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.

10-man Red Bulls hold off Atlanta United at home

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Atlanta United’s five-game winning streak went up in smoke as the New York Red Bulls pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory.

Playing down a man for around 65 minutes, the Red Bulls shutout Atlanta United’s high powered offense in front of 18,495 fans at Red Bull Arena. Tom Barlow, in just his second appearance with the Red Bulls, scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute off a header at the far post, one that left U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan rooted to his line.

[READ: Pep: Domestic Treble harder than UCL]

Tim Parker was shown a straight red card in controversial fashion, after grabbing Josef Martinez’s left arm with Martinez in front of him just outside the box. Martinez was clearly pulled back but continued running and eventually got a shot off that Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles parried away.

Referee Robert Sbiga then decided to call the play back and award Atlanta United a free kick outside the box. After what seemed to be consultation with his assistants, Sbiga then showed Parker a straight red card, likely for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) while Martinez was through on goal.

The outcome is a massive one for the Red Bulls. It’s been a rough season, with the loss of both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams and the poor form of Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. Wright-Phillips was out on Sunday and another attacker Andreas Ivan, went off with an injury in the first half as he was about to be substituted off anyways following the red card.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Kaku, has made his feelings known that he wants (or wanted) to leave the club. His form hasn’t been stellar this season either.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s finally found its way back into the win column and is looking more like the juggernaut from last season, especially with five-straight shutout wins. It’s all back to zero today though, with the defeat at the Red Bulls on a perfect grass pitch up a man.

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

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Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.