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

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Welcome to a new era of Toronto FC soccer, one in which the Reds are capable of going to places like CenturyLink Field and earning three points. Thanks to two first half goals from Jermain Defoe, a revamped TFC registered a  2-1 victory in Seattle, sending early notice to those left doubting the potential their offseason rebuild.

After Seattle controlled much of the ball over the match’s first quarter-hour, Toronto broke through in the 16th minute, with Jonathan Osario setting up Defoe. Eight minutes later, a poor back pass from Seattle’s Marco Pappa allowed Defoe to add his second from inside the arc, giving the Reds a lead two-goal lead they’d carry well past halftime.

Converting on a second half counter attack, Clint Dempsey cut Toronto’s lead to one, scoring his first of the season to make it 2-1 in the 68th minute. Awakened, Toronto was able to carry their one-goal edge to full-time, starting their 2014 season with a victory on the road.

(MORE: Defoe scores twice in first 23 minutes of his Major League Soccer debut.)

For Seattle, the result drops the team to 1-1-0, with the Sounders slipping after last week’s opening day win over visiting Sporting Kansas City. While that slip was defined by a poor performance over Saturday’s first 45 minutes, the Sounders will be able to take little consolation from a spirited response that left them one goal short.

source: APToronto’s initial break through came after Osorio, having done well to maintain control at the edge of the Reds’ attacking third, fed a ball into the left channel for Defoe. Taking advantage of the positioning of Chad Marshall and DeAndre Yedlin, Defoe beat former Red Stefan Frei into the right of goal, giving Toronto an early lead.

Eight minutes later, Defoe doubled his goal total, taking advantage of a poor back pass from Pappa to score the game’s winning goal. After retrieving the ball just outside the Seattle penalty area, Defoe dribbled onto his right foot inside the arch, giving him an open look at the right side of Frei’s goal. Beating the new Seattle number one for the second time in eight minutes, Defoe put his new team up, 2-0.

(MORE: Clint Dempsey takes out his frustrations on Mark Bloom.)

The second half saw a more aggressive Seattle team generate a couple of early chances for Obafemi Martins. In the 68th minute, however, it as the Nigerian’s part in building an attack that led to the Sounders’ break through.

Countering off a ball played wide right by Dempsey, Martins streaked down the flank, seeing no resistance before hitting the edge of Toronto’s penalty area. Once there, Martins laid off to his left for an oncoming Dempsey, who blasted home from just inside the box to reduce his team’s deficit to one.

Having relinquished control to Seattle for the half’s first 23 minutes, Toronto began putting up more of a fight after Dempsey’s goal. Whereas the Reds were too willing to collapse into the defensive third before conceding, Toronto started maintaining some possession once their lead was reduced. Though the team wasn’t able to generate any significant chances over the match’s final 22 minutes, they were able to stymie the control Seattle had exercised over the period’s opening moments.

With Marshall coming forward to threaten on the match’s late set pieces, Seattle maintained the threat of an equalizer against Nelsen’s conservative tactics. Once full-time was blown, however, Toronto had survived Seattle’s late pressure, giving them the first win of their new, higher profile era.

Lineups

Seattle Sounders: Stefan Frei; DeAndre Yedlin, Chad Marshall, Djimi Traore, Dylan Remick; Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso; Lamar Neagle, Clint Dempsey, Marco Pappa; Obafemi Martins

Goals: Dempsey (68)

Toronto FC: Júlio César; Mark Bloom, Steven Caldwell, Doneil Henry; Justin Morrow; Jackson, Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio, Álvaro Rey; Jermain Defoe; Dwayne De Rosario

Goals Defoe (16, 24)

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.

VIDEO: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago Fire can win World Cup

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Big press conferences bring unusual media members out of the woodwork, and this can be pretty embarrassing when it comes to sports.

I remember a few years ago in Buffalo, when the NHL’s Sabres had not resigned Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. A TV newsman, not known for his sports coverage, asked the general manager what they would say to fans who bought Drury and Briere jerseys.

The awkward reply: “Sorry?”

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There was no exception when the Chicago Fire unveiled Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday. The World Cup winning midfielder faced the press and was asked if his arrival would help Chicago win the World Cup.

You read that right. Here’s the video, even as the communications man jumped in to try and save the reporter by suggesting he meant the FIFA Club World Cup.

Woof. The media overseas are having a field day with this one, but it doesn’t have anything to do with American soccer fans, perhaps even sports media. I’d be stunned if the reporter spent a ton of time around the game.

But man, oh man.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80