Seattle Sounders make it official, announce Osvaldo Alonso as their latest Designated Player

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The secret started to leak long ago, but now there’s no need for careless whispers and clumsy qualifiers. This morning, the Seattle Sounders made it official, announcing Osvaldo Alonso has signed a new multi-year contract that will make him the club’s third Designated Player.

The Sounders’ DP spots were previously occupied by Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, and Mauro Rosales. Rosales, however, is out of contract, and while he could still return to Seattle next year, it won’t be as a Designated Player. That final slot is now occupied by the team’s Most Valuable Player.

In addition to snagging that award (his fourth consecutive, as voted on by his teammates), Alonso has made three All-Star teams and one Best XI during his five years in Seattle. After being overlooked for much of his first three seasons in Seattle, Alonso’s come to be recognized as one of the league’s elite midfielders, a level that underscores his new DP status.

“Ozzie is the ultimate competitor who has given everything to Sounders FC,” said team part-owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer in a statement announcing the new deal. “Ozzie is a key building block for our club and we are happy to sign him to a long-term contract extension.”

It was a must-do deal for Seattle. Alonso has been crucial to protecting a defense that lacks standouts, his ball-winning in front of the line providing stability as the Sounders have gone through a number of midfield partners. Just in the last two years, Brad Evans, Adam Moffat, Christian Tiffert, Shalrie Joseph, Andy Rose, Servando Carrasco have seen time in the middle of Seattle’s formation. Alonso’s play has helped make up for a lack of continuity.

“Alonso is the model of consistency for us in central midfield,” head coach Sigi Schmid said. “His on-field leadership and tenacious play make him one of the top holding midfielders in the league.”

Over the last two years, Alonso’s role has expanded as Seattle’s sought to create a position that’s more than a mere destroying presence. Though 2013 was the first season Alonso’s failed to record a goal, the 28-year-old finished the year as MLS’s most accurate passer, his 88.5 competition percentage seeing 56 percent of his passes come in the opponent’s half of the field.

He’s become irreplaceable, and with a jump to Europe always a possibility, a Designated Player contract was the obvious way to keep him. Though this may not completely end Alonso’s European dream, it does make it much more likely he stays, particularly in the short-term. It also ensures Seattle will be well-compensated if he goes.

Plus, they’ve kept their MVP happy.

“I am excited for the contract Seattle gave me,” Alonso said. “I am very happy for the confidence they placed in me to play several more years here.”

This may mean bad news for Eddie Johnson, who will certainly have to get his payday elsewhere. And for those hoping a potentially open Designated Player spot would solve problems elsewhere, that was never going to happen.

The Sounders needed to keep their linchpin in Seattle. On Tuesday, they did what it took.

Europa League Preview: Everton, Milan look to make group stage

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Everton look to make it back into the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season and it has a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg of its tie.

Ronald Koeman and co. travel to Croatia to face Hadjuk Split Thursday having won the first leg at Goodison Park, 2-0. Everton is coming off a hard-fought draw on Monday with Manchester City and will be on short rest heading into the match.

Elsewhere in Europa League action, AC Milan take its 6-0 aggregate lead to Skopje, Macedonia as the legendary club looks to return to the group stage of a European competition for the first time since 2013-2014.

Here’s a look at all of Thursday’s Europa League matches, with the current aggregate scores:

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EFL Cup Rewind: Southampton, Newcastle knocked out by Championship sides

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Last season, Southampton made it to the EFL Cup final. This year, it’s a different story.

The Saints were bounced by Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 at home on Wednesday in the second round of the cup. Joining Southampton of Premier League sides going home early was Newcastle, which lost 3-2 after extra time at home against Nottingham Forest.

Four other Premier League sides did advance to the third round, as Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Ham United and Burnley all won their fixtures.

Here’s a look at the rest of Wednesday’s EFL Cup action:

Blackburn 0-2 Burnley

Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 2-1 Rotherham

Newcastle 2-3 Nottingham Forest

Southampton 0-2 Wolverhampton

Stoke City 4-0 Rochdale

Breaking down who each Premier League team could face in the UCL Group Stage

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The UEFA Champions League group stage lineup is complete, with five Premier League clubs making the list.

On Wednesday, Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the group stage after beating Hoffenheim, 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff qualification round.

Thursday’s Champions League draw (2 p.m. ET) will place clubs into groups of four, where they’ll play three matches at home and away.

Here’s a look at the four coefficient pots and who each Premier League club could face:

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Follow Live – Texas Derby, Cascadia Cup headline busy night of MLS action

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Welcome to MLS Rivalry Week.

The surging Houston Dynamo could move to first place in the Western Conference with a win over rivals FC Dallas while the current first-place side, the Seattle Sounders travel north and across the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

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The Dynamo have made an impressive turnaround under coach Wilmer Cabrera and he’ll have the trio of Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis and star forward Erick Torres available to face Dallas after missing the Dynamo’s match at Vancouver last weekend, which ended 2-1 in favor of the Whitecaps.

FC Dallas are in its worst form of the season, winless in its last four games, but the team will be extra motivated to beat its rivals.

El Capitan is on the line after draws between FC Dallas and the Dynamo in two matches earlier this season.

Meanwhile up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps host a Sounders squad that pulled out a last-gasp victory last weekend over Minnesota United. While the team is in great form on the road recently (two wins and two draws), the top story heading into the game is the unexpected absence of Joevin Jones, who left the Sounders for his home in Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the upcoming international break.

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On the other side, Fredy Montero faces his former club and carries an interesting record into Wednesday’s match. Of his 35 MLS goals, 11 have been scored against Cascadia Cup competition.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s action:

Full schedule

Columbus Crew vs. LA Galaxy – 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.ET

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo – 8 p.m. ET

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids – 10:30 p.m. ET