Playoff preview? Stakes create a slippery slope for Seattle in Portland

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Seattle’s in free fall. We know that. We talked about that here. But if they can’t stop that free fall before the final whistle Sunday at JELD-WEN Field, they may feel the edge of Sunday’s double-edged sword.

That’s because in addition to losing the Cascadia Cup (Vancouver claims it with a Portland result), a loss in Portland makes a playoff match with the Timbers far more likely. Be that by creating more two-versus-three scenarios in the West or paving Portland’s path to the top seed (while bringing fourth into play for themselves), a loss tomorrow makes it more likely Sunday’s game at JELD-WEN won’t be Seattle’s last this season.

[MORE: Seattle routed as Manneh posts first career hat trick.]

Currently one point behind Real Salt Lake, Seattle’s been holding out hope that once they make up their games in hand (as they have over the past couple of months) the Supporters’ Shield will be theirs. But if they lose at JELD-WEN, their games in hand will be gone, and they’ll have fallen to fifth in the Supporter’s Shield race. They’ll be two behind New York and Portland, one behind Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City.

They’ll also be within reach of Los Angeles, currently three points behind Seattle. Come Monday morning, LA will have a game in hand on the Sounders with the teams scheduled to end their regular seasons against each other at CenturyLink. That match could be the difference between playing in the four-five game and going straight into the conference semifinals.

That’s Seattle’s slippery slope, one that could see a team positioned for the Shield playing in the four-five game in a couple of weeks, and while that scenario does involve a lot of ifs aligning, the hypotheticals gain traction in the face of two huge losses and a schedule that includes Portland and Los Angeles. If Seattle can get a result tomorrow, they staunch the bleeding and continue their Supporters’ Shield push. If they can’t, this run goes from bad to worse oh my God what’s going on, we so needed to get a result-bad.

(Incidentally, even a draw would see Seattle lose control of their Supporters’ Shield destiny, as well as their path to the West’s No. 1 seed.)

So where does the “far more likely” to meet the Timbers comes into play? Consider the Timbers’ half of the equation, though stay with me. This is where the ifs really start flying around:

source: Getty Images
Caleb Porter’s Portland Timbers would vault to second in the Supporters’ Shield chase with a Sunday win over rival Seattle. (Photo: Getty Images.)
  • With a Portland win, they go top of the West with 53 points but still have a game with Real Salt Lake, who have two wins and a draw from their three 2013 meetings with the Timbers this year. All-time, Portland’s won one of eight meetings with RSL. With Jason Kreis’s team capable of out-Portering Caleb Porter, Portland could find themselves back in second before their season-ender with Chivas USA, making a two-three playoff meeting with Seattle more likely.
  • And if Portland beats both Seattle and Real Salt Lake? Then only Seattle can keep them from first in the West, though that would involve the free-falling Sounders to reverse a three-game losing streak and beat both Dallas and Los Angeles. With that momentum, though, Seattle may be headed toward the four-five game.
  • If Seattle and Portland draw, the teams remain second and third in the West, and while RSL and LA will have a lot to say about whether that order stays the same, sharing points will make a conference semifinal meeting more likely.

But let’s not forget one very important, very possible if: If, Seattle wins, they go first in the West, and although that increases the chance Portland will fall to fourth (and potentially meet Seattle in the semifinals’ one-four match), the Timbers’ game with Chivas and Seattle’s finale with LA could still leave Portland third, meaning the Cascadia rivals wouldn’t meet until the conference finals (if at all).

And if that meeting happens, Seattle’s confidence will be better for having won at JELD-WEN. Their run-in’s been littered with enough doubts already. Might as well not cede any advantage (mental or otherwise) to their rivals.

Basically, given the nature of the West, anything’s still possible, but if Seattle loses, a lot of these once-remote scenarios come much closer to fruition. Hence the importance of a result tomorrow.

Son scores a throwback, full-field dribble goal to up Spurs lead

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Heung-Min Son saw Harry Kane‘s stunner and pushed all his chips into the pot.

The South Korean continued Spurs first-half demolition of Burnley by providing a third goal via a wonderful, near field-length dribble and finish that would make Diego Maradona nod in approval.

[ STREAM: Spurs-Burnley + every PL match ] 

He must’ve covered 80 yards or more on the dribble, winding his way into open space with a couple of touches past wayward defenders.

Don’t sleep on the speed, either, Son in possession and blazing past defenders at full sprint.

Scores, streams

Bournemouth 0-2 Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
Tottenham 3-0 Burnley
– NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
Watford 0-0 Crystal Palace
– NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

WATCH: Harry Kane’s emphatic rip from distance puts Spurs up

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If Harry Kane is about to find his best self, then the Premier League should be quite concerned that Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur may return to its finest form.

On evidence of this strike versus Burnley on Saturday, it’s possible.

[ STREAM: Spurs-Burnley + every PL match ] 

Kane absolutely pummeled a shot from distance past the excellent Tom Heaton on Saturday, the first of two early goals (Lucas Moura) as Spurs are making a quick rebound from a midweek set back at Old Trafford.

