Clint Dempsey

What We Learned from Portland’s first leg win at Seattle

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SEATTLE — The Sounders may have pulled one back late, but the Timbers will be happy with the result. After their 2-1 win Saturday at CenturyLink Field, the West’s top seed find themselves in the driver’s seat ahead of Thursday’s second leg in Portland.

Here’s what we learned after the match-up’s first 90 minutes.

  • 1. Seattle still has a first leg problem.

When the Sounders outplayed Real Salt Lake to open last year’s Western Conference semifinals, their first leg issues seemed to be solved. Though the game ended 0-0, Seattle had dominated, forcing Nick Rimando into one of the better goalkeeping performances in MLS history to keep the tie level. Even though Seattle still hadn’t scored in the opening leg of a playoff series, they’d now shown the ability to do.

But in last year’s Western Conference final, the Sounders were blitzed in Los Angeles, losing 3-0. On Saturday in Seattle, they were down 2-0 before Osvaldo Alonso pulled one back, bolstering what would have been faint hopes had they taken a two-goal deficit to JELD-WEN.

So maybe Seattle’s first leg syndrome’s still present? Portland’s a very good team, and against them, there’s no shame in being on the wrong side of a 2-1. But Seattle’s now faced Portland four times this season. They know what to expect. Only in the first leg of a playoff series did they fall behind by two goals.

  • 2. Inexperience? A non-issue for Portland.

We asked about it in the preview. For a team that had very few tested playoff performers, would inexperience be a factor? It seemed to affect Colorado on Wednesday. It seemed to affect Montréal on Thursday. In front of 38,507 in Seattle, would the Timbers’ be able to match Seattle’s intensity?

They did, but more so than merely bringing the right energy level, Portland brought the kind of poise that allowed them to be second-best for 15 minutes before scoring the opener. They brought the kind of focus that produced a second goal after halftime, a score that proved extremely valuable come the 90th minute.

The Timbers remain a relatively inexperienced side in terms of MLS’s playoffs, but on Saturday, that wasn’t a factor. They did not look like a team playing their first playoff game together.

  • 3. That diamond we heard so much about? It cost Seattle tonight.

If Seattle’s playing their normal, 4-4-2 — one that features traditional wide midfielders — they’re in a better position to prevent each goal. On the first score, Jack Jewsbury got too much time to create a chance down the right flank, with Adam Moffat unable to help Leo Gonzalez prevent the cross to Ryan Johnson. On the second, Portland wins a battle on the left, circulates a ball to the right, leaving Moffat little time to get out and contain Kalif Alhassen.

Post-game, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid hinted the formation may have been a factor in the goals. He also said Seattle may go back to their normal setup in Portland, one that’s a better fit for Mauro Rosales.

Of course, on JELD-WEN’s narrow field, the diamond may not be as much of an issue. (Author’s note: Whoops! See comments for factoid debunking this piece of speculation!)

  • 4. Portland’s shield proved stronger than Colorado’s.

Clint Dempsey had his best match of the season Wednesday against Colorado. On Saturday, however, the Seattle playmaker didn’t have as much influence. Although he continued to be a focal point in attack, he was almost always met by Diego Chara.

Whereas Seattle made life difficult for German Mera on Wednesday, Portland central defenders Pa Modou Kah and Mamadou Danso were far less tested. Seattle’s only goal came from a ball flicked on in front of a deep defensive line. Of the rest of Seattle’s threats, very few originated in the middle of the park.

  • 5. Attrition will be a factor for Seattle.

DeAndre Yedlin will almost certainly play on Thursday (Schmid hinting tonight’s decision to withhold his right back was one of caution). Obafemi Martins may also play a role. Elsewhere, however, Seattle continues to lose players.

Zach Scott, Yedlin’s replacement, left in the 62nd minute after picking up a rib injury in the first half. If he can’t go, Yedlin’s health becomes even more important. But if the 20-year-old doesn’t continue to improve (or maybe it’s raining on Portland’s turf the day of the game), Seattle could be forced to move Brad Evans out of midfield.

The team also has to compensate for Lamar Neagle’s absence, the starting forward having picked up a second yellow card. If Martins isn’t able to start, Schmid may be forced into moving Clint Dempsey back up top. That will almost certainly lead to a change in formation.

