Seattle Sounders’ new system allows star attackers to shine

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SEATTLE — After failing to record a point in his first 590 minutes as a Seattle Sounders player, Clint Dempsey tallied a goal and an assist in the last two games. His newfound production can be attributed largely to a change in the team’s formation.

Head coach Sigi Schmid moved away from his usual 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders and two wingers in a 1-1 tie with the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday, in the team’s last regular-season game. He stuck with it on Wednesday, and Seattle beat the Colorado Rapids, 2-0, in the Western Conference play-in game.

Dempsey started at the point of the diamond, with Osvaldo Alonso in the holding role and Adam Moffat and Brad Evans on either side. Evans scored the first goal of the game, in the 28th minute, following a build-up in which Dempsey played a heavy role. Eddie Johnson’s stoppage-time strike came directly off Dempsey’s foot.

“I thought we played well in [the formation], especially when it was Evans and Ozzie and Moffat,” Schmid said after the game. “I thought their cohesion was pretty good and allowed Clint the freedom to go.”

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But with minimal time to train and implement the new lineup, not all players have had a chance to familiarize themselves with the system. Marc Burch replaced injured fullback DeAndre Yedlin at halftime, when Evans slid to right back. Burch played a little more erratically than Evans in the midfield, at times stretching too far.

“Burch really hadn’t trained in that position,” Schmid said. “He’s more either a wide guy or fullback, so he played a little bit wider, and that threw us off a little bit, but it wasn’t his fault. He just hasn’t had that time in there, but I think we’ll be OK.”

However, Dempsey said he felt comfortable.

“Just whatever’s going to help this team keep the ball a little bit more, help us create chances more and depending on if it helps us be more dangerous in attack: that’s all that matters,” he said. “Whatever position they put me in that I’m able to influence the game in a positive way is a position I like. So far, these last two games, I’ve gotten a goal and an assist, and it’s good to be contributing.”

He and Johnson provided the thrust for a relentless Sounders attack that peppered the Rapids’ net with 14 attempts on goal and four shots on target. Dempsey played two passes that resulted directly in a shot, while Johnson made five key passes.

Finding a rhythm in training has allowed the longtime friends to be in-sync during recent games as well. Johnson missed three of the last four regular-season games with an injury and international duty, while Dempsey did not play in the three preceding matches.

Now, Johnson said, they are starting to look dangerous.

“We do a lot of exercises where myself, Clint and [forward Lamar] Neagle play against three guys in the back,” Johnson said. “The coaches always [say] in training: find solutions between the three of us. I feel like the last two games, we’ve been able to find each other and combine with each other. The more games, the better we’re going to get.”

That can only bode well for Seattle moving forward. Schmid may have finally found a system that allows his big-name players to perform at their best at the same time. Obafemi Martins’ return from a groin injury will only make the team stronger.

“We’ll develop our game plan and be ready,” Schmid said. “As we develop more understanding of where we’re going to be, then that just allows [Dempsey] to get balls in more dangerous positions.”

The Sounders host their biggest rival, the Portland Timbers, on Saturday in the conference semifinals. A tough Timbers midfield should test Seattle’s resilience in its new formation, as well as give Dempsey and Johnson more problems to solve.

Transfer rumor roundup: Chelsea in for Pjanic; Lozano to Juventus?

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Pro Soccer Talk examines some of Thursday’s top transfer stories, including a Premier League giant looking to add to its midfield.

[ MORE: Uruguay reaches Round of 16 courtesy of Luis Suarez ]


Chelsea could be set to join Barcelona in the race for Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic, according to the Daily Mail.

The Blues and new manager Maurizio Sarri are said to be open to looking to Serie A to solve some of the team’s troubled areas, including in the center of the park to join France international N'Golo Kante.

Sarri is already said to be keen on signing Napoli star Dries Mertens, whom he has coached for several years at the Stadio San Paolo


Meanwhile, Juve has interest in a World Cup star, with Mexico’s Hirving Lozano attracting significant looks from around the world.

Lozano scored for El Tri in their 1-0 victory over Germany to open their 2018 World Cup campaign, and has become an instant star in the Dutch Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven.

PSV would reportedly be willing to complete a deal if the Serie A champions shell out over $40 million.


Sticking with Juve, Emre Can‘s move to the Turin side appears to be close to finalization.

Can is set to have a medical in Italy on Thursday, as the 24-year-old anticipates completing a five-year contract with the Serie A giants.


Finally, West Ham United is looking to add to its attacking options next season, and the club could be nearing a record move.

Lazio winger Felipe Anderson is reportedly set to come to the London Stadium in 2018/19 as the Hammers prepare a $46 million deal.

Anderson tallied four goals in 21 Serie A matches last season for the Biancocelesti.

RB Leipzig names Julian Nagelsmann future manager

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Julian Nagelsmann won’t take over at his new club until the 2019/20 season, but Red Bull Leipzig has put a lot of confidence in one of the youngest managers in global football.

[ MORE: Ronaldo’s tally gives Portugal win over Morocco ]

On Thursday, the Bundesliga side announced the appointment of the Hoffenheim coach, who will continue in his current capacity for the upcoming 2018/19 German campaign.

Nagelsmann signs on with Leipzig until the conclusion of the 2022/23 season.

The 30-year-old has spent two seasons managing Hoffenheim, guiding the club to back-to-back top-four finishes in the Bundesliga.

Leipzig is currently without a manager ahead of the next season, so it remains unclear who will take over until Nagelsmann assumes his role in 2019.

France eliminates Peru en route to knockout phase

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Peru’s loss was France’s gain on Thursday, as Les Bleus reached the Round of 16 with one match remaining in Group C play.

The French knocked off Peru, 1-0, as Didier Deschamps and his side eliminated their South American foe from the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Both Denmark and Australia — who drew 1-1 earlier on Thursday — are still alive in their efforts of advancing to the knockout rounds.

He looked to be one of the best players on the pitch once again, and Kylian Mbappe rightfully scored a tap in to give France the lead beyond the half-hour mark following a deflected cross from Olivier Giroud.

Paul Pogba was at the center of the goal as well, after nicking the ball away from Peru’s Paolo Guerrero inside the South American side’s half of the field.

Gallese made his first crucial stop in the 16th minute, when a link-up between Giroud and Antoine Griezmann forced a kick save from the Peru goalkeeper.

The Peruvians began to use their pace as the first half wore on, and Guerrero nearly scored his first goal of the tournament in the 31st minute, but Hugo Lloris was positioned well to make a save.

Paul Pogba came right back the other way just two minutes later though, and played a brilliant lofted ball into Mbappe, who couldn’t flick it past Gallese.

The Peruvians didn’t waste any time in the second stanza, and nearly came out to a flying start as Pedro Aquino struck woodwork with a brilliant outside-the-foot technique from distance.

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France closes out Group C play with a meeting against Denmark, while Peru hopes to spoil Australia’s chances of qualifying for the knockout phase.

Video: Mbappe taps home to give France first blood

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The match is really opening up now, and France has begun to assert itself with an opener just beyond the half-hour mark.

[ MORE: Denmark, Australia draw, leaving Group C wide open ]

Kylian Mbappe has given Les Bleus a 1-0 lead over Peru after a deflected Olivier Giroud cross found the Monaco attacker just in front of goal for a tap-in finish.

The sequence began after Paul Pogba dispossessed Peru deep in their own half, before dishing the ball off to Giroud.

The goal for Mbappe is his first at a World Cup, as the 19-year-old continues to impress for both club and country.