Eddie Johnson to D.C. is happening: What this means for Seattle, United

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If you’ve been following the Washington Post’s reporting on the deal (probably through Steven Goff’s Twitter feed), you know a Eddie Johnson-to-D.C. United deal has been done since last night. Throughout the day, approval from Major League Soccer headquarters was all that sustained Johnson’s tenuous links to Seattle, but by mid-afternoon New York time, the deal was done. The 29-year-old U.S. international was swapping rave green for red and black, with a yacht-load of allocation money set to arrive on Puget Sound.

How much allocation exactly? Who knows. As Goff perfectly puts it, “given MLS’s secrecy on such matters, (the amount) will probably never be revealed publicly.” If speculation about maximum allocation scenarios is true, the Sounders could get well north of half-a-million in funny money.

For a Seattle team revamping a roster after their 2013 collapse, that amount would be huge. Well, it’d be huge for any club, but for a team in the Sounders’ position, it would be especially useful. With Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, and Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle has no more Designated Player (DP) spots, a mild inconvenience for a team that can go out and get Dempsey and Martins-level players. If they receive a big chunk of MLS’s play money, the Sounders can buy that last railroad, put hotels on those neglected green properties, and potentially pay down Alonso’s salary cap hit, freeing up a DP spot.

The Sounders have already added Stefan Frei in goal. Not a bad replacement for Michael Gspurning. They’ve taken on Chad Marshall in the middle of defense, and Kenny Cooper’s been tacked on up top. Very good and perhaps very good. They still have (a seemingly major) hole at left midfield, and Clint Dempsey still needs to show he can be the type of creative presence that Seattle’s counting on, but Adrian Hanauer’s putting in the time on Seattle’s phone lines. He’s already addressed two of his team’s problem areas.

Whether trading Johnson creates a third is open to debate. The U.S. international was the team’s best attacker last year, but in the wake of Seattle’s conference semifinal elimination at the boots of rival Portland, Johnson’s been thrown to the curb, awaiting a bus that will either take him out of town or try to run him over (depending on how you want to extend the metaphor). Regardless, the relationship between the Sounders and one of their best players was beyond repair, with Johnson becoming a convenient target for people searching for explanations.

The Sounders have admitted the locker room was bad at the end of last season, and Johnson was publicly campaigning for a new deal. (Remember the “pay me” goal celebration?) Owner Joe Roth cited players’ attitudes and lack of effort at the club’s annual business meeting, remarks that were seen as another instance of calling out Johnson (among others). After it became clear Johnson would not return, the magic Seattle conjured in 2012 with “E.J.” dwindled into a form of scapegoating.

Johnson is not an innocent party here. He played into it all, but as he appears set to move across the country, the question is whether Ben Olsen and United can avoid some of the pitfalls that befell Sigi Schmid and Seattle. Making him a Designated Player, as The Post’s reporting suggests they will, is a great start, as it gives Johnson the appreciation he feels he deserves. Given the state of United’s squad, D.C. are also likely to play directly to its new forward’s strengths, something that became an issue between Schmid and Johnson by season’s end. Averaging a goal every 167 minutes since returning to Major League Soccer, a committed Johnson is somebody D.C. can build around.

source: AP
With three wins in 2013, D.C. United set a Major League Soccer mark for futility despite winning the U.S. Open Cup. Now, they’re ready to make Eddie Johnson a Designated Player with the hope their attacking problems will be solved. (Photo: AP)

Of course, everybody will be wondering about personalities. Rightly or wrongly, Johnson’s acquired a certain reputation throughout his Major League Soccer career, flames of which will only be fanned by how he’s leaving Seattle. Olsen, a former U.S. international himself, is not known as somebody with a high tolerance for player entitlement. On the surface, this seems like a potentially combustable relationship.

While that’s certainly the case, implying Olsen can’t handle egos seems to short-change him as a coach. Perhaps, at 36 years old, Olsen still lacks the type of man management experience Schmid brought to bear on Johnson, but he won’t be completely ignorant of the need to employ different approaches with different players. That doesn’t mean one set of rules for E.J., another for the rest of the team (something Olden would probably frown on), but if it means having to go the extra mile to make sure you’re always on the same page as a key player, Olsen’s certainly capable of doing it.

At the end of Johnson’s time in Seattle, the Sounders were no longer willing to do that. They wanted to move on and are getting a huge chunk of allocation to do so. But that doesn’t mean Johnson can’t be productive for another team. The set of challenges you inherit with him are unique, but as the Sounders showed just 12 months ago, those challenges can be overcome.

