After monumental rebuild, Seattle Sounders target MLS Cup title. Can Sigi Schmid bring success?

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On Saturday the Seattle Sounders welcome reigning MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City to Century Link Field (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) with the Sounders hoping this season will finally bring their first MLS title.

Head coach of the Seattle Sounders, Sigi Schmid, spoke to ProSoccerTalk exclusively on Friday to preview the match vs. Sporting, give an overview on the Sounders rebuild and share what he expects in 2014.

(MORE: 2014 MLS Season Preview – Seattle Sounders)

Schmid, in his sixth season at Seattle since they joined MLS in 2009, has seen his side reach the playoffs in every single one of their MLS campaigns. But each time they’ve come up short in the playoffs. Schmid speaks of his admiration for the job his former assistant Peter Vermes has done at Sporting, as the American coach led SKC to their first MLS title, since their rebrand, in 2013. That’s something Schmid will be eager to achieve up in the Emerald City this season, as despite record MLS crowds and multiple U.S. Open Cup titles, Seattle have yet to bring home an MLS Cup.

This season, after a massive rebuild which has seen several new players arrive, the 60-year-old coach is hoping an MLS crown will finally land at CenturyLink.

“Our goal, as always, is to win MLS Cup,” Schmid said before talking about Seattle’s new-look squad. “Our rebuilding is all about, ‘we want to win it now.’ We don’t want to miss the playoffs, we want to get in there and give ourselves a good opportunity. Our goal, every year, is to win MLS Cup.”

After six years at the helm, many around the MLS circuit believe Schmid has to deliver MLS Cup success this season or face seeing his time in Seattle come to an end. Although that may seem slightly harsh for a man who has helped build the franchise from scratch, the clubs fanatical supporters demand success.

Schmid is happy with the progress Seattle have made during his tenure, but accepted the demands put on him and his team by the fans is monumental.

“I wanted us to be very consistent and be a team that would always have a chance of winning trophies and winning titles,” Schmid said. “Our fanbase is huge, and as a result of that expectations are very big. Sometimes expectations become unrealistic. We understand the pressure that comes with being the Seattle Sounders FC. We accept that and embrace that. We feel good about where we are at but we still want to get those final pieces of the puzzle together and get the final prize at the end.”

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Can Schmid bring an MLS Cup to Seattle’s fanatical followers in 2014?

One of the most intriguing factors of this season is seeing Seattle overhaul their playing squad. 11 new faces have arrived, mostly from the clubs academy and transfers from within MLS. That’s a real shift in the way Seattle have done their business, as in the past players such as Djimi Traore, Fredy Montero, Obafemi Martins and Michael Gspurning have come straight in from overseas with no real experience of MLS.

(MORE: Full MLS on NBC TV Schedule)

Schmid is delighted with the current mix of youth and experience in his squad and singled out a few players who have shone in preseason.

“The team is in a good place, the spirit of the team is good. We have built the depth and we’ve become younger in a few key places,” Schmid said. “Marco Pappa has played really well over the last two or three weeks of preseason, our young left full back Dylan Remick had three assists in our preseason games as an outside back getting forward. He’s making progress and coming along. Aaron Kovar and Sean Okoli are two of our other young academy kids we signed this year, they have done really well. Okoli, in particular, has really pushed himself forward. Those guys are continuing to grow and it is changing the direction we are going in as a club.”

(MORE: Every single MLS 2014 preview)

Able to acquire some gems such as Stefan Frei, Jalil Anibaba and Kenny Cooper from within MLS was a big plus for Schmid as “they know what the league is all about.” One man Schimd was delighted to get on board was former Columbus Crew captain Chad Marshall. Schmid went as far as saying he was shocked the 29-year-old MLS veteran hadn’t had more of a look in at Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. national team squad.

“Our league is unique and we are happy to acquire someone like Chad Marshall, he’s one of the better center backs in the league,” Schmid said. “One of the biggest travesties is that Chad hasn’t played more for the national team, he’s of that quality. He doesn’t have to hide in comparison to Omar Gonzalez and [Matt] Besler, or any of those guys. It was great to get Chad in the team.”

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Dempsey is raring to go in Rave Green. Schmid believes in Seattle’s superstar.

A player Schmid doesn’t have to worry about getting international recognition is Seattle’s main man Clint Dempsey. Speaking of his offseason loan to Premier League side Fulham, Schmid believes Seattle will see the best of ‘Deuce’ this campaign.

“At the end of the day it was good for him, and for us it was good because he is fit and coming back with game fitness as well,” Schmid said. “Last year when he joined our team he hadn’t really had a preseason or any games, so he was trying to get fit in the middle of our season. That made it difficult for him. I’m looking forward to having him. I think he’s going to be good.”

For Schmid and his team in Seattle this season, things have to be more than good to satisfy the expectations of their own fans and others around the league. The biggest season of Schmid’s reign in Seattle is upon us. After a massive rebuild, everything is in place for the Sounders to make a charge for the title.

Seattle deserves success. After six years, Schmid is hoping he can deliver it.

Griezmann’s advisor namechecks Man Utd, 4 others

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Antoine Griezmann has maintained a desire to stay at Atletico Madrid, but his advisor says the French striker has five realistic destinations for next season if he doesn’t stay at the Vicente Calderon.

Speaking on the French outlet Telefoot, advisor Eric Olhats says the 26-year-old Griezmann is limited by his $109 million release clause.

[ MORE: Zlatan’s comeback vow; Mata close ]

Griezmann has 25 goals and 11 assists this season, slightly lighter on the goals and a step up in helpers with Atleti alive in two competitions this season. He’s still played centrally and wide right, and Yannick Carrasco is starring on the left.

From Sky Sports:

“There is an unavoidable 100m clause so that restricts the number of candidates. You have United, City, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“United were the first to come and see us and the most concrete in their wishes.”

Griezmann to the Premier League is a move many would love to see, or at least a new challenge for the fantastic attacker. With respect to Barcelona and Real Madrid, we’ve seen plenty of top La Liga talents move within the division.

Of course, there would be something special to both Diego Simeone and Griezmann winning the UEFA Champions League and defending it at Atleti. Something tells us their fate in this year’s semifinal against Real Madrid may tip the scales for both men, or at least Griezmann.

Zlatan posts comeback vow; Mata nears return

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One of the more unique personalities in the sports world, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has released comments and a leggy photo following news that he’ll need ACL and PCL surgery.

The Swedish star was injured in stoppage time of Manchester United’s UEFA Europa League quarterfinal win over Anderlecht, and tests revealed the injury was serious.

Ibrahimovic, 35, had not signed his contract extension with United, but it seemed more likely as time wore on. He finishes his first season with 28 goals and 10 assists, an unfettered success in his Premier League bow.

Despite the severe nature of his injury, Ibrahimovic vowed to return by posting a picture of his massive, uncovered legs in front of a fireplace (See full Instagram message at bottom).

“One thing is for sure, I decide when it’s time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon.”

One of United’s locker room leaders is backing him. Ander Herrera told a Swedish outlet that Ibrahimovic spoke to the team and wished them luck with the rest of the season.

“But he did not say much, really. He wished us only good luck with the rest of the season. He has an incredible mentality and a great physique, I have never seen such a good football body.”

I don’t think anyone doubts that Ibrahimovic will come back and play at a high level, but a starring role in the Premier League is a big ask. Because of that, will he be more motivated to reprove himself with United and less motivated to test out MLS or another league?

There is some good news for United, as Juan Mata says he hopes to be back with the team soon.

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.