Wondo’s wonderful goal, and time to ask questions in Seattle

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In Houston, the Dynamo were able to overcome a great goal from that match’s most dangerous man. In Santa Clara, Seattle couldn’t say the same, with an almost even battle between two of the West’s assumed best decided by this:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ79Ajy5FIA]

Eighty yards and two Chris Wondolowski touches later, and Michael Gspurning is watching the shot go in off his left post. Not only was that unstoppable, it was the match winner, with the 1-0 win giving San Jose their second victory of the season.

How “Wondo” saw it:

“I was lucky enough to get the touch and control the ball. I saw Seattle’s goalkeeper [Michael Gspurning] shading toward the ball. He probably wasn’t expecting me to shoot from outside the box. I got a good foot on it and was able to score far post..”

And despite three close games, the Sounders are still winless, with losses to Montréal and San Jose sandwiching last week’s draw against Portland. Counting CONCACAF Champions League matches, Seattle 1-1-3 and have already been shutout three times this season.

Looking at the final numbers, you could argue Seattle was hard done by Wondolowski’s momentary brilliance. Shot totals were similar (16-13, Seattle), as were the shots on goal (5-4, San Jose). Seattle had the possession advantage, but part of that is explained by their chasing the match. Though Seattle caused a couple bits of Jon Busch panic, San Jose was just as threatening towards Gspurning.

“We had three very good chances to score and I feel that we deserved the win tonight,” San Jose head coach Frank Yallop said.

The only thing that separated the sides is the same thing that decides so most matches: Finishing.

“[A] little bit of quality at the right moments, better service at the right moments would’ve made a difference,” Sigi Schmid told the assembled media after the match.

“I don’t know if we deserved to win,” Schmid said, “but I think we deserved to get out of here with a tie.”

It’s an easy argument to make, but it’s not very convincing (and I can’t imagine Schmid being to vociferous while making his case). The balance of play hints Seattle deserved something, but scoring goals matters. A lot. People who can finish matter, which is why all things being equal, a team that starts Chris Wondolowski is more likely to win than a team that starts Sammy Ochoa and David Estrada.

“I thought Estrada and Ochoa were a handful today up front,” Schmid said. “Could that quality be a little better? That’s what Wondo displayed.”

That’s not to say Seattle was particularly hard done by the international break. They were missing two of their starters, both forwards (Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins), while San Jose were missing two of theirs (Justin Morrow and Victor Bernardez), both defenders. San Jose was also without their starters at right back (Steven Beitashour), right wing (Martin Chavez), and No. 9 (Steven Lenhart, Alan Gordon, Mike Fucito). There’s no point complaining about the absences of Johnson and Martins.

The bigger problem for Seattle is in midfield. They’re getting nothing going forward. Christian Tiffert hasn’t been replaced. Fredy Montero’s ability to fill that space was ultimately underrated. The injury to Brad Evans has hurt, while Shalrie Joseph still isn’t ready to start. Osvaldo Alonso is doing his typical dominating best defensively, but for a team that’s scored only once in 180 MLS minutes, something more is needed in the middle.

It’s still early, but unable to solve that problem, Seattle find themselves in last place in the West. At the same time, a San Jose team that’s faced their own series of obstacles is 2-1-1.

It’s time for Seattle to start finding answers, and if they can’t, it’s time to start worrying. With Obafemi Martins, they may have two of the best forwards in the league, but as of now, how are they going to get them the ball?

Sigi Schmid quotes used in this piece came from the Twitter account of The Seattle Times’ Joshua Mayers: @joshuamayers.

World Cup referees miss yet another physical penalty in box

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Let’s get this out of the way first: VAR (Video-Assistant Refereeing) has been a fabulous addition to the game of soccer. In the 2018 World Cup, the availability of replay has done nothing but improve the ability of referees to correctly officiate the game, providing an outlet for mistakes to be corrected. Earlier on Friday, a referee gave a penalty to Brazil for a foul on Neymar, but with VAR applied correctly, the penalty was wiped off after it was determined Neymar went down easily. The game continued as it should, and a clear and obvious error was erased.

Unfortunately, despite the clear improvement to the game VAR provides, there’s still some work to be done in one very specific area of the game.

[ MORE: Recap of Serbia 1-2 Switzerland ]

On multiple occasions this World Cup, referees have missed wrestling matches in the penalty area, allowing defenders to essentially get away with murder instead of awarding attackers a deserved penalty. The worst example of this yet took place in the 66th minute of the 2-1 Switzerland win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, already with a goal to his name early in the match, went up to meet a set-piece delivery with his head. He was fully bear-hugged by Switzerland captain Steven Lichtsteiner, and while being wrapped up, was then rugby tackled by Swiss central defender Fabian Schar.

Yet somehow, Mitrovic was called for the foul, as the referee whistled him for ending up over the back of his defender on a genuine attempt to play the ball.

With every replay shown, it became more and more evident that not only should a penalty have been awarded, but the referee missed a clear and obvious call. Yet the match referee, German Felix Brych, was given no assistance from the VAR booth, left on an island after blowing the call.

There have been so many instances of this throughout the tournament, despite a public directive reportedly given by FIFA to referees asking them to crack down on physical play in the box, according to Fox rules analyst Dr. Joe Machnik. England striker Harry Kane was wrestled to the ground numerous times against Tunisia with no call, while many Egypt fans felt hard done by after Mohamed Salah was bullied in the box repeatedly against Russia.

