MLS Preview: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers

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  • Second-largest MLS crowd expected at CenturyLink.
  • Clint Dempsey set for his MLS home debut.
  • Sounders, Portland drew last meeting, 1-1.

People noticed moments after Clint Dempsey transferred back into MLS. His first home game would be against the Portland Timbers, a matchup so enticing it almost justified the cost.

Perhaps not, but with at least 66,500 expected at CenturyLink Field, the Sounders should record the second-highest single-game attendance in Major League Soccer history, with only the Galaxy’s inaugural game against the MetroStars in 1996 left to top that total (drawing 69,255 at the Rose Bowl). Sunday’s crowd should also top the number that attended the last match between the teams at a fully open CenturyLink – last year’s 3-0, October win by Seattle, a game that drew 66,452 (the current second-highest total in league history).

That’s why, for all the hype he’s brought to the league over the last three weeks, the Seattle-Portland rivalry has overshadowed Dempsey’s home debut. With or without Dempsey, this game would have drawn a huge crowd. The fact that MLS’s highest profile player is set to take part only adds another subplot to the league’s marquee derby.

Whether Dempsey is ready to make a major impact remains to be seen. In his first game, two weeks ago in Toronto, Dempsey was effective as a focal point out of the back as Seattle killed off a 2-0 halftime lead (holding on to win, 2-1). In Houston, the Dynamo never allowed him to get into the game, controlling the match against the visiting Sounders en route to a 3-1 win.

Over the course of that near-150 minutes, we’ve yet to see Dempsey in an ideal situation. As a result, he’s yet to have a major impact. In Toronto, he was brought on prematurely for an injured Obafemi Martins. In Houston, Seattle was playing without the suspended Eddie Johnson and the injured Martins, leaving “Deuce” to form an unlikely strike partnership with Lamar Neagle. We may not see that combination again the rest of the season.

On Sunday, Martins is expected to be back, though head coach Sigi Schmid has remained coy. The team’s best defender, Djimi Traore, is in the same boat, both players listed as questionable. Osvaldo Alonso, the midfield anchor that proved so important in the teams’ earlier meeting in Seattle, practiced on Friday and looks likely to go.

That leaves Portland with all the injury worries. Captain Will Johnson is probably out, unlikely to be ready while recovering from a shoulder problem. Frederic Piquionne is questionable with an ankle sprain, while Jack Jewsbury, out recently with his own ankle problem, may be pressed into action with Diego Chara suspended (yellow card accumulation). Given central defender Futty Danso is also out, the corps most important to protecting goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts have been significantly thinned out.

With Portland’s possession-based approach, the Timbers have other ways of mitigating their exposure. Schmid’s tactics could play into that, though with Ben Zemanski, Pa Modou Kah, Andrew Jean-Baptiste and possibly Jewsbury through the middle, smart decisions from Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, and Rodney Wallace will become even more important. If Alonso can reek havoc and find the likes of Mauro Rosales and Brad Evans, Seattle’s attack of Dempsey, Johnson, and Martins could produce another lopsided result.

What they are saying

Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid, on the lack of tickets available for Sunday’s game: “It’s a good problem to have. You never would’ve thought that as you started into the career of the Sounders in their second reincarnation here, in MLS. Now to realize that might’ve been the case. Maybe you could’ve sold 75,000 for this week. It’s a fantastic feeling to have.” [source]

Clint Dempsey, on derbies: “It’s big. The fans are really going to be up for it, as you can see — 67,000-68,000 fans coming out to the game. But yeah, I’m used to the derbies and used to the rivalries and I understand the importance of it. Hopefully I can open my account this weekend against them.” [source]

Portland head coach Caleb Porter, on the occasion: “[I’ve] never been a big believer in the big game, because it takes away from the other games. The reality is every game — as cliché as it sounds — is a big game. In this league, points are points. But I’ve tried to build as a culture where the players approach every game like it’s the biggest game. So clearly there’s some external factors that play into this game, perhaps being a bit more buzz to it, but I really try to avoid that psychology with my team.” [source]

Prediction

Seattle will have the more talented, healthier team, but most teams Portland face are more talented. Porter’s system, to this point, has offset that advantage, and while most coaches are reluctant to change their approach for one game, Schmid needs to adjust. The extent to which he can do so while preserving his attackers’ threats should determine Seattle’s success … though you could shoehorn that analysis into any match.

Even if Portland can dictate the game’s tempo, their set piece defending could be a problem. And if they can’t control the match, Seattle will torch them. No surprise given Portland’s health and the game’s location, the Timbers should be seen as underdogs.

