Seattle’s the hottest team in MLS, so why not more buzz?

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Who’s the hottest team in Major League Soccer? Judging by wins and losses alone, there’s no doubt. It’s the Seattle Sounders.

Twelve points in their last four games is an unmatched haul. Expand the scope to a team’s last five, six games (when Clint Dempsey joined the team), and Sigi Schmid’s team is still the league’s form side. Since July 29, the Sounders have won seven of eight, climbing from near the bottom of the West and into second place.

So why isn’t there more buzz about the Sounders? Big analysis pieces about their rise? Videos comparing them to Real Salt Lake, asking whether the West’s leaders should be scared? Why aren’t we asking whether this is the year Seattle will break through?

People who’ve watched the games know, and if you look beyond mere wins and losses, it’s easy to spot. Seattle’s last five victories have all by one goal, hinting at a fragility that belies their rise.

Portland’s injury issues. Columbus’s inability to capitalize 11-on-10. Game-winning own goals from Doniel Henry and Gonzalo Segares. The mere quality of Chivas USA. These aren’t circumstances that wow, particularly with RSL scoring 11 goals in their last three games.

But for Seattle, it’s all part of a process – a process that makes the current hot streak a welcome bonus. Clint Dempsey is neither in full shape nor fully familiar with his new teammates. Along with Eddie Johnson, he’s been away from the team on international duty. Obafemi Martins has been hurt. Now Brad Evans has gone down. Seattle hasn’t even been able to discern who their best XI is, let alone give them time to gel.

And that was supposed to be the goal all along. When Seattle acquired Dempsey, they were outside the playoff picture, though with a glut of games in hand, they always looked good bets to finish in the top five, provided their improved on the field.

source: AP
With two games in hand, Sigi Schmid and the Seattle Sounders are only two points behind Western Conference leading Real Salt Lake, their 1.77 points per game the best rate in Major League Soccer. (Photo: AP)

That was the only mission. Start playing better, and making the playoffs will take care of itself. And rather than worry about tracking down RSL or finishing at a certain level in the standings, the real value for a team hungry to claim an MLS Cup would be playing the best soccer possible come the postseason. If near-term results had to be sacrificed for long-term form, so be it, even if short-term results where still important.

That’s leads to a scary thought, in light of Seattle’s impressive run: What happens when Schmid’s attack really begins to click? Since Dempsey arrived, they’ve failed to score more than one goal in a match without the help of an opponent’s own goal (averaging exactly one conventional goal per 90 minutes). Certainly that attack will improve, if from increased familiarity alone. Yet while they’re still finding their stride, they’ve gone 5-1-0.

The other factor in this run: Seattle’s only faced one playoff-sitting team since Dempsey arrived. That was a depleted Portland, at home – a game in which Portland were the better side over the first 45 minutes. Starting with Friday’s match against RSL, all that changes. Six of Seattle’s final eight games will be against playoff-sitting teams, including two games against the defending champion Galaxy.

So yeah, there are reasons why we’re not talking about Seattle, yet, but that’s likely to change. They’ve ridden a string of close results against relatively easy competition to second in the West, but as their attack improves, they’ll start to transcend those performances. Against a tougher schedule, that may not lead to improved results, but we should get a better idea as to whether Seattle’s worth title-contender buzz.

A couple of big wins over RSL or LA, and those “is this the year” pieces will come.

Khedira laughs off Swedish reporter’s offer of tickets home

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira brushed off a gesture from a Swedish reporter, trading a bit of banter ahead of Germany’s big World Cup match against Sweden on Saturday.

Germany fell 1-0 to Mexico in its opener while Sweden beat South Korea, leading a playful Swede to hand Khedira boarding passes for a flight home to Germany.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Khedira’s reply? He joked that Sweden won’t be a problem and he’ll use the tickets after the World Cup Final.

From Goal.com:

“After this bad start, we know that it’s super difficult, but we know that we are a strong team. We analysed the game, we saw Sweden play and we are sure that we are winning this game.

“I think we’ll need them [plane tickets] on the 16th of July.”

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

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A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

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Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’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 D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.