What We Learned from Seattle’s first round win over Colorado

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Seattle eliminated Colorado on Wednesday night, advancing in the MLS playoffs with a 2-0 win at CenturyLink Field. Here’s what we learned:

  • Either Oscar Pareja got it wrong, or his team didn’t execute

Actually, both. Pareja seemed to want to get German Mera into the team without sacrificing Shane O’Neill, which means sense. Shane O’Neill is a very good player.

Moving him to right back may have been about matching up with Eddie Johnson, but given Mera’s actually slightly shorter than O’Neill, there are a couple more likely explanations. Maybe Pareja just didn’t want to go with a 20-year-old, first year starter in central defense in the playoffs. Also, the Colorado boss may have seen something in Sunday’s against the Whitecaps that compelled him to made the call. In the process, however, he shook up two positions along the back, a disruption that showed during the match’s first half-hour.

That wasn’t Colorado’s only problem. Against Seattle’s narrow formation, they neglected their width, even though they should have had a huge advantage down their left. Chris Klute, however, was a none factor, with the Rapids trying to build through the middle to Gabriel Torres. Against a three-man middle that got help in the defensive phase from Clint Dempsey, Colorado was at a loss. All the speed Pareja had injected into his starting lineup went to waste.

Once we hear from the Colorado boss, we can start to lay blame. But something clearly went wrong. Either the Rapids failed to execute the plan, or the plan was destined to fail.

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

  • Seattle’s midfield dictated the first hour

Colorado only generated three meaningful chances in the first hour, and I’m using “chances” pretty liberally. Martin Rivero got behind the defense in the first half before electing to blast a speculative shot toward the Emerald City Supporters. Near halftime, the Argentine attacker nailed a ball from 20 yards  right at Michael Gspurning. Near the hour, Deshorn Brown tried his low percentage luck from 19 yards out.

The rest of the time, Colorado couldn’t connect with Rivero. Seattle’s three true midfielders kept the Rapids from having success through the middle, while longer play was snuffed out by Djimi Traoré.

Colorado needed to go wide, and they did so occasionally. But they almost always went right, where their natural central defender was left trying to create something going forward. Meanwhile, on the other side, the league’s best left back was forgotten.

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

  • Colorado’s midfield disappeared

Clint Dempsey had his best night with Seattle, a huge indictment of Hendry Thomas and Nathan Sturgis. Those two should have won their battle. Instead, Dempsey was allowed to serve as a focal point for the Sounders’ attack.

Perhaps the 24th minute yellow card Silviu Petrescu showed Thomas slowed down the rugged Honduran. Or perhaps he just had a bad night. If so, he picked a terrible time to do it. Not only were the stakes higher than he’s ever seen in MLS, but his holding partner was set to go quiet, too. Thomas and Sturgis was non-factors in their two-on-one matchup.

  • Eddie Johnson is a really, really tough matchup

When he’s staying between the center backs, Johnson’s bad enough, but when he drifts into the wide areas as often as he did tonight, he forces the opposition into a lot of decisions. Unfortunately, Colorado made few correct ones tonight.

So often we saw Johnson played the ball even with or wider than Colorado’s fullbacks. Unless you want release those fullbacks to mark and pressure him (problematic in its own right), it becomes very difficult to deny him that ball. Once he has it, though, it’s probably better to deny the ball back to the midfield and show him wide, forcing a goal-scorer away from goal, forcing him to provide service for his teammates. Encourage the nature striker to go continue to drift away from where he’s most dangerous.

With that in mind, here are Johnson’s Wednesday passes and heatmap:

source:  source:

Notice how many of them are from wide positions? Particularly along Seattle’s right, it doesn’t appear as if Colorado had much of a plan for how to deal with Johnson. While most of his passes go back to the middle, he’s still able to provide a wide outlet for his midfield, one that Colorado didn’t subsequently shut down (another issue with the Rapids’ holders).

Not every forward can be effective doing this. That’s the virtue of Eddie Johnson. In a more traditional role, he has the size, strength and speed to beat you straight up. Going wide, he has the skill and versatility to play as he did tonight. Colorado didn’t adjust.

[MORE: PST Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson edges Brad Evans]

  • The Sounders will need to generate more chances in later rounds

The Sounders were the better team. They controlled the game, dictating how it was played, and player-for-player had the better performances. This was a really encouraging performance.

They also generated four shots on target. Of their two goals, one doesn’t come if Colorado’s not desperately chasing the game. The other was a great finish, but it’s also a shot we often see put out of play. That time, however, Evans came good.

Seattle took a big step forward tonight, and within that step you can see the type of team that can compete for an MLS Cup. But even though they controlled Colorado, they still have to play better. They still need to improve.

Bonus what we learned: We’ve probably seen the last of Michael Gspurning for 2013.

