PST Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson edges Brad Evans

Leave a comment

There was no shortage of standouts for Seattle tonight. Moving forward from the back: Djmii Traoré made some strong reads in central defense; DeAndre Yedlin got the best of Deshorn Brown down the right; Osvaldo Alonso gave his typically outstanding performance at the base of midfield; and Clint Dempsey had his best game as a Sounder.

But when thinking about Seattle’s Man of the Match in Wednesday’s win over Colorado, two players stand out: Brad Evans, who scored a wonderful opening goal, his right-footed blast in the 28th minute proving the game-winner; and Eddie Johnson, whose ability to go wide and open up Colorado’s defense was vital, even before he scored the game-icing goal.

A Man of the Match post can only have one winner, so Eddie Johnson is our guy, but in any other space this should be a toss up. Both U.S. internationals played integral parts in Seattle’s first round success.

source: AP
Brad Evans (left) and Eddie Johnson (middle) both gave Man of the Match caliber performances on Wednesday night. (Photo: AP Photo.)

So why EJ over B-Rad? That 93rd minute goal helps, though that score was neither as important nor as difficult as Evans’. But between that, his part in the first goal, and the crucial role he played going into  wide areas to provide the width Seattle needed to stretch the Colorado back line, he may have done enough to transcend Evans’ well-hit opener.

That’s not to say the goal was the Seattle midfielder’s only contribution. He was one of the main factors in Seattle’s early success through the middle of the park, an aspect that allowed the Sounders to control the game while cutting off the connection between the Rapids’ holders and playmaker Martín Rivero. In the 18th minute, a beautifully lofted ball over left-center back German Mera would have created a chance if Johnson didn’t lose possession while trapping the pass. Evans was so much more than the goal.

But pressed into service at right back, Evans had some trouble with Deshorn Brown, who DeAndre Yedlin neutralized (and exploited) in the first half. Evans deserves huge credit for being able to drop back into defense, but when Brown got a step on him to launch a 56th minute shot toward goal, it looked like Evans would become a liability. (He did not. Brown was eventually subbed off.)

Johnson, on the other hand, was a force all night. He played a part in the third minute chance that saw Adam Moffat test Clint Irwin early. His holdup play helped Seattle transition the few times they couldn’t work through Clint Dempsey. And perhaps most importantly, his ability to go wide and threatened helped create seems in a Colorado defense that seemed intent on staying narrow. Like Evans, Johnson’s versatility was a virtue, forcing the Rapids out of their comfort zone.

In the 28th minute, that wide play helped Seattle get on the board. It was Johnson that was toward the left edge of the area (just outside the box) when Dempsey played out of midfield at the edge of the final third. Johnson played the ball wide for Leo González before trying to contribute to the chaos in the middle that drew attention away from Evans, who converted his chance.

In stoppage time, after Seattle had gone down a man, Johnson got his name on the scoresheet, icing the game in the process. While it originally looked like ball sent behind the right of Colorado’s defense would give him a chance to waste valuable time, Johnson turned toward goal and killed the game off another way. One-on-one with Clint Irwin, Johnson finished inside the right post to make it 2-0.

Go ahead and take your pick between Evans and Johnson, but when you look at all of the Seattle striker’s contributions, there’s a case to be made that he did enough to pass Evans’ all-important opener. Whether that’s true or not, it’s still a case we’re buying …

Though as you can see, Evans is getting plenty of love elsewhere under the NBC umbrella:

[MORE: Evans blast, Johnson insurance sees Seattle past Colorado, into the Western Conference semifinals]

[MORE: How it happened: More details on Seattle’s big win over Colorado]

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

Photo by Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

Photo by Erwin Spek/Soccrates/Getty Imagese
Leave a comment

Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).