If all does well, the Sounders should be able to choose a strong XI for Thursday’s game. Their bench, however, may be as thin as Saturday’s, leaving them little room to adjust should they encounter new misfortune.

“Leicester wanted me the most”: Ranieri to land Polish prize Kapustka

NICE, FRANCE - JUNE 12: Conor McLaughlin of Northern Ireland is tackled by Bartosz Kapustka of Poland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Poland and Northern Ireland at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 12, 2016 in Nice, France.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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Bartosz Kapustka is headed to Leicester City, barring something wildly wrong with his medical.

The price for Kapustka, 19, is said to be $10 million. He made his debut for Cracovia at age 16, and has piled up 65 appearances with eight goals and 12 assists for his club.

[ RANIERI: Mahrez will stay at LCFC ]

A left winger who is capable of manning a central midfield spot and also the right side, Kapustka has 11 caps for Poland. He laid out his plans in this post from the Leicester Mercury:

“Yes, of all the offers tabled, Leicester wanted me the most,” Kapustka said. “Ranieri’s interest was a big factor for me.

“He was asking about me, he wanted me to join the team. This convinced me, but there were many factors.

“I’m not going there only because of the name of the club, or because they won the Premier League. I’m optimistic and think I have a real chance of playing time.”

Seems like a good signing for both now and the future for Leicester, as the teenager has already had impactful performances for his club and national team.

Pogba’s agent pumps brakes hard on imminent Manchester United move

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 10: Paul Pogba of France wins the ball from Joao Mario of Portugal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Final match between Portugal and France at Stade de France on July 10, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Super agent Mino Raiola has injected a ray of light into the hopes of both Juventus and Real Madrid fans when it comes to Paul Pogba.

The terrific midfielder has been widely reported as an imminent arrival at Manchester United, but Raiola has taken to Twitter to blast journalists who’ve reported the move and medical as done.

[ RANIERI: Mahrez will stay at LCFC ]

Pogba was photographed in Los Angeles amid claims he was undergoing a physical at United. Multiple reports have said he passed the medical and that Juventus has agreed to sell Pogba to United for a world record fee.

Raiola says different, though taken with the grain of salt that he’s set to make as much as $30 million on the deal and his job is to squeeze every possibly penny from suitors.

Ranieri says “intelligent man” Mahrez will stay at Leicester City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Claudio Ranieri Manager of Leicester City instructs Riyad Mahrez during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Claudio Ranieri seems to be genuine and honest in his evaluations, as we’ve seen in his dealings with Jamie Vardy and N'Golo Kante amongst others.

And the manager is making no bones about what he thinks is best for another Leicester City star in Riyad Mahrez.

[ MORE: Gameiro joins new club ]

Ranieri says the Algerian will face far more pressure at a new club then he will face still competing in the UEFA Champions League with the Foxes.

In other words, the 25-year-old should stick around. From Sky Sports:

“I speak often with him and say stay with us, it’s much better for your future, I think he is an intelligent man and he will stay,” Ranieri told Sky Sports News HQ.

“We support him very well, this is important, when you change teams maybe you don’t find team-mates who help you at the same level.

“He improves more if he stays with us for another year, maybe next year he can think about another solution. If he goes for a lot of money, everybody will be expecting something special. He can do something special, but with us.”

We tend to agree. Whereas N’Golo Kante was prepared to use Leicester as a stepping stone — and it seems Ranieri knew it — Mahrez has been with the Foxes since 2014 and seen his stature skyrocket.

Let’s see what happens, Riyad. Cool?

Atletico signs striker Kevin Gameiro from Sevilla

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - MAY 18:  Kevin Gameiro of Sevilla celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Final match between Liverpool and Sevilla at St. Jakob-Park on May 18, 2016 in Basel, Switzerland.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid says it has acquired French striker Kevin Gameiro from rival Spanish club Sevilla.

In exchange, Atletico has agreed to loan Argentine striker Luciano Vietto to Sevilla for one season.

Atletico says Gameiro will sign a four-year contract after undergoing a standard medical exam.

[ MORE: NYCFC, Rapids meet in Bronx on Saturday ]

The 29-year-old Gameiro scored 67 goals during three seasons with Sevilla, helping it win three Europa League titles.

Gameiro will join countryman Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres to form the attack of an Atletico side that reached the final of the Champions League last season.

Atletico did not reveal the financial details of Gameiro’s transfer.