Portland Timbers v Seattle Sounders

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.

Altidore earns U.S. Male Player of the Year honors, Pulisic wins Young POY

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore (17) reacts after scoring against the Montreal Impact during the first half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
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While Jozy Altidore and his Toronto FC side have the chance to take home MLS Cup on Saturday night, the U.S. Men’s National Team forward earned an award of his own in the build up.

[ MORE: MLS commissioner Garber addresses expansion and more ]

On Friday night, U.S. Soccer named Altidore the federation’s Male Player of the Year for 2016, while Borussia Dortmund attacker Christian Pulisic has won Male Young Player of the Year honors.

Altidore takes home Male POY honors for the second time in his career after first winning the award back in 2013.

Altidore narrowly won POY honors with 32 percent of the vote, beating out Bobby Wood (30 percent) and Geoff Cameron (15 percent).

“This is truly an honor to receive this award. It’s also very humbling when you look at such a talented group of teammates nominated for this accolade along with you,” Altidore said. “At the end of the day, any success I have had on the field this year is in large part due to their success and contributions.”

The 27-year-old Altidore scored 10 goals for TFC during the regular season, before adding five goals and four assists for the MLS side ahead of MLS Cup. In his time with the USMNT, Altidore has netted six goals and two assists in 2016, leading all players.

Pulisic found the net three times this year for the USMNT, while excelling in the Bundesliga with Dortmund. The 18-year-old has made 15 appearances in all competitions this season for the German giants and scored two goals for Thomas Tuchel’s squad.

Russian official Mutko seeks to retain FIFA Council seat

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21: Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Vitaly Mutko attends at 'Vecherniy (Evening) Urgant' TV show on Channel 1 during FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia Official Mascot final choice event at Ostankino on October 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Under fire for his role in Russia’s state doping program, Vitaly Mutko has begun the process of a FIFA integrity check to be an election candidate.

[ MORE: Can Spurs overcome their historic results form at Old Trafford? ]

Mutko, who heads Russian operations to organize the 2018 World Cup, has been elected by European soccer leaders since 2009 to represent them on FIFA’s ruling committee.

[ MORE: Man City visits Leicester with two sides on opposite ends of table ]

His FIFA seat is due for re-election in April, though potential candidates must pass a vetting and eligibility check by a review panel appointed by the world soccer body.

On Friday, Mutko was implicated in widespread evidence detailed by Canadian investigator Richard McLaren that he oversaw a state-backed doping program as sports minister.

Hours later, UEFA said Mutko was among five applicants for four vacant seats on the FIFA Council. The April 5 vote is by 55 European member federations.

Mutko has retained his FIFA positions and presidency of the Russian soccer federation since McLaren’s interim report was published in July.

The World Anti-Doping Agency then called on the FIFA ethics committee to investigate Mutko based on McLaren’s evidence.

The full investigation report release on Friday seemed to confirm that Mutko was asked to cover up a positive doping test by a Russian Premier League player from Uzbekistan.

Mutko was also implicated as sports minister in overseeing widespread doping programs of Russian athletes who competes at the 2012 London Olympics, 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and the 2013 track and field world championships, held in Moscow.

It is unclear if FIFA’s ethics committee has a mandate to prosecute non-soccer cases.

Asked on Friday if UEFA could launch its own investigation of Mutko, leaders of the European body deferred to FIFA’s ongoing vetting process.

“We have written to FIFA with the five potential candidates and the procedure is FIFA has to go through this eligibility check,” UEFA legal director Alasdair Bell said.

Bell acknowledged that the McLaren report “appears to contain some serious allegations” though noted that “these are contested.”

Three of Mutko’s long-standing colleagues are standing down from their FIFA Council seats from Europe: Michel D’Hooghe of Belgium, Senes Erzik of Turkey, and Marios Lefkaritis of Cyprus.

UEFA said the other election contenders are: Sandor Csanyi, a current UEFA executive committee member from Hungary; Geir Thorsteinsson, president of Iceland’s soccer federation; former AC Milan player Dejan Savicevic of Montenegro; and Costakis Koutsokoumnis, the Cyprus federation president.

Neymar out, Arda Turan has another chance for Barcelona

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 06:  Arda Turan of Barcelona (R) celebrates with Lucas Digne as he scores their second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Camp Nou on December 6, 2016 in Barcelona, .  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Fresh off scoring a hat trick, Turkey midfielder Arda Turan is hoping for another chance to prove he can play alongside Barcelona’s best.

[ MORE: Man City faces Leicester without Aguero, Fernandinho ]

With Neymar suspended for Saturday’s Spanish league match at Osasuna, Turan is likely to take his spot next to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in the defending champion’s vaunted attack.

[ MORE: Arsenal looks to continue unbeaten run against Stoke City ]

Turan filled in superbly for Neymar on Tuesday when he scored his first hat trick for Barcelona to lead the team to a 4-0 victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Champions League.

The treble took Turan’s scoring total for the season to eight goals, making him Barcelona’s third-leading scorer behind Messi (20) and Suarez (12).

Even though nobody doubts Neymar is the more talented of the two, the Brazil striker has managed only six goals despite playing 400 minutes more than Turan this season.