PL title & FA Cup in sight, Conte says Chelsea still rebuilding

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Antonio Conte might be just seven games away from guiding Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double this season, but the Blues’ first-year Italian manager insists his squad is nowhere near being a finished product.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking after Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, Conte insisted that the team he inherited last summer, after a disastrous 10th-place finish in the PL, is “in a period of transition” and that “[they] need time” as the club moves on from an accomplished, foundational generation — quotes from Sky Sports:

“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition. In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

“We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot. Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.

“I think that in the period with Carlo (Ancelotti) — and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him — he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad. Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.”

[ MORE: Kante takes home PFA Player of the Year | Dele wins Young Player ]

Conte is doing two things with the above comments: 1) he’s tempering expectations for next season, when Chelsea will be back in the UEFA Champions League and automatically expected to repeat as PL champions — not to mention, taking a bit of pressure off in these final two months of the 2016-17 season; and, 2) pointing out just how impressive his work to date has been, the fact he’s potentially seven games away from lifting two trophies in seven days’ time next month.

Ligue 1: Mbappe, Falcao fire Monaco top again

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PARIS (AP) Strikers Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe continued their fine form with a goal each to help Monaco secure a 2-1 win at Lyon and reclaim top spot in the French league on Sunday.

Monaco moves above defending champion Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference, with Monaco having played a game less. PSG has four games left.

“It wasn’t easy and it was a big win for us tonight,” Monaco center half Andrea Raggi said. “We all play for each other and it’s now or never.”

It has been an astonishing season for Monaco, which has now scored 143 goals in all competitions and remains on course for the treble. Monaco faces PSG in the French Cup semifinals next Wednesday.

Falcao and Mbappe scored in midweek when Monaco beat German side Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal to reach the last four 6-3 on aggregate.

Lyon also did well in Europe, going through on penalty kicks away to Turkish club Besiktas to reach the last four in the Europa League.

Falcao and the 18-year-old Mbappe have combined for 51 goals.

Falcao put Monaco ahead in the 36th minute with a header from close range – his 28th goal of the season – and Mbappe made it 2-0 just before halftime with a trademark surging run and cool finish for his 23rd.

“I just try and give my best whenever I play,” said Mbappe, who has recently been called into the France team. “I wasn’t playing much at the start of the season, so I’m still quite fresh and I hope I can help us win the remaining games.”

PSG beat Montpellier 2-0 at home on Saturday with Edinson Cavani scoring his 31st league goal of the season and 44th overall.

Nice has already guaranteed third place and a spot in the qualifying round for next season’s Champions League.

But with four games remaining, it is six points behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. Nice hosts PSG next Sunday.

Striker Corentin Jean gave mid-table Toulouse the lead in the 57th minute. Midfielder Valentin Eysseric continued his fine form with the equalizer three minutes later.

The game was briefly halted early in the first half after a group of Saint-Etienne supporters forced themselves into the stadium.

The match was supposed to be played behind closed doors as a punishment for unruly supporters during Saint-Etienne’s local derby against Lyon.

After a brief delay for police to remove the fans, Slovakia striker Robert Beric put the home side ahead in the 39th and center half Edson Mexer leveled just before the break.

Saint-Etienne is in seventh place, while Rennes is ninth.

Serie A: Napoli waste chance to go 2nd; Juve win big (again)

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MILAN (AP) Arkadiusz Milik scored his first goal since his lengthy injury layoff but it wasn’t enough to prevent Napoli from drawing 2-2 at Sassuolo on Sunday and missing the chance to move second in Serie A.

Milik scored two minutes after coming off the bench to rescue a point for Napoli and move it to within one point of second-placed Roma, which visits bottom club Pescara on Monday.

Second spot in Serie A secures automatic entry into the Champions League group stage, while the team that finishes third has to go through a playoff.

“The road to second spot has got more difficult, we have to hope our rivals slip up,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. “We have a point more than last season, even though we played in the Champions League, even though we lost (Gonzalo) Higuain at the beginning of the season and Milik for four months, so I think the team has had an extraordinary season until now.”

After an even first half, Napoli broke the deadlock seven minutes after the break thanks to a rare header from Dries Mertens. It was the diminutive Belgian’s 22nd league goal of the season – as many as he had scored in total in his three previous seasons at Napoli.

However, Napoli gifted Sassuolo the equalizer seven minutes later as Marek Hamsik’s terrible headed backpass to Pepe Reina was intercepted by Domenico Berardi, who fired home from close range.

