Odds stacked against Seattle in tonight’s CONCACAF Champions League showdown

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Seattle could do something next to impossible over the next few days, executing a high wire act in high wind against Mexico’s powerful Santos Laguna.

It could happen.

But if we’re being honest, there is no compelling reason to like the Sounders’ chances in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series that begins tonight in the Pacific Northwest. Kickoff on Fox Soccer Channel is set for 10 p.m. ET.

Sigi Schmid’s team is struggling mightily in MLS, anchored to the bottom of the Western Conference standings with one measly point from four matches. Last week’s early capitulation in Utah sounded the loudest alarm bells.

And there’s some butt-ugly history here, a painful moment that might just qualify as the worst memory for Sounders supporters since the club joined MLS in 2009. Seattle took a 2-1 lead to Torreon, Mexico, against this very same Santos side. Optimism ran high that Schmid’s Sounders could get the result and move on that evening last March – but the wheels flew off this moving vehicle spectacularly.

Santos tore the Sounders apart, brushing aside the visitors in a 6-1 result.

Credit the Sounders for putting that one behind them and going on to have a highly credible MLS campaign. But the team still wears the scars of that ambush in Torreon, and they will carry that baggage tonight, heavy with the knowledge that conceding so much as one goal at CenturyLink Field could undo this year’s Champions League efforts.

Odds of keeping the visitors off the board take a hit because steady goalkeeper Michael Gspurning is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Considering his heroic play over the weekend, that’s a huge bummer for the 20,000 or so expected around the rave green ground for this one.

So Marcus Hahnemann, the longtime third-choice U.S. man, is on the spot tonight. That’s not bad. There’s no chance he’ll buckle beneath the weight of this thing, but his shot-stopping and ability to get off his line – good as it looked in preseason – won’t match Gspurning’s.

As for personnel in front of Hahnemann: Patrick Ianni remains out, which means Jhon Kennedy Hurtado will be back in the lineup at center back – and fans can only hope he gets his act together for this one. Hurtado was pretty bad in Saturday’s loss to Real Salt Lake.

At the other end, forward David Estrada appears to be out. That wouldn’t be such an issue except that Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins are questionable, too.

Again, it could happen. But Schmid’s team needs supreme focus in the back, plus something special on the offensive end in order to set up any reasonable chance in next week’s return leg in Mexico.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

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


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE