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.

Martinez “thought about dancing” after Everton thumped Stoke City

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Roberto Martinez Manager of Everton looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Everton at Britannia Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Stoke on Trentl, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Everton is finding its form, and that has Roberto Martinez with half a mind to keep dancing.

Martinez admitted his Jason Derulo fandom after video surfaced of the Spaniard dancing in a suite this week, and had to admit he felt like continuing the show after Everton crushed Stoke City 3-0 on Saturday.

The Toffees climbed above Merseyside rivals Liverpool on goal differential and into eight place in the Premier League. They are finally looking like the club supporters expected to see this season.

[ MATCH RECAP: Stoke City 0-3 Everton ]

Everton has back-to-back 3-0 wins in the Premier League. Before that was a loss to Swansea City which followed a trio of draws against Man City, Spurs and Chelsea.

Martinez’s club looked fit to score even more after Romelu Lukaku, Seamus Coleman and Aaron Lennon scored first-half goals on the road at the Britannia Stadium.

Look at that face… a living dance hall. Of course we kid, and are even more grateful for Martinez’s personality.

Pochettino on Tottenham winning title: “If we believe, it can happen”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Mauricio Pochettino Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Watford at White Hart Lane on February 6, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is playing it cool, but Tottenham Hotspur has a real chance of winning its first-ever Premier League title.

[ MORE: Foxes beat City to stay top ]

Following Spurs’ 1-0 win over Watford at White Hart Lane on Saturday — the scoreline doesn’t reflect how dominant Tottenham were — optimism levels were high.

Four Premier League wins on the spin and six in all competitions will do that.

With Tottenham now second in the PL table and five points behind surprise leaders Leicester City, are they genuine title contenders?

“I feel very proud of the players,” Pochettino said. “We need to be calm. We are in a very good position in the league but the philosophy from the beginning of the season has been to go step by step. We are a very young squad so it is important to keep going and take every game and competition and be ready to compete.

“We need to be careful and always work in the same way. In football you can never stop. You always need to improve and fix a different situation. We still need to be more clinical, we created a lot of chances today but need to score more.We have a good idea of how we want to build the squad for the future and it is important to take this philosophy and deliver it.”

More tellingly Pochettino was also quoted as saying: “In football belief is the most important. If we believe, it can happen.”

In a season where Leicester City top the Premier League, why can’t Spurs launch a serious title challenge of their own with 13 games to go?

[ MORE: 3 things we learned as Leicester demolished Man City

As Pochettino mentioned, scoring more goals should be the main aim for Spurs as they had 26 shots against Watford and 66 percent of the ball but only scored once. But with the best defensive record in the PL and the best goal differential, Spurs are right in this title race.

Agbonlahor says Villans prepared to produce great escape

during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Norwich City at Villa Park on February 6, 2016 in Birmingham, England.
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is feeling quite buoyed by his first goal of the season.

The 29-year-old striker helped ensure his side would keep its early lead with a second half goal, and hopes the 2-0 win over Norwich City is just the latest step in the quest to avoid Villa’s first ever Premier League relegation.

[ MATCH RECAP: Aston Villa 2-0 Norwich City ]

Villa is now eight points back of 17th place Newcastle, and seven of the Canaries. It’s still a 4-point journey to 19th, but Agbonlahor and company are taking it proverbially: one game at a time.

From the BBC:

“We are going to keep fighting till the end. That is all the club expects from us. Take it game by game. There is no reason why we cannot escape. We showed fight today. We had a game plan: we defended well and attacked well.”

The Villans are facing a relatively tough stretch of matches with Liverpool, Stoke City, Everton and Man City on the docket.

What odds would you give Villa of pulling off the latest in a long line of Premier League great escapes?

Newcastle United 1-0 West Bromwich Albion: Mitrovic pushes Magpies to 17th

during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion at St James' Park on February 6, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
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  • Magpies climb out of relegation zone
  • Baggies continue to struggle under Pulis
  • Mitrovic gets winner as hosts control match

Aleksandar Mitrovic‘s first-half goal gave Newcastle United a week above the drop zone in a 1-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion at St. James Park on Saturday.

The Magpies leapfrog losing Norwich City for 17th place in the Premier League with 24 points.

West Brom is now winless in five and sits five points ahead of Newcastle, good for 14th place.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Magpies provided an inspired start to the match, piling on pressure and winning a pair of corner kicks. Aleksandar Mitrovic was saved at the goal line by Boaz Myhill in the most clear-cut opportunity.

Craig Gardner won a free kick on the edge of the 18, but Georginio Wijnaldum leapt off the wall to help deflect it out for an eventually unsuccessful corner.

Cheik Tiote scored from close to 40 yards out, but Lee Mason consulted with his linesman before disallowing the goal because Aleksandar Mitrovic was in the flight of the ball and offside.

Mitrovic had the next laugh, though, sprung on a break by Jonjo Shelvey and deservedly finishing his chance past Foster. Newcastle owned a 1-0 lead.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Wijnaldum flashed a header over goal of Townsend’s cross from the right, and it was still 1-0 in the 66th minute. Townsend then poked a low shot off the right post moments later, and Moussa Sissoko flashed a prime shot wide.

The Magpies were leaving themselves open to an equalizer, and it’s not as if the Baggies didn’t find a chance or two (though mostly through set pieces).