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Clint Dempsey, in his own words: Seattle star on his three-goal day in Portland

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Expect to hear ‘it was only one game’ a lot this week, because all the criticism of Clint Dempsey isn’t going to die down overnight. Yet with a hat trick in Portland — exactly the type of performance we’re used to seeing from an in-form “Deuce” — Dempsey did more than stumble onto a few goals. He found his old self. Considering that self has been slowly resurfacing since his return from Fulham, this afternoon’s performance represents the culmination of a long comeback.

Not that Dempsey sees it that way. After his three-goal performance in Seattle’s 4-4 draw in Portland, Dempsey was his normal, even keel self. If a monkey had just jumped off his back, it had also quickly scurried out of the room. There was no evidence that the Seattle star had just finished a breakout performance.

Here’s the U.S. captain, in his own words.

“I’m not really trying to make a statement.”

On what his performance, coming off a two-match suspension, meant:

“I’m not really trying to make a statement. I’m just trying to enjoy playing my ball here with the Seattle Sounders.

“The important thing is that the team does well. It’s about the team … Our goal is to try to get to MLS Cup. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

“A little sweeter against your rivals.”

More thoughts on his hat trick:

“It always feels good to score goals – a little bit sweeter against your rivals. At the same time, it more important thing is points. We got a point today, and we need to make sure that we win our games at home, we make it a fortress, and that we’re getting those three points that we need. We need to make sure that we push up the table, [because] we have the quality in our side. That’s where we should be.”

“I’ll get him a soda pop.”

On taking the late penalty, when it originally appeared midfielder Gonzalo Pineda would take the shot.

“He was feeling confident to take it. I was feeling confident to take it. Also, scoring two goals in the game, I was feeling I was in a little bit of a rhythm. Credit to him for giving me the opportunity to go with that rhythm and build upon that confidence and to get that hat trick. Maybe after the game, I’ll get him a soda pop.”

 “It was important for me to go on loan.”

On how he’s feeling, overall:

“I feel good. It was important for me to go on loan and get my body right, get my fitness level up. Coming back into MLS, I feel like I’ve been able to contirbute in a positive way, and also with the national team, I felt like I was able to put in a good 90.

“I felt that goal that we (the U.S.) created on the third goal that they called offsides was a good goal, was onsides, and it should have counted.

“But we’re happy with the point today when it looked like we weren’t going to have anything. It’s about moving forward.”

 “I was a little bit tired.”

On whether there was a chance he wouldn’t start, coming off a mid-week game with the U.S. Men’s National Team.

“I always like to play. It’s always a tough call, when you do travel a lot. It was only three hours, but if today’s game had been on the east coast, I think it would have been a difficult game to try and start, because if you look at some of the players’ history, especially Seattle because of the long flights, [players] come into the games, sometimes they happen to pick up injuries.

“But for me, I was feeling good, and I wanted to go as long as I can. Sigi told me before the game ‘if you can go 60, give us 60.’ He felt it’d be better to do that then come off the bench. I agreed with him.

“At the end of the day we were able to get the point, but I was a little bit tired. Now i’m excited about getting a full week with the team in training and into the next game.”

“That point today felt like more than a point … It felt like a win.”

On the importance of the comeback and the result:

“(We) had a mountain to climb to get back into the game., but credit to our team. We showed a lot of character fighting to get a point away from home against our rivals, an important point. I think it’s a build block and somehting that will give us a boost going into the next game.”

“It says that we don’y give up. We keep fighting until the end. I think we’ve always showed that, even the last playoff game here when we were down by three goals. We never give up. We keep fighting, keep pushing.

“That point today felt like more than a point. It felt like a win. It’s kind of a momentum building going into next week.”

MLS Snapshots: Montreal, DC strengthen playoff bids; TFC draws Orlando (video)

Montreal Impact midfielder Ignacio Piatti, center, is congratulated by teammate Matteo Mancosu (21) following a goal against the San Jose Earthquakes during the first half of a soccer game, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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For most of Wednesday’s trio of Major League Soccer matches we had a paucity of goals, Montreal’s potent attack the only thing assuring it wasn’t zero.

[ MORE: Tata chooses Atlanta United ]

But the final half hours in two of our three matches proved fruitful for the box scores.

Montreal Impact 3-1 San Jose Earthquakes

With Didier Drogba resting, the Impact still managed to strengthen their playoff plans while crushing San Jose’s hopes for the second season. Dominic Odoro buried a rebound early before MVP hopeful Ignacio Piatti made it 2-0 before halftime. Piatti later helped Johan Venegas put the game away late.

Chris Wondolowski scored his 11th goal of the season to pull San Jose within a goal with just under a half-hour to play, his 120th in MLS has him 25 behind Landon Donovan of the LA Galaxy for the all-time record.

The loss leaves San Jose seven points shy of a playoff spot with four matches to play.

Toronto FC 0-0 Orlando City

There were chances, sure: Michael Bradley looped a gorgeous pass that Jonathan Osorio somehow hit over the net from inside the six, and Cyle Larin was denied by a diving Alex Bono at the other end.

Two yellow cards to Tosaint Rickets in a 14-minute span left TFC down a man for the final 20 minutes, but the Reds held on for a point at home. Orlando is now five points shy of the East’s final playoff spot, while Toronto used its game-in-hand to pull ahead of New York Red Bulls and New York City FC for the top spot in the East.

DC United 3-0 Columbus Crew

This one saw the chances evenly distributed but the ball mostly with the visitors. Fortunately for DC’s playoff hopes, Lloyd Sam’s third goal of the season opened up a 1-0 lead in the 71st minute off a slick feed from Luciano Acosta. Lamar Neagle had a classy finish to make it 2-0, then assisted Alvaro Saborio to end this game and Columbus’ playoff hopes.

