MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Seattle ahead of Saturday’s visit from Portland

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Ahead of Saturdays’ first-leg of this conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about the Seattle Sounders: (Saturday’s match kicks off at 10 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN):

  • DeAndre Yedlin? Maybe. Obafemi Martins? Who knows.

Rookie left back DeAndre Yedlin had a great first half on Wednesday. Unfortunately for the Sounders, he didn’t get a chance to repeat it in the second, a twisted ankle forcing him off at halftime.

The 20-year-old trained Friday but will be a game time decision. If he can’t go, Brad Evans seems like the most likely choice. Sigi Schmid elected to drop the U.S. international back from midfield in the second half when he could have brought Zach Scott off the bench. If he does the same at the outset tomorrow, the only question will be whether Marc Burch starts in midfield over Mauro Rosales.

Bonus question, though: What’s up with Obafemi Martins? The Nigerian international’s groin injury’s only allowed him to play once in the last month. This week at practice, there’s been no indication whether he’s improved enough to see action on Saturday.

[MORE: What We Learned from Seattle’s first round win over Colorado]

  • Marcus Hahnemann will get to be the man.

Michael Gspurning was shown one last ounce of faith when Sigi Schmid elevated him back to the starting lineup for the season finale against Los Angeles. After Wednesday’s performance, we may have seen the last of the Austrian goalkeeper this season. Even before his 86th minute blunder (earning a red card that sees him suspended on Saturday), Gspurning looked shaky on two early second half plays.

Hahnemann’s going to have to take them home, and while nobody’s exactly worried about the former Fulham, Reading, and Wolverhampton keeper’s ability to handle the occasion, they may have concerns (or perhaps speculative questions) about the 41-year-old coming off his line.

His hands will be sure, but how often will he use them? And against Portland, will it matter?

[WATCH: Sounders-Timbers will be available on NBC Sports Live Extra]

  • Diamond, diamond, diamond!

Perhaps you heard: Seattle’s playing a new formation. We’ve talking about it, as have others. And by others, I mean everybody. At this point, we’ve probably beaten it into the ground, though it is worth considering how Portland might stretch that midfield diamond.

On the left, Portland has Rodney Wallace. You can’t help but think Caleb Porter likes that matchup against Evans, even if though on the right, the Timbers don’t have an equivalent player to stretch the midfield.

It will be interesting to see if this is one of the rare occasions where Porter flips is fullbacks. A couple of times this season, normal left back Michael Harrington started on the right, moving Jack Jewsbury to the left.

In theory, doing the same on Saturday would allow Harrington to provide that width on the right, pulling Adam Moffat wide. It would also allow Jack Jewsbury to play on the side Eddie Johnson was favoring Wednesday night.

Jewsbury has been very dependable defensive, though a couple of times, extreme pace has been his undoing. Moving the faster Harrington to the right may not be worth the risk, even if Johnson is just as capable of attacking from that side, too.

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

  • Two-on-one against Clint Dempsey

Like Colorado, Portland will play with two deep midfielders in the same area Clint Dempsey will occupy Seattle’s attacking phase. Just don’t expect the Timbers’ duo to be so meek. Whereas Hendry Thomas and Nathan Sturgis were non-factors on Wednesday, Will Johnson and Diego Chará should be important parts of Portland’s game plan.

The key for Seattle may not be finding a solution but exploring alternatives. On Wednesday, the team had a lot of success using Eddie Johnson wide as a way to get around Colorado’s block. Just as we saw on Seattle’s first goal, Johnson in wide spaces always Dempsey to play in front of the holders and go wide before probing space further up.

In their back six (four defenders and last two midfielders), Portland can often look a lot like Colorado did on Wednesday. Perhaps Seattle will find the same success?

[MORE: MLS Playoff Preview: Seattle Sounders FC vs. Portland Timbers]

  • Can Seattle stop this free fall/nose dive/slide?!?

Thankfully, they’ve moved on. (We can stop talking about it!) Now it’s about fulfilling those preseason expectations of challenging for MLS Cup. It’s a long way from a seven-match winless run to a league title, but Seattle took their first step on Wednesday.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Leicester City

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Arsenal host Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Gunners aim for a tenth-straight win in all competitions.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Leicester have never won at Arsenal in the Premier League with the Gunners winning each of their last 11 encounters at home against the Foxes.

Unai Emery‘s men have been flying in recent weeks with six wins on the spin in the PL and the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring goals galore in attack.

In team news Arsenal bring in Shkodran Mustafi for the injured Sokratis Papastathopoulos with Stephane Lichtsteiner in at left back.

Leicester make one change with Jonny Evans coming in for the suspended Wes Morgan in central defense.


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Cristiano Ronaldo discusses rape allegations against him

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Cristiano Ronaldo has been speaking publicly for the first time about accusations made by American Kathryn Mayorga, who says she was raped by the Portuguese superstar in Las Vegas back in 2009.

Ronaldo, 33, issued a statement via his lawyers about the allegations after he had originally called Mayorga’s claims “fake news” on his social media account.