Southampton players first in Premier League to cut wages

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Southampton players have become the first in the Premier League to defer their wages amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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The South Coast club released a statement on Thursday confirming their players have reached an agreement to defer their wages for April, May and June to make sure non-playing staff at the club are paid in full.

Saints also confirmed they will not use the UK government’s job retention scheme to furlough staff and that directors, coaching staff and manager Ralph Hasenhuttl will also defer their wages “to help protect the future of the club, the staff that work within it and the community we serve.”

“Furthermore, the club can confirm that it will not use the government’s Job Retention Scheme during April, May and June. Our owners, Mr. Gao and Katharina Liebherr have put measures in place to ensure that all staff not deferring part of their salaries will continue to receive 100% of their pay, paid in the normal way until 30th June. Any decision on the future beyond this date will be made in advance of this, but only when more information is known.”

The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) had previously stated that players should not take a 30 percent wage cut as that would impact the money paid to the UK government via taxes, while the PL players themselves have since announced the #PlayersTogether initiative which will see them donate funds to the NHS.

Other Premier League clubs have been heavily criticized for signing up for the job retention scheme which sees the UK government pay 80 of wages to staff who have been furloughed. Tottenham, Newcastle, Norwich and Bournemouth have signed up for that scheme, while Liverpool initially did then apologized and reversed their decision.

Premier League clubs are currently negotiating with their players about wage cuts and deferrals during the COVID-19 outbreak but many are yet to come to an agreement, as it is believed Saints’ players and staff will defer over 10 percent of their pay collectively.

Southampton have also been funding and delivering over 1,000 fresh meals per week to the most vulnerable people in the city of Southampton through their own charity, the Saints Foundation.

“Everyone at the club remains fully committed to the community we value so highly in Southampton. We will continue to offer our full support to the city of Southampton through the work of the Saints Foundation and provide any further assistance we can. We will continue to prepare our club for a return to the pitch and make sure that, when safe, we are ready to play and serve the people of Southampton again. Until then, We March On. Together.”

VOTE: Premier League March Madness Final Four

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Our Premier League March Madness tournament enters the Final Four stage on Thursday with two very intriguing ties.

After a wild Elite Eight which saw Everton and Sheffield United upset Chelsea and Man City respectively, we have two wonderful Final Four games set up as 20 Premier League teams are now down to 16.

#1 Liverpool host #12 Everton as the Toffees have upset Man United and Chelsea to reach the Final Four. #7 Sheffield United and #6 Wolves go head-to-head for a spot in the final as they continue to excite neutrals. These encounters will be close.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ]

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
Wednesday: Elite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Plus, our own Nick Mendola handicapped the field and here is who he thinks will be the favorites to win it all and if there will be more upsets late on. After all, this is the Premier League…

Okay, vote below (until 6:30 p.m. ET) for the two Final Four matches as our Premier League March Madness tournament continues!

Ronaldinho to leave jail for luxury hotel arrest in Paraguay

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ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) Retired soccer star Ronaldinho was released from a high-security jail in Paraguay on Tuesday after more than a month, but was ordered to serve house arrest at a luxury hotel while he’s investigated for using a fake passport to enter the country.

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Ronaldinho, the Brazilian former FIFA player of the year, and his brother Roberto de Assis were also told to pay bail of $800,000 each.

Ronaldinho, who helped lead Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title, was jailed on March 6 after entering the small South American country with a false Paraguayan passport. He told local authorities in a hearing that the document was a gift from a Brazilian businessman, Wilmondes Sousa Liria, who was also jailed.

“I decided to put them in house arrest because the investigation is now well advanced, differently from the situation one month ago,” Judge Gustavo Amarilla said when issuing the ruling.

Ronaldinho had his Brazilian passport seized at home due to an investigation into alleged environmental crimes, but the document was returned to him in September. One month later he played in a friendly in Israel.

If convicted, the former Barcelona star could spend up to five years in jail. Fourteen people are being investigated in the case.

Ronaldinho came to Paraguay to promote his autobiography. He was jailed in an improvised penitentiary in the south of Asunción, which is used for 150 dangerous criminals, including convicts of drug dealing, corruption and rape. During his stay he played soccer with inmates and took pictures with them that were shared on social media.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Court date for USWNT’s law suit versus U.S. Soccer delayed

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A court case that has dragged U.S. Soccer’s administration through the mud and led to a change of leadership may drag into the summer.

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A judge in California has delayed the May 5 trial of gender discrimination against the USSF until June 16 due in part to the coronavirus pandemic. A pretrial conference was also moved to June 1.

The federation is being sued by members of the two-time reigning World Cup champion USWNT under the Equal Pay Act.

The women are requesting more than $66 million in damages.

The extra month gives both parties more time to reach a settlement which could keep this ugly case away from trial. Given the uncertainty in our world, it could of course be delayed again.

The USSF has a new CEO in Will Wilson, who can make a major statement of change by stopping the trial from reaching court.