Eddie Johnson

What We Learned from Seattle’s first round win over Colorado

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Seattle eliminated Colorado on Wednesday night, advancing in the MLS playoffs with a 2-0 win at CenturyLink Field. Here’s what we learned:

  • Either Oscar Pareja got it wrong, or his team didn’t execute

Actually, both. Pareja seemed to want to get German Mera into the team without sacrificing Shane O’Neill, which means sense. Shane O’Neill is a very good player.

Moving him to right back may have been about matching up with Eddie Johnson, but given Mera’s actually slightly shorter than O’Neill, there are a couple more likely explanations. Maybe Pareja just didn’t want to go with a 20-year-old, first year starter in central defense in the playoffs. Also, the Colorado boss may have seen something in Sunday’s against the Whitecaps that compelled him to made the call. In the process, however, he shook up two positions along the back, a disruption that showed during the match’s first half-hour.

That wasn’t Colorado’s only problem. Against Seattle’s narrow formation, they neglected their width, even though they should have had a huge advantage down their left. Chris Klute, however, was a none factor, with the Rapids trying to build through the middle to Gabriel Torres. Against a three-man middle that got help in the defensive phase from Clint Dempsey, Colorado was at a loss. All the speed Pareja had injected into his starting lineup went to waste.

Once we hear from the Colorado boss, we can start to lay blame. But something clearly went wrong. Either the Rapids failed to execute the plan, or the plan was destined to fail.

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

  • Seattle’s midfield dictated the first hour

Colorado only generated three meaningful chances in the first hour, and I’m using “chances” pretty liberally. Martin Rivero got behind the defense in the first half before electing to blast a speculative shot toward the Emerald City Supporters. Near halftime, the Argentine attacker nailed a ball from 20 yards  right at Michael Gspurning. Near the hour, Deshorn Brown tried his low percentage luck from 19 yards out.

The rest of the time, Colorado couldn’t connect with Rivero. Seattle’s three true midfielders kept the Rapids from having success through the middle, while longer play was snuffed out by Djimi Traoré.

Colorado needed to go wide, and they did so occasionally. But they almost always went right, where their natural central defender was left trying to create something going forward. Meanwhile, on the other side, the league’s best left back was forgotten.

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

  • Colorado’s midfield disappeared

Clint Dempsey had his best night with Seattle, a huge indictment of Hendry Thomas and Nathan Sturgis. Those two should have won their battle. Instead, Dempsey was allowed to serve as a focal point for the Sounders’ attack.

Perhaps the 24th minute yellow card Silviu Petrescu showed Thomas slowed down the rugged Honduran. Or perhaps he just had a bad night. If so, he picked a terrible time to do it. Not only were the stakes higher than he’s ever seen in MLS, but his holding partner was set to go quiet, too. Thomas and Sturgis was non-factors in their two-on-one matchup.

  • Eddie Johnson is a really, really tough matchup

When he’s staying between the center backs, Johnson’s bad enough, but when he drifts into the wide areas as often as he did tonight, he forces the opposition into a lot of decisions. Unfortunately, Colorado made few correct ones tonight.

So often we saw Johnson played the ball even with or wider than Colorado’s fullbacks. Unless you want release those fullbacks to mark and pressure him (problematic in its own right), it becomes very difficult to deny him that ball. Once he has it, though, it’s probably better to deny the ball back to the midfield and show him wide, forcing a goal-scorer away from goal, forcing him to provide service for his teammates. Encourage the nature striker to go continue to drift away from where he’s most dangerous.

With that in mind, here are Johnson’s Wednesday passes and heatmap:

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Notice how many of them are from wide positions? Particularly along Seattle’s right, it doesn’t appear as if Colorado had much of a plan for how to deal with Johnson. While most of his passes go back to the middle, he’s still able to provide a wide outlet for his midfield, one that Colorado didn’t subsequently shut down (another issue with the Rapids’ holders).

Not every forward can be effective doing this. That’s the virtue of Eddie Johnson. In a more traditional role, he has the size, strength and speed to beat you straight up. Going wide, he has the skill and versatility to play as he did tonight. Colorado didn’t adjust.

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

  • The Sounders will need to generate more chances in later rounds

The Sounders were the better team. They controlled the game, dictating how it was played, and player-for-player had the better performances. This was a really encouraging performance.

They also generated four shots on target. Of their two goals, one doesn’t come if Colorado’s not desperately chasing the game. The other was a great finish, but it’s also a shot we often see put out of play. That time, however, Evans came good.

Seattle took a big step forward tonight, and within that step you can see the type of team that can compete for an MLS Cup. But even though they controlled Colorado, they still have to play better. They still need to improve.

Bonus what we learned: We’ve probably seen the last of Michael Gspurning for 2013.

Daniel Sturridge could return for Liverpool against Bordeaux

X during Liverpool FC training session at Melwood Training Ground on September 30, 2015 in Liverpool, England.
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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said it’s possible that Daniel Sturridge could return to the Liverpool lineup when the Reds host Bordeaux in Europa League action on Thursday.