Lawyers for Ronaldo claim they will sue Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine who first published the claims from Mayorga but the German publication stand by their reporting. Juventus were heavily criticized for the statement they released in support of Ronaldo, while his main sponsor Nike have revealed they are “deeply concerned” about the allegations.

Speaking ahead of his return to Old Trafford with Juventus on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League, the former Manchester United star addressed the speculation, although the BBC are reporting that no English journalist was allowed to ask questions at the press conference.

“I know I am an example, 100%. In the pitch and outside the pitch. I am a happy man, I smile, I play in a fantastic club, I have four kids, I am healthy, the rest doesn’t interfere on me so I am very glad. I am a happy man. We have done a statement two weeks ago and I am glad,” Ronaldo said. “Of course I am not going to lie in this situation, my lawyers are confident and I am too. I enjoy the football, my life and the rest people take care of my life. The truth always comes in first position. I am good.”

Ronaldo was then asked about his return to United, the club he played for from 2003-2009 and where he won three Premier League titles and a UEFA Champions League trophy under Sir Alex Ferguson before leaving for Real Madrid.

“It is emotional for me. I can remember I won lots here. Cups and leagues,” Ronaldo said. “The support was fantastic and my best possible wishes to Sir Alex Ferguson. He gave me a huge lift in my career.”

List of top 25 selling MLS jerseys released

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Ahead of the final week of the 2018 Major League Soccer season, a list of the top player jerseys have been released.

Some will surprise you. Others won’t.

[ MORE: Rooney, Zlatan to PL on loan?

LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic sits top of the pile, while LAFC’s Carlos Vela is in second and Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez is third. Wayne Rooney has only been in MLS for half a season but the D.C. United star is in fourth, while Atlanta’s Paraguayan star Miguel Almiron is fifth.

Some surprising names high up on the list include Diego Rossi, Darlington Nagbe and  Dom Dwyer.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Below is the full list of the top 25 best-selling jerseys in Major League Soccer.


1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
2. Carlos Vela
3. Josef Martinez
4. Wayne Rooney
5. Miguel Almiron
6. Bastian Schweinsteiger
7. David Villa
8. Sebastian Giovinco
9. Clint Dempsey
10. Ezequiel Barco
11. Diego Valeri
12. Diego Rossi
13. Bradley Wright-Phillips
14. Giovani dos Santos
15. Darlington Nagbe
16. Jozy Altidore
17. Alphonso Davies
18. Hector Villalba
19. Dom Dwyer
20. Luciano Acosta
21. Graham Zusi
22. Cristian Roldan
23. Darwin Quintero Jr.
24. Paul Arriola
25. Diego Chara

Premier League loans for Rooney, Zlatan?

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This is something which happened a lot in the past but loan deals from Major League Soccer to the Premier League seem to have died down slightly in recent years.

[ MORE: Rooney, DC make playoffs ]

I’m talking Robbie Keane to Aston Villa and Thierry Henry to Arsenal in 2012. Landon Donovan to Everton in 2010 and 2012. David Beckham to AC Milan in 2009 and 2010. That kind of deal. Not quite Frank Lampard from New York City FC to Manchester City, because we all know how that worked out…

But could Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic be the latest MLS stars to head back to Europe for an offseason loan stint?

Given Zlatan’s incredible form in his debut campaign in MLS with 22 goals in 26 games at the ripe age of 37, plus Rooney’s huge impact at D.C. United (12 goals and 10 assists in 19 games) which has dragged them from last place in the East to playoff qualification, surely they could help out a few PL clubs right now?

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson recently said Rooney, 32, left England too soon, and with the Eagles having goalscoring issues, maybe they could an option if the Manchester United captain fancied a stint back in England in January?

While Zlatan’s former club Man United could certainly use a little help given their poor start to the season and with a busy festive season coming up with PL and European action. It has even been suggested by the Spanish media that Real Madrid would be willing to sign Zlatan on a short-term loan. Now, wouldn’t that be something…

But lets think about this. Would D.C. United and the LA Galaxy really want their star players heading overseas to risk injury and burnout after a gruelling MLS campaign?

In Zlatan’s case, probably not. The Galaxy would be correct to be concerned about Zlatan’s injury record and the fact that the Swedish superstar has four years on Rooney suggests he could probably do with a rest. Plus, Zlatan has played an entire MLS season whereas Rooney arrived at the halfway point.

As for Rooney, it seems like December-February would be better spent getting to known the D.C. area better with his family after his move during the season to MLS.

But, as we know with top players, they want to play at the best level possible for as long as possible and both Rooney and Ibrahimovic will no doubt have offers on the table for loan moves in January. It’s not about the money with these two veterans. It is more about proving to everyone than can still do it. And their form in MLS proves they can.

You can scoff at MLS all you want but if you tell me that 15 out of the 20 current Premier League teams wouldn’t jump at the chance to take Rooney and Zlatan on loan in January, then I’d call you a liar right to your face.