MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on the Seattle Sounders ahead of Thursday’s visit to Portland

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  • We should see DeAndre Yedlin, Obafemi Martins

PORTLAND, Ore. — I’ve been a fan of DeAndre Yedlin’s all year but mostly kept my mouth shut. Every time I opened it, I’d find myself saying “he’s good, but not that good,” speaking to those who wanted the 20-year-old to be chosen to the All-Star Game (thanks, Commissioner Garber), get consideration for the senior national team, or make this year’s Best XI. The guy was good, but he’s 20-year-old, ‘I’m taking over someday but not now’ good. It’s a hard concept to get across in 140 characters.

That said, he was missed on Saturday. Not that Zach Scott was bad — he wasn’t (and he earned a cracked rib for his trouble) — but as we saw Portland’s not-so-natural right back Jack Jewsbury play a part in both Timber goals, you couldn’t help but think of the options Yedlin would have offered to a Sounder team that held 60 percent of the ball. Perhaps that tight Timber defense that (as Caleb Porter reminded us after the match) never let anything behind them would have had to stretch to account for Yedlin’s presence.

[REVIEW: Johnson, Nagbe goals allow Portland to take edge out of Seattle]

It will be shock if he doesn’t start on Thursday. If Saturday’s was an elimination game, Yedline probably would have played then, too, but with Zach Scott injured, there’s little reason to doubt.

Obafemi Martins, on the other hand, carries few more question marks, given the Nigerian international has played once since Sept. 29. But it’s all hands on deck for an elimination game, and with Lamar Neagle suspended after picking up his postseason’s second yellow, Sigi Schmid needs the option.

There are whispers he could start, but given this match could go 120 minutes, that seems a stretch. Better to keep him on the bench and bring him on in the second half, potentially having him on the field for penalty kicks.

(And penalty kicks, between the Timbers and Sounders, with the teams kicking into the Timbers Army? If the MLS is going to fix/arrange anything, please let start with this!)

[MORE: MLS Playoff Preview: Seattle Sounders at Portland Timbers]

  • Need to sort out the diamond or let it go

Sigi Schmid was clear after Saturday’s loss. He sees the midfield diamond (a 4-3-1-2 formation, in this case) as the Sounders’ best option. Yes, they gave up two goals because of the formation, but Schmid seemed to be saying they needed to play the formation better, not scrap it altogether.

But a few things have changed since Saturday’s kickoff. Lamar Neagle got suspended, leaving only Clint Dempsey and a not 100 percept match fit Obafemi Martins as reasonable options up top. Mauro Rosales is also a possibility here, but if he’s coming into the team, might as well put him into his best position (wide right), move Adam Moffat back to a more comfortable role, and deploy Dempsey in support of Eddie Johnson.

And that’s the other factor: Mauro Rosales. Granted, a lot of his late-match effectiveness in Seattle may have been about Portland playing with a two-goal edge, but the team looked better with his threat wide (after a short, failed spell playing him at the tip of the diamond). If he starts, he could partner Johnson up top, but it makes more sense to play as many players as possible in their best positions.

Watch the game tonight at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN or watch it on NBC Sports Live Extra

source: AP
Djimi Traoré (right) was at fault on Portland’s winning goal Saturday in Seattle. Central defense partner Jhon Kennedy Hurtado made the key error on the Timbers’ opener. (Photo: AP.)
  • The obvious: Defenders have got to be better

Each Portland goal was a result of an individual mistake. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado failed to track Ryan Johnson’s run on the first goal. Djimi Traoré tried a low percentage tackle ahead of Darlington Nagbe’s high percentage shot. Perhaps Portland presses to score other ways if those mistakes don’t happen, but Seattle has reason to believe the errors played as big a part as Portland’s execution.

The solution isn’t complicated. Play better. Don’t underestimate Ryan Johnson’ persistence. Know Darlington Nagbe’s not going to turn onto his left foot. Deny Jack Jewsbury that cross when he’s standing right on the end line. This isn’t about approach. It’s about execution.

  • Quality over quantity when it comes to chances

Seattle placated themselves with the quantity of chances they produced on Saturday, which is a mistake. At the end of the game, they may have doubled the Timbers’ overall shot total, but they put as many shots on target as their opponents: Five. In that light, it looks like the Sounders may be playing Portland’s game. While they weren’t exactly roasted on the counter attack (as Caleb Porter implied after the game), Portland generated the slightly better chances. And they executed on those chances.

[MORE: Portland Timbers thriving after unexpected death of ‘Porterball’]

Seattle’s capable of creating the same opportunities, but they have to work for them. They can’t settle for the low percentage chances Portland cedes and prepares for. They can’t assume one of their set pieces will come good. They need to be more patient. They need to execute the same way the Timbers executed on their second goal. Despite holding the ball for three-fifths of the game, we didn’t see many (any?) sequences like that from the Sounders.

source: Getty Images
Sigi Schmid is the only coach in the Sounders’ MLS history. The team’s poor finish to the 2013 season has led to speculation about his future. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Like Seattle, Portland isn’t blessed with stellar defenders. They’re fine, not great, and they’re dependent on good goalkeeping and a strong shield. Getting through Diego Chara and Will Johnson is not easy, but Seattle needs to get at Pa Modou Kah and Futty Danso. They need quality over quantity.

