Does Clint Dempsey’s arrival make Seattle an MLS contender?

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Clint Dempsey’s heralded arrival answers a lot of questions around CenturyLink, where the ongoing search for reliable finishers has sometimes guided the Sounders down some tricky and confounding rabbit holes.

Today’s smack-upside the head of major MLS news – easily the league’s biggest signing since David Beckham back in 2007, not to mention the most shocking since than January morning when Becks climbed loudly aboard the Good Ship MLS – also serves to stir new interest and gin up the buzz around domestic soccer’s highest tier. You can never get enough of that in Major League Soccer (especially not with all national TV deals expiring after next year).

But in the end, is it enough to make the Seattle Sounders an MLS contender? Because as of today, the Sounders aren’t even an MLS playoff team, currently in seventh place (although with games in hand on every Western Conference club.)

The problem with Seattle this year is one of “average.” Two of the game-breakers of the last two years, Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales, are either gone (Montero) or faded (Rosales). Steve Zakuani was an emerging game-breaker back in 2010, with 10 goals, 6 assists and sufficient speed to scare the logo off every opposition right back’s cleats. Sadly, Zakuani may never be that same man again.

The defense is OK, with steady ‘keeper Michael Gspurning backstopping a line of defense that is passable, but nothing to knock on the door and tell the neighbors about. Same for a midfield that rightly revolves around the Rock of Alonso – Osvaldo Alonso, that is.

Past Alonso, the league’s top ball winner, guys like Lamar Neagle, Brad Evans, Shalrie Joseph, Rosales and others all have their plusses and minuses.

Again, there is a lot of “just OK” doing the work inside the Sounders’ teeming downtown ground.

Dempsey’s arrival can provide the “something special” that’s been missing. Sounders management thought they had it in Obafemi Martins, and his 6 goals in 13 appearances this year isn’t too shabby. But Martins doesn’t have Dempsey’s drive, nor his ability to create in a numbers of ways.

(MORE: Is it really so hard to understand Dempsey’s move?)

At four goals in 12 matches, Eddie Johnson cannot exactly stamp “difference maker” across his resume for 2013, either. That total shrinks a little further into the background when we consider how desperately Johnson wants to stay in Seattle, coveting that big, fat contract once his deal expires in a few months. That is to say, we might have expected more so far this year from “GAM.”

In Dempsey, Johnson and Martins, the Sounders have a trio of attackers that can stand with some of the best ever seen in MLS, especially if right-sided playmaker Rosales can catch the beat anew.

Last year at this time, we wondered if Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Robbie Keane represented the top attacking trio over seen in around the league?  The Dempsey-Martins-Johnson ensemble isn’t there … but it’s certainly a blue ribbon gathering.

There is a great breakdown here from Sounder at Heart on all the ways Sounders boss Sigi Schmid might use Dempsey. It underscores what is quintessentially Dempey: his useful versatility, that ability to be effective at several positions, primarily out wide where we saw him so much at Fulham or underneath a striker as we see him with the national team.

Either way, Dempsey takes someone of the “average” variety off the field, replacing him with a warrior, someone who lives and breathes for the next match, the next opportunity with the ball at his feet, the next win – and with the skill and instinct that makes it all work.

(MORE: Where Dempsey’s signing ranks in MLS Designated Player history)

Assuming good health for Dempsey and assuming Johnson sees the blockbuster move as it serves the greater good (rather than becoming a locker room distraction because this isn’t the best for him personally), Seattle will make the playoffs.

And one thing has not changed in Major League Soccer through all the years: you just have to squeeze into the post-season. It’s harder today to arrive into the final as a fourth- or fifth-place team, but the lower-ranked clubs can surely get there; Fourth-place Los Angeles and fifth-place Houston reminded us so last year.

Seattle will make the playoffs just based on Dempsey’s arrival. If the defense improves a notch – there’s still time to achieve that aim through a personnel move; Seattle suddenly has an expendable asset or two as trade bait, eh? – and if Alonso can stay healthy, which has been harder to do this year, the Sounders are an MLS Cup contender.

Because right now there is not one team standing out as a kingpin contender – just a few jostling for position to be called one.

(MORE: Steve Nicol, Dempsey’s former manager, comments on Saturday’s big move)

Opportunistic Brighton nips sleepy Newcastle

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  • Moribund Magpies hit bottom
  • Brighton scores with only shot on target
  • Newcastle out attempts Seagulls 27-7

Newcastle United controlled the game but failed to manufacture much danger, as the woeful Magpies lost again, this time 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

Beram Kayal scored for Brighton, who moves 12th with 11 points. Newcastle has two points, and sits dead last.

Glenn Murray was injured early after a scary head-to-head clash with Federico Fernandez and was stretchered off the pitch.

