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.

Liverpool fans warned, as Roma pledges support

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There was a terrible incident in Liverpool on Tuesday when a Reds supporter was set upon by Roma fans and left in critical condition.

Sean Cox, 53, was attacked outside a pub before Liverpool’s 5-2 UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg win over AS Roma.

[ MORE: LFC 5-2 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

Liverpool has released its plans to keep supporters safe should they be among the 5,000 with tickets in Rome on Wednesday (via LiverpoolFC.com), pledging the “most comprehensive safety and security advice.”

The club has taken the exceptional measure of requesting an extraordinary meeting in the Italian capital, which will take place on Friday April 27. … At the behest of Liverpool, club officials will join AS Roma, UEFA and the relevant Italian police and security services to discuss specific ongoing concerns.

Merseyside Police chief superintendent Dave Charnock backed up Roma’s police demand that Liverpool fans without tickets skip the trip to Italy. According to the BBC, Liverpool was asked to put fans names on their tickets to the game.

“While we understand and appreciate that many Liverpool fans will want to travel to Rome, I would encourage fans who do not have tickets to not travel,” he said.

AS Roma, for its part, posted a photo of Cox with the statement, “His recovery and the safety of all fans attending football matches, is the only thing that matters now.”

Report: Gerrard on Rangers shortlist ahead of Old Firm Derby

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Could Steven Gerrard‘s first foray into management come against his old manager and in one of the most heated derbies in the world?

The BBC is reporting that the Liverpool legend is on the shortlist for Rangers as the Glaswegian side prepares to hire a new manager in its bid to reverse Celtic domination of the Scottish Premiership and the Old Firm Derby.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Brendan Rodgers has engineered a marvelous run of form for Celtic, who went unbeaten in the league last season. Rodgers is also a sought-after managerial candidate for bigger jobs in Europe, and may not be at Celtic if and when Gerrard is hired by its rivals.

Either Celtic or Rangers have won the Scottish top flight title dating back to 1984-85, when champions Aberdeen were led by some guy named Alex Ferguson.

Rangers are facing a Manchester United moment this weekend, traveling to Celtic Park for a Sunday derby against Celtic which would see their rivals clinch the Premiership with a win.

Celtic has a 10-point lead on Rangers and Aberdeen, and is extremely likely to win its seventh-straight Premiership title. The record for most consecutive Scottish titles is nine, shared by Celtic (1966-74) and Rangers (1989-97).

Sweden announces Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not return for World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s public flirtation and seeming committal to returning to the Swedish national team for the World Cup was a big tease.

Whether it’s his call or not is up for debate.

The Swedish Football Association reports that it’s spoken with Ibrahimovic and the 35-year-old LA Galaxy striker has declined the chance to return to the fold.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Sweden’s sporting director Lars Richt says Ibrahimovic has not changed his mind on international retirement despite his own words.

Sweden’s current team may have a role in that.

We imagine Richt and Sweden may be cushioning the blow for Ibrahimovic, especially if national team goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson is speaking on behalf of a team vibe when he speaks of Zlatan being “an individualist” who could ruin Sweden’s team-first concept.

Report: Fulham, NFL owner Khan agrees $700m price for Wembley

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Fulham owner Shad Khan also owns a National Football League team, and could have two top-flight teams from different nations playing in England soon.

For Fulham, the Cottagers are currently very much in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League and at the least will have a chance at qualifying through the playoffs.

[ MORE: TFC loses CCL Final in PKs ]

For the Jaguars, who have rarely needed all the seats in their stadium, it could mean a move to London if Khan goes through with what’s being reported as an accepted $700 million bid to buy Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium was also built with the design to host NFL games.

Here’s how ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith puts a bow on it (on one of the biggest days of the NFL calendar, nonetheless):

So it’s possible that there could soon be two iconic soccer stadiums in London with strong NFL ties, one which was built with NFL games in mind, and another that is owned by an NFL owner. The league is pouring serious resources into London.

It seems unlikely Khan would move Fulham from Craven Cottage, but there are other repercussions of this move for soccer in England.

There’s the potential for the England national team to no longer utlizie a permanent home, and the FA Cup and League Cup both potentially requiring new or rotating venues for their final rounds.

A lot to monitor here, and we’ll surely have all the details as they emerge from Khan’s crew.