  • And of course …

This is a very important game for Sigi Schmid. Is he gone if Seattle loses tonight? I don’t know, but there’ll be every reason for Joe Roth and Adrian Hanauer to doubt he’s the man that can get them over the top. He’s done a remarkable (perhaps under-appreciated) job getting Seattle to this point, but year after year, it seems this point is a stumbling block. Given how the team has performed in first legs, it’s fair to wonder if preparation or mindset is a problem.

[MORE: The hard truth in Seattle: Sigi Schmid is almost certainly gone without a big series reversal]

But the stakes and consequences transcend Sigi Schmid. This is a team which this year (with the help of Major League Soccer) spent more in transfer fees than any in league history. They have a full allotment of Designated Players and two other stars (Osvaldo Alonso, Eddie Johnson) who’ll want that recognition in the near future. While not winning a title could be chalked up to the variability of a playoff system, nose-diving at the end of a season is a much more worrisome outcome.

If Seattle loses tonight, they’ll finish the season with one win in their last 10 games. Even if they hadn’t landed Clint Dempsey, those results would have forced the team to reconsider their course. All their personnel decisions — not just coaches, but also players — would be made knowing they came up well short in 2013.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

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Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.

How will Man United line-up vs. Ajax in Europa League final?

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How will Jose Mourinho set up Manchester United for their crucial Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday?

[ MORE: Europa League final preview ]

With an automatic UEFA Champions League spot on the line, United must win to get back to Europe’s top club competition next season. If they don’t it is back to the Europa League for Mourinho’s men.

This won’t be easy, though, as United’s defense has been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks and they’re without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Local lad Marcus Rashford has to come up with the goods.

[ MORE: Manchester clubs react to bombing

Ajax’s young, attack-minded side will be led by Kasper Dolberg and Bertrand Traore, while Davy Klaassen will pull the strings in midfield.

Back to United, and with Mourinho confirming Sergio Romero would start in goal ahead of David De Gea, just like he has done for most of the Europa League campaign, we know one starter. In defense it is likely to be Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the center with Eric Bailly suspended, Marcos Rojo out injured and the duo of Ashley Young and Luke Shaw also missing. Valencia and Blind should get the nod out wide with Darmian in reserve.

Midfield is where things get tricky. Michael Carrick‘s experience may be invaluable but Mourinho is likely to go with Fellaini’s grit (if he’s fit) in the engine room alongside Ander Herrera.

Ahead of them in the three attacking positions, Mkhitaryan and Pogba seem certainties to start and then it’s a straight battle between Lingard, Mata and Martial for the other spot. Lingard may just win that battle due to his superior defensive abilities, but it will be close.

Up top it will be Rashford to start with Wayne Rooney waiting in the wings in what could be his final game for United.

Take a look at our suggested lineup below. Do you agree?


Manchester United starting lineup vs. Ajax, Europa League final

—– Romero —–

— Valencia — Jones — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

— Mkhitaryan — Pogba — Lingard —

—– Rashford —–

Premier League awards: Player, Coach, Best XI & more

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It is time for ProSoccerTalk’s end of season awards for the 2016-17 Premier League campaign.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Our writers were asked to select their Player of the Year, Young player of the Year (has to be under the age of 21), Coach of the Year and also select their Best XI, plus a little bonus segment at the bottom of this page…

Take a look at our answers below and we are intrigued to your selections in the comments section below.


Coach of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Antonio Conte – The way he galvanized this Chelsea team was remarkable. The tactical switch after the Arsenal defeat was the defining moment of the season and won him the PL in his first-ever campaign in England. Plus, his passion on the sidelines excites fans and he’s a gentleman in press conferences. Chelsea’s players seem to know where they stand with Conte and this seems like the start of an era of dominance. Mauricio Pochettino from Tottenham was a close second.

Nick Mendola selects… Antonio Conte – Really don’t think it needs an explanation. Back on top.

Kyle Bonn selects… Antonio Conte – Easy choice here. In his first season, he righted the ship and steered Chelsea to a Premier League title. He guided the players through a new system and still managed to get the best out of them. Stellar.

Matt Reed selects… Antonio Conte – The Italian didn’t go big in the transfer market but the additions of David Luiz, N'Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso were everything Chelsea could have hoped for and then some.

Dan Karell selects… Antonio Conte – It’s the easy choice, but his ability to get the team to believe in him and change the system following the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal lead to a dominant season for the Blues. Also, he made David Luiz great again!


Player of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Dele Alli – I have to buck the trend and not go with a Chelsea player. Yes, they won the title and Kante, Hazard and Azpilicueta were immense, but Alli was out of this world. This is a youngster who is in just his second season in the PL and he scored 17 goals from midfield. His class on the ball and driving runs remind me of Frank Lampard and he can finish like him too. The sky is the limit for Dele.

Nick Mendola selects… N’Golo Kante – Maybe it’s a little boring to go with the guy that the league named, but Kante was the best player in the league for the second successive season, on two different title winning teams. No biggie.

