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


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.

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.

Europa League roundup: Spurs, Liverpool advance to KO stage

FC Girondins de Bordeaux
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A roundup of Thursday’s UEFA Europa League group stage action:

Qarabag 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham traveled 2,500 miles to Baku, where they knocked off the reigning Azerbaijani champions to remain top of Group J with one game left to play. Harry Kane scored the game’s only goal (10th of the season – all competitions), a close-range finish from Christian Eriksen‘s corner kick in the 78th minute. As things stand, Spurs need just a point in their group stage finale, a home date with Monaco, to finish top of the group and grab a seeded place in the draw for the round of 32.

Liverpool 2-1 Bordeaux

Liverpool went top of Group B with a 2-1 victory over last-place Bordeaux at Anfield, meaning a win in their final group game, away to Swiss side Sion in two weeks’ time, will clinch a seeded place in the draw for the knockout stage. Liverpool went down a goal just after the half-hour mark, but James Milner and Christian Benteke brought the Reds back with a goal each either side of halftime.

FC Krasnodar 1-0 Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund missed their chance to finish top of Group C when they lost 1-0 away to Russian side Krasnodar. Pavel Mamaev put the hosts ahead from the penalty spot in the 2nd minute, and they held on for 88 minutes to move level on points (10) with the German giants. With one game left to play, Krasnodar have the inside track on the top spot through the fourth tiebreaker, away goals scored between the two teams.

Elsewhere in Europa League action

Augsburg 2-3 Athletic Bilbao
Villarreal 1-0 Rapid Wien
Basel 2-2 Fiorentina
Lazio 3-1 Dnipro
Club Brugge 0-1 Napoli
Rosenborg 1-1 Saint-Etienne
Monaco 0-2 Anderlecht
Marseille 2-1 Groningen
Schalke 1-0 APOEL Nicosia
Lokomotiv Moscow 2-4 Porto
Braga 2-1 Liberec
Molde 0-2 Fenerbahce
Celtic 1-2 Ajax
Besiktas 2-0 Skenderbeu
Rubin Kazan 2-0 Sion
Dinamo Minsk 1-0 Viktoria Plzen
AZ Alkmaar 1-2 Partizan Belgrade
Belenenses 0-0 Lech Poznan
Sparta Prague 1-0 Astoris Tripolis
Legia Warsaw 1-0 Midtjylland
PAOK Thessaloniki 0-0 FK Qabala

FIFA donates 48 scandalous watches to non-profit organization

Sepp Blatter, FIFA president
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GENEVA (AP) FIFA’s unethical weakness for luxury watches earned a windfall for a soccer charity working in Brazil.

A total of 48 Swiss watches given to soccer officials at the 2014 World Cup have been recovered and donated to a non-profit organization, the FIFA ethics committee said on Thursday.

The Parmigiani watches – valued at more than $26,000 each – were handed out in Sao Paulo to members of FIFA’s often-discredited executive committee, presidents of national federations whose teams played at the 32-team tournament and officials from South American federations.

Michel D’Hooghe, the longest-serving FIFA executive committee member, told The Associated Press on Thursday the watch he got had been a “poisonous gift.”

The gifts were from the Confederation of Brazilian Football, whose then-president Jose Maria Marin has been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in a widening bribery case which has rocked FIFA and helped force President Sepp Blatter from office.

Marin, who was extradited to the U.S. from Switzerland this month and is under electronic surveillance at his Manhattan apartment, oversaw the gifts in clear breach of FIFA’s Code of Ethics. It allows only for gifts of “symbolic or trivial value.”

Still, gifting luxury watches has long been a tradition for FIFA officials and all who took the presents – or did not report them – risked sanctions under the code which was made stricter in 2012.

After ruling they were unauthorized gifts, FIFA ethics prosecutors decided against opening cases against officials who received a watch on the condition that they returned it.

“After contacting all potential recipients, 48 watches were returned to the investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee,” the FIFA ethics committee said in a statement.

A total of nine watches could not be returned, with six officials or federations saying they never had it in their possession, committee spokesman Andreas Bantel told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

One watch is still with an official who was arrested in Zurich on May 27 by Swiss federal police acting on a request by American prosecutors.

“He wanted to give it back but before he was able to, he was arrested,” Bantel said, declining to identify the man.

The CBF initially said 65 watches were distributed but the ethics investigation traced 57.

“We were very thorough in following up on this matter,” Bantel said.

FIFA earlier said the CBF obtained watches from its sponsor Parmigiani for $8,750 each. But an appraisal found they had a market value of 25,000 Swiss francs ($26,600).

A spokesman for the CBF, Fernando Torres, declined to comment on its role on Thursday stating that “this specific decision regards only FIFA.”

The watches will be given to an organization named streetfootballworld, “who will directly invest all resources generated through the sale of the watches into initiatives across Brazil that use football to drive social change.”

“The investigatory chamber of the ethics committee considers the matter to be closed,” it said.

D’Hooghe said he had no idea about the value of the “poisonous gift” which was within a bag featuring promotional material about Brazil.

“I had absolutely no interest in that watch,” D’Hooghe told The AP. “I found it in my bag and I did not know it was expensive. I gave it to a friend who visited the World Cup. I had to ask for it back.”

D’Hooghe, who was cleared by the ethics committee this year over a painting he received from a Russian friend during the 2018 World Cup bidding contest, said he now refuses any gifts.

“I don’t need any presents,” said the Belgian doctor, who was first elected to FIFA’s ruling panel 27 years ago. “I am an honorable man.”

AP Sports Writers Rob Harris in London and Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed to this report