Five takeaways from Toronto’s 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders

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Don’t underestimate the importance of a strong Toronto FC

Two months of anticipation came good on Saturday. Toronto FC not only came through with a win at one of the leagues marquee venues, but one of their high-priced acquisitions was responsible for their opening day result. With two goals from Jermain Defoe, the Reds have already seen returns from their winter’s big spend, with midfielder Micheal Bradley also playing a part in Saturday’s big result.

This is obviously an important year for TFC, with Tim Leiweke’s expensive stars trying to reverse the diminishing attendance figures we’ve seen at BMO Field. Having never made the postseason, the Reds are intent of playing into November, a relevance that will help Leiweke and Tim Bezbatchenko’s campaign a facility that seats more than 20,195. If they make their case — something that’s impossible to do when the team’s at the bottom of the standings — Bradley and Defoe’s purchases could pay for themselves.

More broadly, Toronto is a city that could really use a winner. Whether you’re talking Maple Leafs hockey, Blue Jays baseball, or Raptors basketball, Toronto has had to deal with decades of disappointments and dysfunction, part of the reason Cito Gaston’s name still has such resonance in Canada’s biggest city. The next Toronto team to have major success is going to capture hearts.

TFC has a window. If they can jump through it, they can achieve a relevance no other MLS team has. While it’s too early to suggest Ryan Nelsen’s team can do it, Saturday was a great start.

(MORE: Two goals in Seattle from Jermaine Defoe get new era off to winning start for Toronto)

source:  Ryan Nelsen remains very, very conservative

One of the biggest problems with last year’s team was Ryan Nelsen’s extremely conservative tactics – an approach that often left Toronto a sitting duck late in matches. Too happy to recede into it own end too early, TFC became would give other teams too many chances to find late goals. If one philosophy of defense says possession is the best prevention, Ryan Nelsen’s from an entirely different school.

We saw the same thing on Sunday as Toronto seemed to come out of halftime trying to preserve their lead. Seattle pulled back a goal mid-way through the half, giving them 22 minutes to hope a corner kick, penalty, defensive breakdown, or random luck could produce an equalizer. TFC has receded too soon.

In the first minutes after Clint Dempsey’s goal, we saw how Toronto should play. Thanks in part to Bradley’s presence, Toronto fought to gain some type of hold on the match, allowing them to kill off some of the match’s final 20 minutes while possessing in Seattle’s half.

Toronto has the talent to kill off matches with the ball at their feet. Unfortunately, they don’t have the coach. Unless we see a new philosophy from Nelsen this year, Toronto FC fans can expect more games like today’s.

(MORE: Jermain Defoe scores two goals in his first 24 Major League Soccer minutes)

source: APThe good, the bad of Clint Dempsey

We finally saw the Clint Dempsey we’ve been expecting. In the 68th minute, the Seattle attacker dropped back into midfield, played wide to start a counter, then ghosted into the penalty area to score his team’s only goal. His ability to read the game,  skill with the ball at his feet, finishing touch – they were all there as the Sounders clawed back to within one.

Until that point, however, Dempsey’s most noticeable moments were a series of chippy incidents that culminated with him striking Mark Broom’s crotch. If you’re a Seattle fan, it probably seemed feisty. For others, it probably went too far.

In an earlier post, we intimated Dempsey’s chippiness was a sign of frustration. At least, our headline did. Hopefully today’s goal will help. Now up to two goals in rave green, Dempsey took the first step to righting his course.

(MORE: Clint Dempsey takes out his frustrations on Toronto’s Mark Bloom)

source: APSeattle gave Jermain Defoe his big day

Jermain Defoe might win Major League Soccer Player of the Week, but take a moment to have a closer look at his two goals. Though the former Tottenham Hotspur deserves credit for his finishes, Seattle played a huge part in the early double.

On the first, Chad Marshall comes out of defense to no avail trying to mark a man in midfield. Neither DeAndre Yedlin nor Djimi Traoré adjust quick enough, leaving a gaping hole in defense for Jonathan Osario’s pass. The finish still required a sniper’s touch, but the chance was created by Seattle’s mistakes.

Eight minutes later, Marco Pappa made his first impact with his new club. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good one. His back pass to Defoe left Seattle defense in contain mode and the Guatemalan attack apologizing post-match. Sounders defenders saw the England international bury it.

Credit Defoe for the finishes, but Seattle’s defense can’t giveaway those types of chances. Sigi Schmid will be disappointed his team dug its own hole.

Let’s not be drawing any conclusions about the Sounders, yet

When we look back on the 2014 season, Saturday’s first half may be one of Seattle’s worst of the season – the type of outlying performance you’d never use to indict a team’s potential. Toronto scored two within 24 minutes, held Seattle without any chances, and controlled a half in which its starting XI were playing its first 90 minutes together. It was a result few should have expected, given what we saw from the Sounders last week against Sporting KC.