Kyle Bonn selects… Eden Hazard – I know N’Golo Kante was incredible, and I don’t want to take away from the midfielder who was an absolute rock, but Hazard was outstanding. He won the most take-ons of anyone in the league at a higher percentage than anyone, and was among the most creative players as well. A true superstar.

Matt Reed selects… N’Golo Kante – You could pick a handful of players from Chelsea’s squad to be in this discussion but for the bargain price in which the Blues acquired him, Kante was worth every penny.

Dan Karell selects… N’Golo Kante – Even with Conte, Chelsea may not have been miles ahead of everyone without the tireless effort of Kante. Kante finished 2nd in the PL with 127 tackles and had 82 interceptions. He also finished 2nd on Chelsea with 2,122 passes. Kante’s work defensively allowed Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic the space to operate forward, leading to 85 goals and a record 30 wins.


Young Player of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Leroy Sane – This is a player who got better and better as the season went on. Sane’s pace was always there but Guardiola has made him more patient on the ball and he appears to be timing his runs better. He will be a star for the next decade.

Nick Mendola selects… Dele Alli – 21 and under? Does it have to be 21? You know Dele Alli is 21, right? Haha… Dele Alli, guys. Dele. Alli.

Kyle Bonn selects… Dele Alli – Tottenham’s midfielder scored an insane amount of goals this year, but he displayed an all-around game that is the envy of the league.

Matt Reed selects… Leroy Sane – The German has all the makings of becoming one of the PL’s best wingers over the next several seasons as he refines his game. He’ll surely be pleased with nine goals (all comps) in his first season at the Etihad Stadium.

Dan Karell selects… Dele Alli – The midfielder still has to prove he can be consistent at the highest level but he showed this year why he’s constantly linked with the likes of Real Madrid.


Best XI

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Lloris; Azpilicueta, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Hazard, Kante, Alli, Alonso; Mane, Kane, Sanchez – Somehow I had to get Eden Hazard in this team, but don’t expect him to do much defending on the right flan of this 3-4-3 setup. Spurs’ goalkeeper Lloris and their two Belgian center backs were superb, while it is tough to look past Alli and Kante in midfield. Kante is a given up top and Sadio Mane gets the nod alongside Alexis Sanchez to support him. All-out attack.

Nick Mendola selects… Lloris; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Alderweireld; Coutinho, Kante, Pogba, Hazard, Sanchez, Ibrahimovic, Kane

Kyle Bonn selects… De Gea; Walker, Luiz, Alderweireld, Azpilicueta; Kante, Eriksen, De Bruyne, Hazard; Sanchez, Kane – Zlatan had a shot had he not been injured. Costa was a great team player and was hugely important to Chelsea, but didn’t have the individual seasons that Sanchez and Kane had. Eriksen, De Bruyne, and Hazard were the 3 most creative players in the league this season. De Gea is still, in my opinion, the best sheer goalkeeper in the league, and the flashiest; that choice is tough on Hugo Lloris, who had a great season for sure.

Matt Reed selects… Courtois; Walker, Alderweireld, Luiz, Danny Rose; Kante, Alli, Hazard, Mane; Lukaku, Kane

Dan Karell selects… Heaton; Azpilicueta, Alderweireld, Cahill; Coutinho, Alli, Kante, Silva; Lukaku, Kane, Sanchez


BONUS! We also asked the guys for their underrated XI of the season. You know, those guys who ball every week but always seem to fall under the radar…

Underrated XI

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Foster; Maguire, Kompany, Bailly; Silva, Wanyama, Romeu, Herrera; Pedro, King, Sigurdsson – I went for a few big names in here who have had been so important to their teams but seem to never get huge amounts of love. Pedro, Kompany and Silva fall into that category. Elsewhere the midfield destroyers of Wanyama, Romeu and Herrera all had fine seasons, while the only reason Swansea stayed up was Sigurdsson and Josh King was superb at Bournemouth. Foster and Maguire had a great seasons for teams often not talked about.

Nick Mendola selects… Heaton; Valencia, Gibson, Reid, Martins Indi; Antonio, Gueye, Herrera, Son; Silva, King

Kyle Bonn selects… Lloris; Vertonghen, Bailly, Milner, Valencia; Herrera, Pogba, Sigurdsson, Silva, Coutinho; Pedro – None of these guys I feel got looks for PL Best XI, but they maybe should have. Pogba was far better than he got credit for given his price tag, while Herrera got publicity late in the year but was a rock all season long. With all due respect to Steve Cook, who had a very good year statistically at CB, I couldn’t include him here given Bournemouth’s abysmal defensive record, so I went with Squawka’s #1 ranked defender this season, Jan Vertonghen. Eric Bailly was a machine for Manchester United. Pedro was maybe Chelsea’s most underrated player this season in their title run.

Matt Reed selects… Pickford; Azpilicueta, Gibson, McAuley, Bertrand; Herrera, Romeu, Tadic, Sigurdsson; Albrighton, Defoe

Dan Karell selects… Foster; Bailly, Keane, Mee; Romeu, Arter, Gueye, Drinkwater, Lanzini; Zaha, King