Heung-Min Son perfectly settled a long ball to Kane, who was in space and cognizant of the goalkeeper’s position. The Englishman bashed the ball home for his eighth league goal of the season and 14th in all competitions.

Everton: What was different, and what’s the way forward?

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Everton got off the mat in style on Saturday, three days after a mistake-filled 5-2 loss to its Merseyside rivals.

While that loss wasn’t necessarily as bad as it looked on the score board, it was wretched at the back and enough to warrant a change at manager.

[ RECAP: Everton shock poor Chelsea ]

Duncan Ferguson took the reins at Goodison Park, and things were much improved in a 3-1 defeat of Chelsea.

What was different? Plenty, though most came in the form of personnel performances rather than changes (Also, Chelsea was terrible, but that negates little for an Everton side which had been insipid against inferior competition to Saturday’s visitors).

1) The Formation: Duncan Ferguson opted for a straight-forward 4-2-3-1 that often came closer to your traditional 4-4-2. The Toffees hemorrhaged possession but pounded away at the Chelsea attackers and counted on their swift, talented attackers to do their damage with limited chances. Call it the Newcastle United model. With Chelsea a bit off, it played out perfectly for Ferguson.

“Who knows? A new face, a new voice, a new message, who knows? These things just happen in football and the players give a reaction when they lose a manager.

“I think that’s right. What we really need at this club is the work ethic, the team really needs to work their absolute socks off. The fans really got behind us and believe me that gets you an extra goal.”

2) The Force: Dominic Calvert-Lewin, given the stage and his track record, had the game of his life. That’s not exaggeration. The 22-year-old had six shots, two goals, and won 10 aerial battles. That’s exactly what’s required given the formation and tactics outlined in Point No. 1. After scoring three goals in four matches a month ago, “DCL” had been very poor and flubbed his chances against Liverpool. This was a beauty, and Calvert-Lewin was clearly playing for his coach.

“It was a massive game for us and I have a very close relationship with Duncan. He has stuck by me for the three years I have known him. The most important thing was to go out and give 100%.”

I mean, that’s always the most important thing, but we can’t blame a 22-year-old for trading on the cliche market.

3) Other changes: Ferguson took a risk in deploying Morgan Schneiderlin over Tom Davies. The former had been one of the Toffees worst statistical players this year, while Davies is a hometown kid who had admittedly been very poor for the better part of a month. Schneiderlin wasn’t great in passing, but was steadier than the kid and won six tackles. When Davies came into the match, he wasn’t great but was more advanced and his lone positive contribution was a big one:

Yerry Mina missed the match through injury, which may’ve played a role in Ferguson’s decision to go to four at the back, but the difference in defense was down to both Mason Holgate and Michael Keane playing dramatically better. Keane especially, having not been credited with a single tackle in the loss to Everton.

We should save some space for Jordan Pickford, whose passing stats suffered from a directive to “get the ball out of there ASAP” but registered three saves in an improved performance. Pickford hasn’t been steady for his club — incredible against West Ham, terrible versus Liverpool and Brighton, and if he can eliminate the bad days and be just a bit above average he can be a big difference. Steadier work from the backs will help that.

And really that’s what will fix the Toffees. The attack hasn’t been amazing but it hasn’t been relegation worthy. And frankly the backs have not been awful, allowing the third-fewest attempts per match in the league, but have been prone to absolutely horrendous mistakes that left Pickford on an island. The less the keeper is in damage control, the higher Everton can rise.

4) So Big Dunc? Given the immediate road ahead, Ferguson’s approach and passion could give the club the leeway to wait a few weeks to make sure it hires a steady, experienced hand considering their long-term goals. Ferguson might be a name for the future, but as we outlined earlier this week… European spots remain there for the taking! Their next few matches provide chances to directly affect teams above them, with Manchester United at Old Trafford and Arsenal visiting Goodison. There’s also an opportunity to beat Leicester City and get to a League Cup semifinal.

Those are two routes to Europe right in front of the Toffees. Ferguson’s Brucian (or Benitezian) tactics and system can give them a chance to get two or three points from the league matches, and certainly can be enough to out-duel the Foxes at home. And you might say, so maybe he’s the man! Don’t look past what the club means to him. But in the long run, the talent and ambition of Everton needs a sustained system that isn’t just about “grinding it out.” Maybe Ferguson can supply that but is that a risk to take now, with Arsenal, Manchester United, and Spurs all wobbling in ways you wouldn’t expect in a given season? A commitment to working hard is just the first step to success.

Watch Live: Bournemouth v. Liverpool, Spurs v. Burnley headlines

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Three Premier League games take place at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Crystal Palace head to Watford, while Bournemouth host league leaders Liverpool and Burnley travel to Tottenham.

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You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for the three games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth v. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Tottenham v. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford v. Crystal Palace – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]