Though they lost, the second half should give Seattle hope. For the first time this year, the were regularly generating good scoring chances. Clint Dempsey, again instilled in the middle of attack, was having the type of impact people expected when he arrived from London. Obafemi Martins put himself in position to have three or four good chances. The team looked legitimately dangerous.

It was progress, something that may prove more valuable than results this early in the season. Though Seattle won 1-0 last week, their attack was only able to generate one chaotic 94th minute goal. This week their defense let them down, but row attack showed signs of living up to its high-priced potential.

LIVE, FA Cup semifinal: Chelsea v. Southampton

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Chelsea and Southampton clash in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday (10 a.m. ET kick off) for the right to play Manchester United in the final on May 19.

[ LIVE: Updates from Wembley ]

Antonio Conte led Chelsea to the FA Cup final last season but they lost to Arsenal. Even though the Blues are up against it to finish in the top four in the league, winning the cup would be a big success for Conte.

Saints haven’t made a cup semifinal since 2003 when they lost to Arsenal in the final. Mark Hughes‘ side are entrenched in the relegation zone and have a bigger challenge than making the final.

[ MORE: Minute-by-minute on Chelsea v Saints

Click on the links above to follow the action live, while we will have reaction and analysis live from Wembley right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

Arrests made after violent soccer riot in South Africa

AP Photo/Bongani Mbatha - African News Agency
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DURBAN, South Africa (AP) Police say two people have been arrested and more arrests are imminent after a violent riot at a South African soccer game on Saturday night, when hundreds of fans ripped up parts of the stadium, invaded the field, and seriously assaulted at least one security guard.

Players had to run for the safety of the dressing rooms as the fans swept onto the field soon after the final whistle.

[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]

Police responded with stun grenades to disperse the rioters, and television pictures showed riot police storming the field and a white armored police vehicle racing across the edge of the pitch.

South African Police Services spokeswoman Nqobile Gwala on Sunday confirmed the arrests and said the two people were facing charges of public violence and malicious damage to property.

The violence mainly by Kaizer Chiefs fans followed their team’s 2-0 loss to Free State Stars in the semifinals of the Nedbank Cup competition at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the east coast city of Durban, one of the stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup.

In the most disturbing scenes, a female security guard was set upon by a group of supporters on the field. She lay on the ground as they hit her with plastic chairs. A man then kicked her twice in the head. After the second kick she lay motionless and face down on the grass.

Police spokeswoman Gwala did not say if anyone had died in the violence, saying police had no information yet from stadium or medical authorities on any deaths.

Kaizer Chiefs coach Steve Komphela resigned after the game.

“Emotional” Mertesacker: Send Wenger off “with a cup”

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Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker has made 220 appearances for the club, all with one man in charge of the Gunners: Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]

Mertesacker has won three FA Cups with Wenger, and he took up his pen — or laptop — for Sunday’s Matchday program.

The 33-year-old German says it’s down to Arsenal’s players to send off Wenger right: With two more successful rounds in the UEFA Europa League against Atletico Madrid and either Red Bull Salzburg or Marseille. From the BBC:

“We were only informed on Friday about the manager’s decision to step down at the end of the season, so it’s still quite emotional,” Mertesacker said.

“He’s been the major figure of this club for more than 20 years. He’s been so impressive for me and he has trusted me so much throughout my career, in bringing me here and making me captain even when I was injured. He also gave me a future role here at the club so I am very grateful and humbled for the opportunity he gave to me.

“There’s now an emphasis on us doing it for him too. We want to give him the send-off he deserves: with a cup.”

The French legend to end his time at Arsenal against Marseille would be delightful, don’t you think?

Watch Live: Arsenal-West Ham, Stoke-Burnley

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The Premier League has a pair of 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday kickoffs for us this morning, including one of Arsene Wenger‘s final matches at Arsenal.

There’s a London Derby between Arsenal and West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners look to stay fresh for Atletico Madrid and the Hammers aim to firm up their Premier League status for next season (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Welbeck, Lacazette. Subs: Macey, Mertesacker, Holding, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Nelson. Aubameyang.

West Ham United: Hart, Zabaleta, Ogbonna, Rice, Cresswell, Masuaku, Kouyate, Noble, Fernandes, Mario, Arnautovic. Subs: Adrian, Cullen, Evra, Lanzini, Hugill, Carroll, Chicharito.


Stoke City’s climb out of the relegation zone will have to overcome Burnley’s desires for a Top Six place, as the Clarets can pass sixth place Arsenal with a win and a Gunners loss to West Ham (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Stoke City: Butland; Johnson, Shawcross, M.Indi, Pieters; Bauer, Allen, Badou, Shaqiri; Crouch, Diouf. Subs: Haugaard, Zouma, Ireland, Cameron, Fletcher, Ramadan, Campbell.

Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Long, Tarkowski, Ward, Lennon, Cork, Westwood, Gudmundsson, Wood, Barnes. Subs: Heaton, Taylor, Marney, Vokes, Hendrick, Walters, Bardsley.