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.

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.