Mertens almost immediately restored his side’s lead but saw his free kick come off the crossbar, while Lorenzo Insigne’s effort also hit the inside of the post for Napoli.

Sassuolo took the lead 10 minutes from time following a superb save from Reina to deny former Napoli hero Paolo Cannavaro, but Antonino Ragusa hooked the ball back in from the byline for Luca Mazzitelli to drive into the bottom right corner.

Milik was brought on in the 82nd and immediately leveled. Jose Callejon’s corner was knocked down by Raul Albiol and the Poland international spun to fire in from close range for his first goal since he was injured on World Cup duty in October.

AC Milan missed a penalty as the new era at the famous Italian club continued without a win.

Milan drew 2-2 at city rival Inter Milan last weekend in the first match since the $800 million takeover of Milan by Chinese-led Rossoneri Sport Luxembourg ended Silvio Berlusconi’s 31-year reign.

Sunday’s defeat saw Milan remain in the last qualifying spot for the Europa League, two points above Inter.

“If we relate everything to the result, it didn’t go well but I shouldn’t do that,” Milan coach Vincenzo Montella said. “We created 15 chances, it’s difficult to create more in Serie A.”

Empoli took a surprise lead five minutes from halftime when Levan Mchedlidze headed in a corner.

Milan should have leveled shortly before the hour, after Lukasz Skorupski pushed over Mario Pasalic, but the Empoli goalkeeper made up for his error by keeping out Suso’s penalty and then parrying a follow-up effort from Gianluca Lapadula.

Empoli doubled its lead in the 67th when Massimo Maccarone nodded on the ball for Mame Thiam to score his first goal in Italian football.

Lapadula reduced the deficit five minutes later, curling into the bottom corner and Milan had a good chance to level when it was awarded an indirect free kick six yards out from goal after Skorupski got the ball, put it down and picked it back up again.

However, with all the Empoli players on the line, Milan couldn’t equalize.

Milan’s teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma kept his side in the match with a fantastic one-handed save to deny Maccarone and it almost proved decisive as Lucas Ocampos volleyed off the crossbar at the other end.

Keita Balde Diao notched a five-minute hat trick as Lazio crushed Palermo to move back into fourth in Serie A.

Ciro Immobile scored two in as many minutes to put Lazio 2-0 up inside 10 minutes, before Keita’s quickfire treble – including a penalty – ensured the match was all but over with less than half an hour played.

Lazio relaxed and Palermo threatened an unexpected comeback with two goals from Andrea Rispoli in five minutes at the start of the second half.

But Luca Crecco extended Lazio’s lead in the final minute with his first ever senior goal.

Juventus continued its march to an unprecedented sixth successive Serie A title by routing Genoa 4-0 to move 11 points clear of Roma.

Ezequiel Munoz scored an own-goal in the 17th and magnificent strikes from Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic put the hosts 3-0 up at the break. Leonardo Bonucci scored another stunning goal in the 64th after sprinting forward from inside his own half. Juventus also hit the woodwork three times.

Crotone kept its faint hopes of survival alive with a surprise 2-1 win at Sampdoria.

The result left it five points behind 17th-placed Empoli and safety with five matches remaining.

Elsewhere, Torino won 3-1 at Chievo Verona, while Udinese beat Cagliari 2-1.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders cruise, 3-0, as Galaxy struggles continue

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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy’s midfield remains… nonexistent, to put it very nicely. It was a problem in 2015; it was a major problem in 2016; and it remains a problem early in 2017. On Sunday, Curt Onalfo’s side (as a quick aside, no, his seat isn’t yet getting hot) sat by and watched — almost literally — as the Seattle Sounders found the back of the net three times in the first half at StubHub Center.

Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris scored the goals for Seattle, to go with an own goal from Ashley Cole. It’s LA’s fifth loss in seven games, while Seattle have their second win of the season and put to bed a three-game winless skid.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

29′ — Dempsey heads into an open net for 1-0 — Nicolas Lodeiro floated the cross toward the back post, and Dempsey made extremely easy work of it with Brian Rowe scrambling through no man’s land.

35′ — Cole applies the finish into his own net — If it happened at the other end of the field, we’d have said it was a cool, calm, composed finish. Alas…

44′ — Morris fires past Rowe for 3-0 — The counter-attack was quick, what with no one stepping to the ball as Seattle covered two-thirds of the field. The finish wasn’t so simple for Morris.

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Man of the match: Clint Dempsey

Goalscorers: Dempsey (29′), Cole (OG – 35′), Morris (44′)