Tata Martino on choosing Atlanta: Project “worth more than money”

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 26: Gerardo Martino of Argentina clls out against Chile during the Copa America Centenario Championship match at MetLife Stadium on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Chile defeated Argentina 4-2 in penalty kicks. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Paraguay.

Newell’s Old Boys.

Barcelona.

Argentina.

Atlanta United.

That’s the career path for new Atlanta boss Tata Martino, announced Wednesday as the first manager in United history.

[ MORE: Why is Walcott on fire? | Wenger on MiB pod ]

It’s a fascinating hire for the club and its league, Major League Soccer, as United prepares to debut in 2017.

And it’s also interesting on account of the coach. The 53-year-old Argentine remains in his prime, a three-time Copa America runner-up who was organizing Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and company just three years ago.

Timothy Pratt filed a report on the hiring for the New York Times on Wednesday, one that speaks to Martino’s excitement at helping start a club from the ground up. The coach is excited to aid technical director and USMNT legend Carlos Bocanegra in guiding players from youth on up, similar to what Oscar Pareja has done at FC Dallas.

From NYTimes.com:

Martino underlined the importance of youth player development at his new club “based on how I became a player at Newell’s.” The club is known for grooming players, including a young Lionel Messi, who played for Martino with Barcelona and Argentina. “Working with the youth teams is fundamental for me, no matter where in the world I’m coaching,” he said.

“But the proposal they’re offering me — to install my style of play and build from the ground up — is worth more than money,” he said.

That’s the kinda hire that should be high-fived. Let’s see how it plays out.

Europa League: Mourinho says targeted Man Utd must win; Saints shorthanded

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United makes his way to the tunnel after the final whistle  during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Europa League goes into its second day of group play with the onus on the biggest club in the tournament to pick up a win.

Don’t believe us? Ask Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho.

“To be honest, I think we have to win,” Mourinho said at his pre-match press conference. “If we don’t win, I would say we’d have to win all the last four matches, which is difficult, so I think it is very important that we win this game.”

[ MORE: Wenger excited at Arsenal’s chances ]

United fell 1-0 at Feyenoord to open the group stage, and now hosts Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk at 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday. He knows its the equivalent of a massive Cup match for the visitors.

“The Europa League is a competition Man United isn’t normally in, so when these teams have a giant like Man United in front of them, it’s a huge moment for them and they come to the game with incredible motivation.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will start for United, as there’s a chance that Anthony Martial will rejoin the side. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is out, and Wayne Rooney (back) and Luke Shaw (illness) may not play.

The other Premier League side in play is Southampton, as the Saints take a long flight to Israel for a 3:05 p.m. ET kickoff against Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

[ MORE: Why is Walcott on fire? | Wenger on MiB pod ]

Saints handled Sparta Prague at home, and now face the Camels, who went to Inter Milan and won. Southampton is without Charlie Austin, Jose Fonte, Ryan Bertrand, and Steven Davis.

Should be a very decent match from Turner Stadium in Be’er Sheva.

Elsewhere

all times ET

Mainz at Gabala — 11 a.m.
Young Boys at Astana — 11 a.m.
Osmanlispor at Zurich — 1 p.m.
Red Bull Salzburg at Schalke — 1 p.m.
PAOK at Liberec — 1 p.m.
Qarabag at Fiorentina — 1 p.m.
Villarreal at Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m.
Nice at Krasnodar — 1 p.m.
Standard Liege at Ajax — 1 p.m.
Braga at Shakhtar Donetsk — 1 p.m.
Panathinaikos at Celta Vigo — 1 p.m.
Inter Milan at Sparta Prague — 1 p.m.
Konyaspor at Gent — 1 p.m.
Sassuolo at Genk — 3:05 p.m.
Zorya at Manchester United — 3:05 p.m.
Anderlecht at Saint-Etienne — 3:05 p.m.
Apoel Nicosia at Olympiacos — 3:05 p.m.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv at Dundalk — 3:05 p.m.
Feyenoord at Fenerbahce — 3:05 p.m.
Rapid Wien at Athletic Bilbao — 3:05 p.m.
Viktoria Plzen at Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m.
AZ Alkmaar at Zenit Saint-Petersburg — 3:05 p.m.
Astra Giurgiu at AS Roma — 3:05 p.m.

Wenger after UCL win: This year’s Arsenal has “interesting potential”

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28:  Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Arsenal FC and FC Basel 1893 at the Emirates Stadium on September 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is growing in confidence when it comes to his Gunners’ chances in England and Europe, and it’s not hard to see why.

Four days after Arsenal battered Chelsea 3-0 in Premier League action, the Gunners went out and handled FC Basel in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Why is Walcott on fire? | Wenger on MiB pod ]

Theo Walcott scored both goals in the 2-0 win, and there could’ve been so many more. Arsenal was fast, deliberate, creative, and dangerous. The finishing was not ideal, but the promise was massive.

Perhaps more important, the Gunners posted a third-straight clean sheet and have allowed just four goals in eight matches since the 4-3 loss to Liverpool that opened the PL season.

And Wenger acknowledges that his side can do big things, provided it doesn’t get too full of itself after solid performances. From Arsenal.com:

“It looks like the team has interesting potential. We have to be ambitious and, as you know, keep our feet on the ground to continue to develop. We know exactly how we want to play football and we have to continue to stick to that and get better at it. That demands big focus and some leadership inside the squad. It also requires humility.”

Arsenal has a very winnable run in the Premier League, and could be right there with Manchester City by the end of October. And with a winnable UCL group, who knows what the Gunners could do with a decent knockout round draw?