Sturridge has made just three Premier League appearances this season due to multiple injuries, and has not played since a full 90 minutes against Everton on October 4. He is back in training, however, and was an unused substitute in the 4-1 win over Manchester City on the weekend.

“The best news at the moment is Daniel is getting closer and closer,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “He can train seven or eight times in a row which is the longest period since I’ve been here.”

Klopp was faced with a striker injury crisis at the start of his tenure at Anfield, but the options have slowly improved. The German was first forced to use Divock Origi in his first match in charge. He employed Roberto Firmino up front against Manchester City with great results, but said in his interview with the NBC Sports crew after the match that he had to continually remind Firmino to push forward into a striker role before the Brazilian eventually scored.

Christian Benteke was also among the substitutes against City, and now it appears Sturridge could be close to a return. Klopp said he will be a game-time decision tomorrow, but it sounds like he’s unlikely to play a full 90 minutes, whether he starts or not.

“My decision you will see but it is closer and that is very good,” Klopp said.

Reports: Jack Grealish banished to U-21’s after heavy partying

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 25:  Jack Grealish of Aston Villa looks around the Etihad Stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Aston Villa at Etihad Stadium on April 25, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Aston Villa youngster Jack Grealish has found himself in hot water with the club’s new manager, and it has him on the outside looking in.

According to reports from England, Grealish has been sent to train with the U-21’s after partying back-to-back nights following a 4-0 pummeling at Everton. Recent comments from Villa manager Remi Garde on Grealish’s on-field performances seem to suggest this has been coming for a while, and the partying was simply the last straw.

Garde called him an “unfinished player” in his press conference prior to the Everton match, saying, “Jack for me is a very gifted player with a lot of skill and quality but what I saw in the last few games he played was not the level he should have played. It is as simple as that. He needed more confidence and more structure in his game.”

Following the Everton defeat, which saw Grealish start and play 74 minutes before being removed, Grealish was pictured partying in Manchester, where he was seen inhaling nitrous oxide from balloons with his friends, the same act that got youngsters Raheem Sterling and Saido Berahino in trouble with their clubs in the past year.

The 20-year-old burst onto the scene last season registering some solid minutes down the stretch as Villa maintained its Premier League status. However, this season has been a rough go for Grealish, who has appeared in eight matches (nine starts) for Villa this season, all losses, and has scored just one goal. The five points earned by Aston Vill this season have all come in matches without Grealish making an appearance.

FC Twente president steps down amid investigation of transfer deals

ENSCHEDE, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 8: General view of the FC Twente Stadion, home of FC Twente taken during the UEFA Europa League group stage match between FC Twente and Levante UD held on November 8, 2012 at the FC Twente Stadion in Enschede, Netherlands. (Photo by Anoek de Groot/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
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Aldo Van der Laan, the President of Dutch club FC Twente, has stepped down after allegations of shady transfer dealings have surfaced.

This week, a website posted a contract dated 2014 between Van der Laan and Malta-based Doyen Sports Investments that saw a payment of $5.3 million from the company to the club in exchange for between 10 and 50 percent of the transfer rights to seven Twente players.

In a statement on its official website, the club said “Van der Laan has stated that the club is always of paramount importance to him, and that is now in jeopardy. Continuing doubt about him harms FC Twente.” The statement went on to say the Dutch federation (KNVB) is investigating, and that the club will cooperate.

FIFA outlawed third-party ownership of players to keep outside forces from influencing transfer deals. The alleged contract posted is dated before the FIFA ruling went into effect, but the KNVB has outlawed third-party ownership for a while.

According to Dutch reports, five of the seven players listed on the contract have already been sold, including current Southampton midfielder Dusan Tadic. The contract states that the two remaining players, Shadrach Eghan (with the first team) and Kyle Ebecilio (on loan at Championship club Nottingham Forest) must be sold by the end of the season, or the club must pay a $1.48 million fine to Doyen.

Those same reports also suggest Twente is likely to see some form of sanction, with some serious possibilities including relegation, a large points deduction, or a transfer ban as long as two years.

UEFA orders Dynamo Kiev to close stadium doors for racist incidents

KIEV, UKRAINE - SEPTEMBER 19:  FC Dynamo Kyiv supporters during the UEFA Europa League group stage match between FC Dynamo Kyiv and KRC Genk held on September 19, 2013 at the Olympic Stadium, in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo by Genya Savilov/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
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UEFA handed down a two-match closed door ban to Dynamo Kiev after racist incidents during a Champions League match against Chelsea, with a third match suspended for three probationary years.

Anti-discrimation body Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) brought footage to UEFA of four black fans who appeared to be harassed in the stands at the match on October 20. UEFA charged Dynamo for racist behavior, crowd disturbances, and blocked stairways.

Dynamo was also fined €100,000 for the incidents.

As a result, Dynamo will play in an empty stadium on December 9 in a group stage match against Maccabi Tel Aviv, and their second match will either be in the Champions League Round of 16, or in the Europa League Round of 32 should they finish third in their group, which seems more likely.

Last season, Dynamo was punished by UEFA for racist behavior at Europa League matches, ordered to close part of their stadium on two separate occasions.