USMNT back Lichaj finds new home in Championship

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Eric Lichaj is going to bring his Premier League promotion dreams to a new Championship club.

The 29-year-old USMNT fullback has been a key part of Nottingham Forest to the tune of 188 appearances since moving from Aston Villa in 2013.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

But he’s on the move, joining Nigel Adkins at Hull City on the heels of a three-goal season at Forest. He famously scored a pair of goals in a 4-2 FA Cup win over Arsenal, then naming his new dog Gunner.

“It’s a fresh start for me and I want to repay Hull City for the faith that they have shown in me by bringing me here. I’ll be working my hardest, as I always do, every day in training and on matchdays.”

The versatile American can play left or right back, and has pushed his way back into the national team picture. Lichaj has 15 caps with a goal for the USMNT.

Also, #AStarInStripes? We see you, Hull

Report: Minnesota United chasing Ecuadorian national teamer

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Minnesota United may be hoping another Ibarra can cure what ails its attack.

Romario Ibarra, 23, is on the Loons’ radar according to The Athletic‘s Kristian Dyer and Jeff Rueter, who say Minnesota would like to land the Ecuadorian when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Ibarra was limited to eight matches for Universidad Católica this season as he battled through a lingering metatarsal fracture. But he’s scored against Argentina and Chile in each of his appearances for the national team, both World Cup qualifiers.

From The Athletic:

Sources say that Ibarra’s contract is unlikely to make him a designated player, leaving Quintero as the club’s sole DP. (It could depend, in part, on the size of the transfer fee.) Based on league standards, his salary will likely be drawn from Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) contract seems likely.

Ibarra’s older brother Renato plays for Club America, and has 36 caps.

Minnesota is six points outside the West’s final playoff spot, and has scored just 17 goals in 14 matches.

Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal field set

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The 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is down to one non-MLS entrant after LAFC fought past Sacramento Republic’s dogged effort to make it two, twice equalizing en route to a 3-2 win.

[ MORE: TFC extends Bono ]

Louisville City won a battle of USL sides in Wednesday’s final day of fifth round action, knocking off Nashville SC by a 2-1 score.

Now attention turns to the quarterfinals, where USL champions Louisville City will face the Chicago Fire on July 18.

All four quarterfinals will be staged on that day, and the winner of Louisville-Chicago will face the winner of the duel between Philadelphia Union and Orlando City.

The other side of the bracket shows Houston Dynamo against Sporting KC, and LAFC against the Portland Timbers.

Chicago and KC have won the cup an MLS-best four times each, while Philadelphia has finished second twice.

The remaining quarterfinalists have not advanced to a USOC final.

Sprawling translated Emery interview talks PSG, Guardiola, more

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery has given a sprawling interview, translated by France Football News, in which he discusses his history and his philosophies.

The interview was conducted after Emery was dismissed by Paris Saint-Germain but before he was hired by the Gunners.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

It’s a fascinating read, with Emery going deep into his relationship with Neymar, the need for PSG to get an “A-ha” goal for its history books, and much, much more.

The interview is with Marti Perarnau, the author of “Pep Confidential,” and there are plenty of good nuggets regarding the Manchester City boss, as well as Rafa Benitez, Zinedine Zidane, PSG, Real Madrid, and Barcelona.

It’s fairly clear that Emery figured he’d be going to a new league, and he certainly seems like a guy fit for a project like succeeding Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. For one thing, he’s proud of his team’s style.

That’s something valued by the North London set, and Emery pointed out that Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid and Pep Guardiola at Man City had to fail before they succeeded.

Let me say this: PSG played well and won. Many people don’t value that enough and believe that it is easy. But what happened to us? We lacked competitiveness in important moments. Why? Because this team is not confronted with enough moments of adversity in the league. Being competitive also means being faced with adversity. One has to suffer like Simeone’s team to win. One has to suffer like Pep’s team to win in England.

My team had two basic principles: having possession and pressing. That was the basis. Having the ball, and winning it back as fast as possible. I should add a little nuance. I’m talking about having possession and not positioning because there are moments where you can win the ball through positioning, and others where moving out of position can surprise the opponent. And like Guardiola says, if you have to win with a long ball from the goalkeeper towards the striker and that the forward scores with his ass, then so be it! We work like that as well.

And here’s just a quick nugget on the importance of playmaking, and how good players make a coach look better.

During his first match against Toulouse at the Parc des Princes, we get corner. Neymar takes it quickly and Kurzawa scores. We hadn’t worked that at all with him. Afterwards, I told Neymar, “My work is limited to your strokes of genius.”

Love it. Arsenal seems like it’s in good hands. Read the full interview here.