The more defenders can get away with while defending set pieces in front of net, the more the game will be muddied by controversy, clouding an otherwise glittering debut for VAR on the international stage. That’s frustrating.

Serbia 1-2 Switzerland: Late Shaqiri break shatters Serbian hearts

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One of the most exciting games of the 2018 World Cup proved entertaining from start to finish, ended by a stunning breakaway goal by Xherdan Shaqiri that capped a 2-1 Switzerland comeback victory over Serbia.

The start of the game was all Serbia, with Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic the most dangerous option up front, and he delivered on that promise just five minutes in. After a pair of chances just kept out by Yann Sommer, Mitrovic powered in a header off a Dusan Tadic cross to put Serbia in front early on.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The goal confirmed yet another game without a 0-0 draw, 26 in a row to start the tournament, marking the World Cup record set back in 1954 when every single game in the Switzerland event featured a goal.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

After the goal, the game exploded, with Serbia looking to double its lead and Switzerland hoping to gain a grip on the match. Without a second coming, Switzlerland began to build promisingly, and had its first chance right on the half-hour mark as Steven Zuber through-ball sprung Blerim Dzemaili, but his sliding effort was saved brilliantly by Vladimir Stojkovic at the last second. They had a second chance minutes later, but for some reason Xherdan Shaqiri decided for one too many crosses rather than taking the open shot himself.

Serbia didn’t just look to see out the first half, though, as the star of the first half Dusan Tadic nearly gave his team another lift. First, he delivered a fabulous corner that stunningly skipped through the box untouched. Then, just before the break, Tadic came agonizingly close to what would have been a fabulous half-volley strike that flew viciously wide.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

After the break, the back-and-forth action continued, and Granit Xhaka struck an absolute stunner on the counter to level the match seven minutes into the second half. Shaquiri’s initial attempt from the right edge of the box was blocked and the rebound fell to the Arsenal midfielder outside the penalty area. His follow-up was a laser, curling through the defense and past a wrong-footed Stojkovic.

The chaos continued, with Serbia swinging back into the initiative. Mitrovic had a penalty shout turned down after being bear-hugged and wrestled to the ground by a pair of defenders, and minutes later Aleksandr Kolarov delivered a luscious cross into the box but nobody was there to tap it home.

Serbia began to tire as the game inched towards the final minutes, and Switzerland had most of the late pressure. One moment of brilliance caught the Serbians sleeping, and it proved the difference. Mario Gavranovic fed Shaqiri on the break from his own half, and free on goal the Stoke City winger made no mistake as the last ticks of regulation came off.

The win for Switzerland moves them to four points through the first two matches, leaving them level atop Group E with Brazil on points but in second thanks to an inferior goal differential. Serbia, meanwhile, sits third with three points. Switzerland would advance to the knockout stage with a win or draw in their final match against Costa Rica, while the winner of Brazil vs. Serbia will advance as well, with Brazil advancing in the event of a draw.

Southgate asks media to “help the team” after lineup leak

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England management is unhappy with the media after a coach was snapped with the proposed lineup for Saturday’s match against Panama.

Assistant manager Steve Holland was photographed holding a teamsheet that appeared to show a pair of changes in the England attack, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek replacing Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford partnering with Harry Kane up front. While Southgate attempted to play down the leak, stating the piece of paper was “just a squad list” and “the next sheet has different players in different positions,” he was also clearly frustrated with the media’s decision to run the photos.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“Obviously any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it’s a disadvantage to us,” Southgate said in his pre-match press conference. “So of course our media has to decide whether they want to help the team or not.

The teamsheet showed no changes to the defense, with the team playing a three-center-back system as Kyle Walker continues his role along that back line. Kieran Trippier stays in at wing-back opposite Ashley Young, with Jordan Henderson sitting in the midfield between them. Jesse Lingard retains his place in the attack centrally with help from the addition of Loftus-Cheek, and the pair of strikers ahead of them.

Walker was also asked about the leak, and he said Holland apologized to the team, even if they felt it was unnecessary. “He’s apologised to us all in training, which we had a bit of banter with him about, and that was it.”

“I think if you guys try to keep it to yourself and don’t bring it out to the world,” Walker added, “because it’s not going to help us come the later stages of the tournament, please God we get there. All the rest of the world’s seen our team now, if that is the team or if not. As I say, you guys have to do your little bit, so if you could just please help us with that it would be polite.”

Liverpool to lose $82m Alisson to Real; Klopp turns to Lazio GK?

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Brazilian national team starter and Liverpool transfer target Alisson looks increasingly likely to only see Anfield as a visitor.

Italian outlet Corriere dello Sport says Real Madrid is going to tempt Roma with an $82 million bid that could rise with add-ons.

[ MORE: Lozano to Barcelona? ]

And Real would also offer a near $6 million annual salary to the Brazilian backstop.

It’s coincidence that this news comes on the day that both Alisson and current Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas were at opposite ends of the pitch.

Alisson had little to do, while Costa Rican backstop Navas was outstanding until Philippe Coutinho and Neymar scored during stoppage time.

Meanwhile, TalkSport says the Reds are in on a different Serie A goalkeeper: Lazio’s Albanian backstop Thomas Strakosha.

The 23-year-old old played all 38 league games for the Roman club this season.