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Shelvey darted in to take the ball from Gaetan Bong, and Ayoze Perez’s low effort could’ve been a bit better but still forced a fine save out of Mathew Ryan.

Ryan was hurt trying to get around Perez for a loose ball moments later, favoring his shoulder.

There was a much scarier incident moments later, which caused a 10-minute delay in the match. Glenn Murray won an aerial challenge with Federico Fernandez, but they clashed heads and both hit the turf.

Murray appeared to be knocked cold, and players rushed to steady his neck and clear his pathway as trainers rushed to treat him. He was stretchered off the pitch.

Brighton went ahead in the 29th minute off a corner kick which should not have been given, as Jose Izquierdo’s long shot through traffic took a turn off Kayal and into the goal.

Newcastle reclaimed the driver’s seat, and Matt Ritchie headed wide in the 39th minute.

Shane Duffy then blocked a dangerous low drive from Jonjo Shelvey, and moments later Yoshinori Muto nodded a bouncing, rising Shelvey rebound over the bar.

Kenedy then came close with a laser from 25 yards, skimming the top of the bar.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ryan made a fine save on Shelvey just after halftime as Newcastle went right back on the front foot.

He’d later push a deflected Shelvey free kick over the bar before saving from Kenedy off the ensuing corner.

But Newcastle had no ideas and not enough desperation, handing a result to the Seagulls.

Cardiff City thrashes sorry Fulham to move out of drop zone

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  • Cardiff out of the drop zone
  • Paterson nabs winner
  • Fulham slide into 18th

Four different players scored as Cardiff City finally collected a win, moving out of the drop zone at the expense of woeful Fulham after a 4-2 win at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday.

Bobby Reid, Josh Murphy, Callum Paterson, and Kadeem Harris scored for the Bluebirds, who move 17th with five points.

Ryan Sessegnon and Andre Schurrle scored for Fulham, who dip into the drop zone on five points and an almost absurd 25 goals allowed through nine matches.

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If you had this one as the “four goals in about 20 minutes” match of the 10 a.m. ET kickoffs, well you’ve got a sick imagination (even with Fulham’s propensity for allowing goals).

But that’s how it went down in Wales, with Andre Schurrle’s remarkable 30 yards laser opening the scoring in the 11th minute.

Cardiff claimed the leader with goals in the 15th and 20th minutes. Josh Murphy equalized with a fine solo goal, and American defender Tim Ream‘s poor touch for Fulham then allowed Bobby Reid in on goal for 2-1.

Sessegnon then became the first player born in the 2000s to score a Premier League goal when he took a flick from Aleksandar Mitrovic and beat Neil Etheridge. 2-2.

But wait: Fulham had more poor defending on offer. A Bruno Ecuele Manga missed every clearing attempt in the fray, and Paterson made it 3-2 with 25 minutes to play.

Etheridge made a strong stop on Alfie Mawson in the 84th minute. And Real Betis loanee Victor Camarasa spotted Harris at the back post for 4-2 with minutes to play.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

South Coast stalemate: Bournemouth, Southampton draw

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  • King misses big chance
  • No goal in four games for Saints
  • Bournemouth unbeaten in three

Bournemouth and Southampton drew 0-0 at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday, with the South Coast derby a tight, tense affair.

Charlie Austin spurned a good chance in the first half, while Bournemouth did plenty of probing but failed to break through.

With the point Bournemouth now have 17 for the season, while Saints have six.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Bournemouth showed some promising moments early on but both Adam Smith and David Brooks got their efforts wrong.

At the other end Charlie Austin was the danger man for Saints, but his heavy touch took the ball out of his reach despite beating Nathan Ake and Asmir Begovic to it.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The first half ended with no goals in a tight encounter in a South Coast derby.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

In the second half King missed a glorious chance after being picked out by Wilson as the Norwegian striker scuffed his shot.

At the other end Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg‘s dipping volley was tipped over by Begovic in a rare chance for Saints.

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In the end, both teams settled for a point in the sun and Saints will be the happier team.

Watch Live: Huddersfield Town vs. Liverpool

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Mohamed Salah and Virgil Van Dijk have passed fitness tests and will start for Huddersfield Town at Liverpool on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Roberto Firmino is on the bench, while both Naby Keita and Sadio Mane miss out. Adam Lallana gets a rare start for the Reds.

LINEUPS

Huddersfield Town: Lossl, Hogg, Schindler, Hadergjonaj, Durm, Lowe, Zanka, Billing, Mooy, Pritchard, Depoitre. Subs: Hamer, Bacuna, Diakhaby, Van La Parra, Mbenza, Mounie, Stankovic.

Liverpool: Alisson, Gomez, Lovren, Van Dijk, Robertson, Milner, Henderson, Lallana, Shaqiri, Salah, Sturridge. Subs: Mignolet, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Firmino, Origi, Matip, Alexander-Arnold.