Neymar’s suspensions from both the `Gladbach and Osasuna matches were for accumulation of bookings in both competitions.

“Arda is scoring lots of goals. When he plays on the wing he has many skills he can draw on,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “He can also play in midfield. I am happy for him.”

Turan, however, has proven to be a tough piece for Luis Enrique to fit into Barcelona’s talent-laden puzzle.

As his coach said, Turan has impressed on the left side of the attack. But that spot has Neymar’s name stamped on it, and Turan has struggled when asked to play further back.

While Turan flourishes when given space and the freedom to break down defenses, he looks uncomfortable in Barcelona’s demanding precision passing approach.

His unease with the defensive tasks that playing in midfield entails was clear in last weekend’s match against Real Madrid when Turan went on as a late substitute to help protect a one-goal lead.

Instead, Turan’s foul on Marcelo conceded a dangerous free kick that Luka Modric didn’t waste, placing a cross for Sergio Ramos to head in a 90th-minute equalizer and snatch a 1-1 draw that kept Madrid six points clear at the top of the Spanish table.

Turan took a lot of heat for that foul in the Barcelona sports media, meaning his three goals against `Gladbach couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We haven’t played well recently and haven’t gotten good results,” Turan said. “We tried to get the best possible result and play at our best (against `Gladbach).”

Now 29, Turan developed into one of the league’s top attacking midfielders through four seasons with Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, helping the once second-rate team become one of Europe’s best with league, Copa del Rey and Europa League titles.

But when Barcelona called in 2015, Turan changed clubs despite knowing that he couldn’t play until 2016 because of Barcelona’s FIFA-imposed one-year ban on new players for breaking its transfer rules regarding underage players.

The former Galatasaray standout also joined Barcelona well aware that competition for playing time, never mind a regular starting role, would be fierce with the likes of Messi, Suarez and, above all, Neymar.

After failing to find a spot following his debut midway through last campaign, Turan made a promising start to this season when Neymar was away playing for Brazil.

He scored twice in a Spanish Super Cup victory over Sevilla and notched Barcelona’s first league goal of the season. But once Neymar was back from helping Brazil win the Olympic gold medal, Turan was back on the bench.

[ MORE: Watford, Everton meet with both clubs looking to halt poor form ]

The reserve role clearly didn’t suit him. Only one of his goals this season has come as a substitute, when he sparked a 2-1 comeback at `Gladbach in September.

Unlike this week’s second win over `Gladbach, which came with Barcelona already qualified for the Champions League’s knockout rounds, Barcelona visits Pamplona on Saturday needing to break a run of three straight league draws.

Promoted Osasuna appears to be the optimum rival to end that skid. It is in last place and hasn’t won in seven home matches since its return to the first division.

State of the League: Garber addresses expansion, Beckham Miami and more

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 09:  Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber talks during day four of the Soccerex - Manchester Convention at Manchester Central on September 9, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images)
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As Major League Soccer gears up for Saturday night’s massive final in Toronto, league commissioner Don Garber addressed the media in the buildup with his annual State of the League address on Friday.

[ MORE: 3 key battles to watch in Saturday’s MLS Cup final ]

Among the topics discussed were expansion, the demise of NASL and what MLS is doing to attract younger players to United States.

[ MORE: Copa America trip helped convince Lodeiro to make MLS move ]

As it has been in the past, expansion was the biggest discussion on the docket, with Garber stating that next week will likely determine a timeline for the league’s next entries.

“As you probably know it is strategic expansion,” Garber said during Friday’s MLS State of the League address. “Following our board meeting on Thursday in New York, we will announce a process and a timeline for our next round of expansion, which will add clubs 25, 26, 27 and 28 to Major League Soccer.”

David Beckham’s Miami franchise is currently tabbed as the league’s 24th entry, following Minnesota and Atlanta in 2017 and Los Angeles FC in 2018, however, the future of Beckham’s project remains very much up in the air.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

In the event that Miami is passed over, there are plenty of teams waiting in the wings to claim its spot. Sacramento, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Detroit and San Diego are among the many destinations currently vying for entry into MLS, however, Sacramento and Cincinnati remain very high on the list after seeing recent success and growth in USL.

“There is a deadline on the Miami deal. I am not going to share that deadline, it is an agreement we have with David and (his business partner) Simon Fuller,” Garber said in regards to the Miami plans.

“But … we need to resolve the Miami situation so that we can go forward with our expansion plans for (expansion) teams 25-28 because they are team 24 and if they are not going to be 24 there are going to be a lot of things that need to move around and it is something we will discuss at our board meeting.”

When Garber was asked about the decline of NASL and particularly the status of the New York Cosmos and whether MLS would ever consider allowing the franchise to join, he stated that the league has no intentions of adding a third New York/New Jersey team.

“As it relates to the Cosmos, it’s a great brand,” said Garber. “We have two teams in MLS in New York. We are not going to have a third team.”

Additionally, Garber also noted that the league has no intentions of changing the MLS playoff format or adding an additional Designated Player spot for each club’s disposal. However, the commissioner did confirm that teams will see an increase of $400,000 each in target allocation money (TAM) in 2017, bringing the total per club up to $1.2 million.