for the club with which he is registered during the period for which he has been released or should have been released pursuant to the provisions of this annexe, plus an additional period of five days.”

What now?

Cameroon is not releasing Matip as they obviously feel slighted that he didn’t want to play for them (even though he hasn’t made an appearance for The Indomitable Lions since Sept. 2015) so now Liverpool must wait for them to be knocked out of AFCON unless an agreement is reached. If Cameroon make it to the final on Feb. 5 then Matip will not be available to play for Liverpool again until Feb. 10.

Matip was left out of Liverpool’s squad for the 1-1 draw at Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday as there wasn’t any clear guidance given to the club by FIFA on his availability.

After the game his manager Jurgen Klopp revealed his true feelings about the situation.

“Our understanding is Joel is retired from international football and we, the club, did everything we had to do to make this clear but until now we could not get the response we need to be 100 per cent sure that he can play,” Klopp said. “It’s pretty difficult and pretty frustrating, to be honest. He’s been in training for five days and would have been in the squad, 100 per cent, maybe on the pitch today, so I don’t think it’s fair. But we cannot do more and are still waiting on the decision. We could not take the risk. It is public now, we have this problem and we are not the only team with this problem.”

I’m with Klopp. Shambles.

West Bromwich Albion are also dealing with a similar situation with Cameroon as Allan Nyom cannot get FIFA clearance to play after he also refused a call up.

As for Liverpool, Matip has been key since arriving last summer on a free transfer, playing 14 games in all competitions and scoring once. His partnership with Dejan Lovren has now been broken up and Ragnar Klavan has looked shaky since coming back into the team after Matip’s ankle injury which last saw him play on Dec. 11 against Middlesbrough.

Chelsea’s Diego Costa trains on his own

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 12: Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Emirates FA Cup sixth round match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on March 12, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Reports from multiple outlets in the UK claim that Diego Costa trained on his own on Monday.

[ MORE: Europe’s 100 most valuable

That shouldn’t be too surprising but anything to do with Costa right now is news.

Costa, 28, was left out of Chelsea’s squad for the 3-0 victory at Leicester City on Saturday but manager Antonio Conte cited a back injury for the absence of the Premier League’s leading scorer who has 14 goals and five assists this season.

However, reports emerged last Friday that Costa was involved in a training ground bust up last Tuesday with a member of Chelsea’s medical staff and had a heated debate with Conte. Couple that with reports of a monster contract offer of over $40 million per year from the Chinese Super League and you have, reportedly, a player in turmoil.

Pro Soccer Talk can confirm that Chelsea’s players who played on Saturday were given two days off by Conte, so the vast majority of the squad were not in training on Monday.

Photos taken on Monday (below) show Costa on his own at Chelsea’s Cobham base on Monday and he has supposedly been working on his own for the past two days as he tries to regain full fitness.

All of this will add further fuel to the fire that Costa has been exiled from the first team due to his supposed row with Conte, but it must be noted that it is not uncommon for players returning from an injury to train on their own until they get back up to speed.

It is thought that Costa has been working hard in the past two days in individual sessions to prove to Conte and his staff that he can return to first team training. Whatever you want to believe is going on, Costa’s importance to Chelsea is clear as their top scorer is needed back fast despite their seven-point lead at the PL’s summit.

Chelsea is a different team without Costa and although Eden Hazard and Co. breezed past Leicester at the weekend, they didn’t look the same in attack and they need Costa back ASAP.

Both Costa and Conte should put their differences aside, but it seems as though Conte will be the one who will be dictating the next step and its up to Costa to make amends.

What lies ahead for USMNT in January camp?

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Bruce Arena’s reign as the new U.S. national team head coach is well under way and the veteran seems to be enjoying his second stint in charge after 10 years away.

[ MORE: Europe’s 100 most valuable ]

The USMNT have been training in Carson, Calif. over the past five days and a pretty cool behind-the-scenes video of the opening day of training was released by U.S. Soccer (see above) to show how Arena has been getting on.

With 31 players currently in camp, Arena is enjoying himself (banter with DaMarcus Beasley and waxing lyrical about Jermaine Jones says as much) but he already has one eye on the two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama coming up in March.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news

This camp will be key for the MLS-heavy contingent, with the likes of Chad Marshall, Benny Feilhaber, Dax McCarty and Juan Agudelo getting another chance to impress for the Stars and Stripes. So many youngsters have emerged from these camps in the past, with Kekuta Manneh, Keegan Rosenberry and Walker Zimmerman just some of the young talent looking to not only make their debuts but also become regulars in the USMNT setup.

Veterans Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi and others are all around and ready to prove their worth to the new boss too.

Below is a quick look at what lies ahead for his team during January camp (and beyond) as they prepare for two friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica to tune themselves up for the World Cup qualifiers when the European contingent will join the squad.


Training

  • Jan. 11-28 – Carson, Calif.

Friendlies 

  • Jan. 29 – Serbia in San Diego, Calif.
  • Feb. 3 – Jamaica in Chattanooga, Tenn.

2018 World Cup qualifiers

  • Mar. 24 – vs. Honduras in San Jose, Calif.
  • Mar. 28 – at Panama in Panama City

Study reveals Europe’s 100 most valuable players

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur (L) celebrates scoring his sides fourth goal with Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur (R) during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Wait, what?

[ MORE: Title race over for City? ]

A study from the International Center for Sports Studies (CIES) has slapped valuations on Europe’s top stars and both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo aren’t the most valuable.

Hmm.

The guys over at the Football Observatory, the soccer arm of CIES, always do a great job with these kind of studies and below you will find who they’ve ranked as the 100 most valuable players in Europe’s top five leagues.

CIES take players’ performance on the pitch, contract length, age and many other factors into place when ranking them and in the extensive study 10 Premier League clubs have players included as stars from Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur feature.

In total, 38 PL players are in the top 100.

Neymar is the most valuable player in Europe as the Barcelona star has a valuation of $261.5 million, which puts him way ahead of Lionel Messi who sits in second place with a value of $180.6 million.In third place is Manchester United’s Paul Pogba who has a value of $164.5 million, while Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez round out the top five.

Below is the top 100 list in full, courtesy of CIES, with their club, age and when their current contract runs out listed.

Do you agree with their valuations?


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