Lamar Neagle, DeAndre Yedlin

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

  • 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.

Juninho hoping Willian breaks his Champions League free-kick record

xxxx during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 3, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.
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Willian has scored six goals for Chelsea this season, with all six coming from free kicks.

Four of those have been scored in the Champions League, as the Brazilian has tied the record for the most free-kick goals in a single UCL campaign.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]

Willian is tied with his fellow Brazilian Juninho, known as one of the deadliest set-piece takers of all-time, who scored four times for Lyon during the 2005-06 campaign.

When asked about the possibility of his record being broken, Juninho was glad it would be by another Brazilian player, and said Willian will likely surpass him in the coming matches.

It’s good it’s a Brazilian, and from this new generation of good players we have.

It is very gratifying for me because when I scored these four goals, no one said anything.

I’m being remembered by what Willian has achieved, and I think he has everything to beat the record. The Champions League has barely reached half way and Chelsea still have a few more games to play.

Willian has converted 6 of 12 free kicks this season, scoring at an unheard-of 50-percent clip. All of his goals have come from almost the exact same spot on the pitch, about 20-25 yards out at the corner of the box to the keepers right.

[ WATCH: Jamie Vardy scores in record 11th straight Premier League match ]

Chelsea’s next Champions League match is on December 9 at Stamford Bridge against Porto. The Blues need a draw to advance into the knockout round.

West Brom’s Jonas Olsson backs Zlatan for Premier League move

SOLNA, SWEDEN - NOVEMBER 14: Sweden 10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic durring a European Qualifier Play-Off between Sweden and Denmark on November 14, 2015 in Solna, Sweden.  (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
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With his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring in the summer, where Zlatan will go next is one of the biggest mysteries in football.

Having already played in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and France, the Premier League would be a logical next step in Zlatan’s career.

[ MORE: Aguero injury update ]

However, at 34-years-old, Zlatan himself has said it is “too late” for him to play in England, adding more mystery to where he will end up.

Despite what Zlatan says, his teammate on the Sweden national team Jonas Olsson believes the PSG striker is more than capable of playing in the Premier League.

Olsson, who has made nearly 400 appearances for West Bromwich Albion over the past eight seasons, said Zlatan’s elite talent would be fit for England’s top flight.

He’s still at the top of his game. He is the strongest player I have faced. I really hope he comes.

Zlatan on his day is the most talented footballer in the game. He has played under Mourinho before and the only place where he’s not 100% appreciated is in the UK.

I think he can play for any team in this league – he is still that good.

Even at 34, Zlatan has proven he is still one of the best strikers in the world. He recently became Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time leading scorer, and has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons.

[ VIDEO: Jamie Vardy speaks after scoring in 11 straight Premier League matches ]

The Premier League certainly has the money to entice Zlatan, and it is the biggest league in the world that he hasn’t conquered yet. Expect his name to be linked with a move to every major club in Europe for the rest of the year, as we’ll just have to wait until June and see what he decides.

Three questions ahead of Sunday’s MLS Conference Finals

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Goal keeper Adam Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers slides in on Michael Barrios #21 of FC Dallas during the second half of the match at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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There are only two matches remaining before MLS Cup, with both conference’s top seeds in need of a big result.

FC Dallas lost to the Portland Timbers 3-1 in the first leg out West, while the New York Red Bulls fell 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC in the East.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Leg 2 of the Conference Finals will both be played on Sunday, as we will know the MLS Cup finalists by the end of the night.

WEST: FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET
EAST: New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC — 7:30 p.m. ET

With each home-side needing to overcome a two-goal deficit, here’s what to look out for in the Conference Finals.

Will FC Dallas capitalize on home-field advantage?

Despite being down 3-1 on aggregate, FC Dallas will be looking forward to Sunday’s second leg. Dallas finished the season 13-2-2 at Toyota Stadium, the best home record in MLS. After scoring a crucial away goal in Portland, a 2-0 win for Dallas will see the side advance to the final. Their 33 goals scored at home was the second-best mark in the Western Conference, as Oscar Pareja’s men will feel confident despite the aggregate.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Fabian Johnson scores twice for Monchengladbach ]

Is Norberto Paparatto ready to replace Liam Ridgewell?

Norberto Paparatto has played just six matches for Portland this season, but it looks like he’ll be starting on Sunday. Liam Ridgewell, who started all 32 matches at center-back, injured his calf in the first leg and manager Caleb Porter said Paparatto will “most likely” be starting, as Ridgewell was seen warming up separately from the rest of the team in training. With FC Dallas in need of goals, Paparatto will have his hands full on defense, especially with the likes of Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz bombing forward.

Can Luis Robles keep a clean sheet for RBNY?

The Red Bulls’ Luis Robles was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year this season, and he’s going to need to play like that on Sunday. After losing 2-0 in the first leg without scoring an away goal, New York needs a 2-0 win themselves just to force extra-time. If Columbus scores at Red Bull Arena, New York needs to score four goals to advance. While it will have to be a collective team effort to keep the Crew off the scoresheet, Robles will have to make some big saves in goal to keep his side in it.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona win big in another dominant performance

<> at Camp Nou on November 28, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Catch up on all of Saturday’s La Liga action, as the trio of Messi-Suarez-Neymar continues to terrorize defenses.

Barcelona 4-0 Real Sociedad

In case you haven’t heard, Barcelona is scary good. Coming off of brilliant 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Real Madrid and Roma respectively, the Catalans trounced Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. It was the usual suspects once again, as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar (x2) scored the goals in another masterful performance. The M-S-N trio has accounted for 30 of Barcelona’s 33 goals in La Liga this season.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

While the boys from Barcelona may be getting all the headlines, Antoine Griezmann has been having a great season for Atletico Madrid. The French international scored the game-winner in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Espanyol, his tenth in all competitions this season. The good news is that Atleti sit second on the table with a five-point lead over Real Madrid in third, while the bad news is that midfielder Tiago broke his leg in the match.

[ WATCH: Everton, Bournemouth trade late goals in stoppage-time thriller ]

Malaga 2-2 Granada

In a battle of teams fighting for La Liga survival, Granada came from behind to steal a draw at Malaga. The home-side was leading 2-0 until Granada tallied twice in the final ten minutes to take a huge point for the club. Malaga remains glued to the bottom of the table, while Granada is currently out of the drop zone on goal differential.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 0-1 Real Betis
Las Palmas 0-2 Deportivo
Celta Vigo 2-1 Sporting Gijon
Getafe vs. Villarreal (Sunday, 6 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Real Madrid (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET)
Rayo vs. Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 12:15 p.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Valencia (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET)