MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Colorado ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with Seattle

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Ahead of Wednesday’s first round playoff between Seattle and Colorado, here are the most knows about the Rapids ahead of the 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff (NBCSN):

  • The kids are alright …

Given the slowly diminishing significance of MLS’s Draft, it’s remarkable Colorado found two starters in the 2013 crop, even if one is iffy for tomorrow’s game in Seattle. Deshorn Brown, the 22-year-old  out of Central Florida, will likely be in Oscar Pareja’s attack, though Dillon Powers, a Notre Dame alum who’s been so crucial to the Rapid’s midfield, is still coming back from concussion symptoms. He missed Sunday’s game in Vancouver.

Add in goalkeeper Clint Irwin, defenders Chris Klute and Shane O’Neill, and Panamanian attacker Gaby Torres, and over half of Pareja’s starting XI could be 24-or-younger. Contrast that with the Sounders who’ll only start one player (DeAndre Yedlin, 20) younger than 26.

For Colorado, their youngest starter may be their most important. At least, facing a potential matchup with U.S. international Eddie Johnson, the 20-year-old O’Neill will have to be at his best. In his first year as a starter, the Ireland-born U.S. U-level regular has show all the tools necessary to be one of the league’s best central defenders, but like the rest of his teammates, the question is whether he can apply them in the playoffs.

  • Though they’ll get help from some key veterans, additions.

Gaby Torres’s mid-season acquisition was the big one, the Panamanian international becoming the club’s first Designated Player, but there have been a number of other key additions that have rounded out the Rapid’s youth movement. Acquired from Los Angeles this offseason, Edson Buddle has given Colorado a consistent presence up top, even if that presence is sometimes short on production. Midfielders Nick Labrocca and Nathan Sturgis provide valuable depth, particularly if Powers can’t go.

Vicente Sanchez may have been the team’s most influential addition, however, though the 33-year-old Uruguayan is also a fitness doubt for Wednesday’s game. When healthy, his presence on the left of midfield combines with Klute to form one of the most dangerous wide attacks in Major League Soccer.

  • But will inexperience be their undoing?

It’s not so much the kids can’t perform. Some youngsters don’t perform in the postseason, but veterans aren’t immune a post season dip, either. You either raise your game in response to a more competitive environment or you don’t. Mentality and talent are more important than age.

Where youth could come into play is in realizing the stakes. If Colorado’s lack of playoff experience sees players default to a “just another game” mentality, they’ll be sorely mistaken. A playoff game in Seattle is not just another game, and while you have to remain focused on your team’s plan and your responsibilities, you also need to match the energy of the occasion.

Young players are fully capable of doing that, but that youth often comes with an a lack of experience. While that can be overcome, it also could lead to a naiveté that will undermine Colorado’s hopes.

  • Chris Klute’s going to be a handful

Chris Klute just finished his first full year in MLS, but he’s already the league’s best left back, combining a threat going forward with strength and athleticism that allows him to maintain a presence at the back. For years we’ve been waiting for this type of fullback to become more prevalent in Major League Soccer, and that day may have finally arrived. Leading all defenders in assists (seven), he deserves to be in this year’s Best XI.

Seattle has their own talented attacking fullback, though on Wednesday, DeAndre Yedlin’s defensive acumen may prove more important than his ability going forward. If Sanchez plays, he’ll have to deal with a tandem that’s capable of deciding the game. If the former Schalke midfielder’s out, Yedlin will likely see Deshorn Brown combine with Klute.

Compounding Yedlin’s concerns is a formation tweak that could expose the 20-year-old defender. If the Sounders do go with a diamond midfield, there won’t be a player dedicated to the right flank, potentially freeing up space for Klute to come into the attack.

  • Hendry Thomas is capable of containing Clint Dempsey

The success of Seattle’s diamond (if Schmid even deploys one) will rest on Clint Dempsey’s ability to create for Eddie Johnson and Lamar Neagle, but with a formation that uses two defensive midfielders, Colorado should be well-equipped to contain the U.S. international.

But even if Nathan Sturgis wasn’t helping in front of the line, Hendry Thomas would be a handful for the U.S. international. The Honduran is one of the roughest destroyers in the league, his single-minded, unrelenting approach straddling that line between disruptive and dirty. Thomas’s willingness to get stuck in can be intimidating, and while a player of Dempsey’s experience is unlikely to wilt, he may have to adjust his game to deal with the Rapids’ midfielder.

Unfortunately for Seattle, notorious whistle-swallower Silviu Petrescu will be officiating tomorrow’s game, and while you could argue that also benefits Sounders’ destroyer Osvaldo Alonso, “Ossie” is not dealing with a Dempsey-like game changer. Petrescu’s presence could give Thomas an extra edge.

Galatasaray wins bonkers derby over Fenerbahce

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Goals. Fights. Red cards. Yellow cards. Horror tackles. Passion in the stands.

The Intercontinental Derby in Istanbul today had just about everything.

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For the first time this century, Galatasaray defeated Fenerbahce in the Turkish Superlig, winning 3-1 on the road. With the victory, Galatasaray moves into a three-way tie for first place in the league. As mentioned above, the game featured 12 yellow cards, VAR reviews, two red cards, and countless other dangerous plays that the officials let go with just a warning.

Max Kruse put the Asia-based Fenerbahce in front off a penalty kick that was confirmed by VAR, but Dutch defender Ryan Donk equalized for the European-based Galatasaray in the 39th minute off a bullit header in the box from a corner.

With both teams trading chances, the tempers exploded in the 77th minute after Henry Onyekuru was taken down on the left side of the box. VAR confirmed that decision as well and former Atletico Madrid star Radamel Falcao powered the penalty in to give Galatasaray a huge lead.

Five minutes later, as Younes Belhanda was coming off the field as a substitution, a scuffle that he started with Deniz Turuc ended with both players getting sent off. Awkwardly, Ahmet Calik had come onto the pitch for Belhanda, but Belhanda’s actions just before he left the pitch meant that Calik wasn’t officially in the game yet and the substitution was cancelled. Calik eventually entered as a sub for Radamel Falcao, while both teams were reduced to ten players on the pitch.

In the 89th minute, Fernando Muslera dived to make an outstanding save on a powerful free kick from Mehmet Ekici, and eight minutes later deep into second half stoppage time, Muslera played provider. His long pass from inside the box found Onyekuru in space and the Nigerian dribbled forward, rounded Fenerbahce goalkeeper Altay Bayindir and scored before going into a slide celebration in the corner.

The game had a couple of Premier League connections. Former Fulham midfielder Jean-Michael Seri and Falcao, formerly of Manchester United, both started for Galatasaray. Goal-scorer Ryan Donk played a decade ago one season for West Bromwich Albion and Sofiane Feghouli played recently for West Ham. For Fenerbahce, Mauricio Isla also played one season for Queens Park Rangers.

Watch the highlights from this wild and crazy – and totally on-point – derby below.

Ziyech’s Chelsea contract details confirmed

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Chelsea has confirmed the contract details of talented midfielder Hakim Ziyech who will join this summer.

The London giants announced on Sunday that Ziyech has signed a five-year contract with Chelsea, beginning on July 1 this summer when his transfer from Ajax is completed.

On February 13, Chelsea and Ajax came to an agreement on a transfer fee for Ziyech, reported to be in the region of $43 million.

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“I am delighted and proud to have signed for such a huge club as Chelsea,” Ziyech said in a statement. “I am looking forward to next season and hope we can achieve great things together.”

Chelsea was intent on signing Ziyech ahead of the competition and made Ajax a deal they couldn’t refuse.

The left-footed playmaker has been a star for Ajax and in the UEFA Champions League for the last few seasons, helping lead Ajax to the Champions League semifinals last season. So far this season, he’s scored eight goals and recorded four assists between the Dutch Eredivisie and the Champions League.

Ziyech’s arrival this summer surely spells the end of time for Pedro and William as attacking midfielders at Chelsea. The Dutchman, who usually plays as a right winger, cutting inside with the left foot, could create a great combination with Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham, and Mason Mount moving forward. Chelsea could also certainly sign another one in that position, to keep a deep squad in case of injuries and/or fatigue.

Arteta vows to keep Aubameyang: “Our most important player”

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Arsenal completed a hectic week with a hectic win prodded by its two top performers of the season.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice and Bernd Leno made key late saves as the exhausted Gunners outlasted Everton 3-2 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was effusive in his praise, relatively speaking, for both players. He said that Leno “saved” Arsenal, and went long on Aubameyang when asked how important the player is to the club’s future.

“Incredible,” Arteta said. “The amount of work he’s doing. Before I had my questions, (but he’s) shown the commitment that he’s shown to his teammates and the club. I wasn’t sure if he wanted to do it, or do it physically. So it’s either you want to do it or don’t.

“He’s our most important player. Stats wise, there’s no question. As much as I can and the club can, we will try to convince him to stay with us.”

Arteta also appreciates the effort his men put in against an energetic Everton side three days after outlasting Olympiacos in Greece.

“Coming back from Europe, three games in seven days, conceding a goal in the first minute, the way we reacted, the way we played for 60-65 minutes was exactly what I wasn’t from my team,” Arteta preened. “The resilience some of the players showed when they were absolutely knackered and kept going and going. This was exactly what I wanted. … Everybody was looking at me, saying ‘I’m cramping. I’m doing this, doing that.’ We could only change two players. I tried to condense the midfield and have a little bit more energy.”

Leno was very happy with Arsenal’s effort.

The Gunners have been much better since Arteta implemented his system, even if their 270-minute shutout streak died in the first minute on Sunday.

“You could see that our power was at the end,” Leno said. “We were fighting. You can see how happy everyone was after this game because we deserve this and we have to keep going.”

Aubameyang praised his keeper.

“We are always happy to have him. He saved us a couple of times at the right moment. We’re proud of him and we know that we can count on him. He gives us more energy to push.”

The ninth-place Gunners are four points off fifth place and, of course, still alive for a Champions League berth through the Europa League.

Staying in the Champions League is probably their only path to keeping Aubameyang, and Arteta’s description of the Gabonese star doesn’t try to disguise the need to keep him in North London.

Aubameyang fires Arsenal past Everton

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang climbed atop the Premier League’s goal-scoring list as Arsenal beat Everton 3-2 on Sunday at the Emirates Stadium.

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Eddie Nketiah also scored for Mikel Arteta‘s men, who allowed a first-minute goal but rebounded to move ninth. The Gunners are four points off fifth.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richalrison scored for Everton, which sits a point behind the Gunners in 11th.


Three things we learned

1. Aubameyang’s class permanent: There’s a new name joining Jamie Vardy atop the Premier League’s goal scoring leaderboard, as Aubameyang bagged his 16th and 17th goals of the season. The Gabonese striker scored with his left foot and his head in putting himself one goal from 50 in his PL career.

2. Leno continues to make Best XI case: The majority of voters have probably used a permanent marker to put Alisson Becker into their teams of the year, but Bernd Leno has been an absolute marvel behind Arsenal’s suspect defense (which returned Sunday after a 270-minute shutout streak).

It’s not just about his shot-stopping, which is supremely good (and yes we know he allowed two on Sunday). Leno connected on five of seven long passes and passed at 90 percent. We know Mikel Arteta wants a ball-mover like Ederson. Leno fits the bill.

3. English youngsters deliver for both teams: Calvert-Lewin may have only converted one of his three prime chances, including a stoppage-time header wide of the goal, but the big Everton striker remains in the midst of his career year. The hosts got a ninth assist in all comps from Bukayo Saka (18) on a first PL goal from Eddie Nketiah, who’s just two years older than the English U-19 star.

That’s not even mentioning another decent-enough day from Mason Holgate, who’s improved dramatically under Ancelotti.

Man of the Match: Aubameyang.


Calvert-Lewin was the beneficiary of miserable Arsenal defending on a first-minute free kick, as Sead Kolasinac followed his mark into the box and David Luiz popped a header into the path of the scorer.

Djibril Sidibe then closed down Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after the Gabonese was played deep into the Everton third.

Kolasinac had injury added to his insult, his jersey sleeve a makeshift sling for his shoulder as he made way for Bukayo Saka in the 18th minute.

Eddie Nketiah sent Nicolas Pepe into the 18, but the Ivorian’s rocket blasted over the arms of leaping Jordan Pickford.

The Everton keeper would save Pepe in the 26th, but he couldn’t stop Nketiah a minute later. The Englishman leaped to knock in a terrific Saka cross for 1-1.

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The goals kept coming, as Luiz played Aubameyang through the Everton backline for a smashing finish in the 33rd, only to see Yerry Mina cue up Richarlison‘s stoppage-time finish.

The second half saw Arsenal score within a minute of the restart, Aubameyang heading a Pepe cross past Pickford.

Everton began to put pressure on the Gunners, and Leno made an incredible close-range save on Calvert-Lewin in the 73rd.

Leno made another big save when Richarlison trapped a low Delph drive and turned toward the goal.

Granit Xhaka picked off a poor Jordan Pickford pass and Nketiah struck the crossbar in the 86th.