MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on the Seattle Sounders ahead of Thursday’s visit to Portland

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  • We should see DeAndre Yedlin, Obafemi Martins

PORTLAND, Ore. — I’ve been a fan of DeAndre Yedlin’s all year but mostly kept my mouth shut. Every time I opened it, I’d find myself saying “he’s good, but not that good,” speaking to those who wanted the 20-year-old to be chosen to the All-Star Game (thanks, Commissioner Garber), get consideration for the senior national team, or make this year’s Best XI. The guy was good, but he’s 20-year-old, ‘I’m taking over someday but not now’ good. It’s a hard concept to get across in 140 characters.

That said, he was missed on Saturday. Not that Zach Scott was bad — he wasn’t (and he earned a cracked rib for his trouble) — but as we saw Portland’s not-so-natural right back Jack Jewsbury play a part in both Timber goals, you couldn’t help but think of the options Yedlin would have offered to a Sounder team that held 60 percent of the ball. Perhaps that tight Timber defense that (as Caleb Porter reminded us after the match) never let anything behind them would have had to stretch to account for Yedlin’s presence.

[REVIEW: Johnson, Nagbe goals allow Portland to take edge out of Seattle]

It will be shock if he doesn’t start on Thursday. If Saturday’s was an elimination game, Yedline probably would have played then, too, but with Zach Scott injured, there’s little reason to doubt.

Obafemi Martins, on the other hand, carries few more question marks, given the Nigerian international has played once since Sept. 29. But it’s all hands on deck for an elimination game, and with Lamar Neagle suspended after picking up his postseason’s second yellow, Sigi Schmid needs the option.

There are whispers he could start, but given this match could go 120 minutes, that seems a stretch. Better to keep him on the bench and bring him on in the second half, potentially having him on the field for penalty kicks.

(And penalty kicks, between the Timbers and Sounders, with the teams kicking into the Timbers Army? If the MLS is going to fix/arrange anything, please let start with this!)

[MORE: MLS Playoff Preview: Seattle Sounders at Portland Timbers]

  • Need to sort out the diamond or let it go

Sigi Schmid was clear after Saturday’s loss. He sees the midfield diamond (a 4-3-1-2 formation, in this case) as the Sounders’ best option. Yes, they gave up two goals because of the formation, but Schmid seemed to be saying they needed to play the formation better, not scrap it altogether.

But a few things have changed since Saturday’s kickoff. Lamar Neagle got suspended, leaving only Clint Dempsey and a not 100 percept match fit Obafemi Martins as reasonable options up top. Mauro Rosales is also a possibility here, but if he’s coming into the team, might as well put him into his best position (wide right), move Adam Moffat back to a more comfortable role, and deploy Dempsey in support of Eddie Johnson.

And that’s the other factor: Mauro Rosales. Granted, a lot of his late-match effectiveness in Seattle may have been about Portland playing with a two-goal edge, but the team looked better with his threat wide (after a short, failed spell playing him at the tip of the diamond). If he starts, he could partner Johnson up top, but it makes more sense to play as many players as possible in their best positions.

Watch the game tonight at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN or watch it on NBC Sports Live Extra

source: AP
Djimi Traoré (right) was at fault on Portland’s winning goal Saturday in Seattle. Central defense partner Jhon Kennedy Hurtado made the key error on the Timbers’ opener. (Photo: AP.)
  • The obvious: Defenders have got to be better

Each Portland goal was a result of an individual mistake. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado failed to track Ryan Johnson’s run on the first goal. Djimi Traoré tried a low percentage tackle ahead of Darlington Nagbe’s high percentage shot. Perhaps Portland presses to score other ways if those mistakes don’t happen, but Seattle has reason to believe the errors played as big a part as Portland’s execution.

The solution isn’t complicated. Play better. Don’t underestimate Ryan Johnson’ persistence. Know Darlington Nagbe’s not going to turn onto his left foot. Deny Jack Jewsbury that cross when he’s standing right on the end line. This isn’t about approach. It’s about execution.

  • Quality over quantity when it comes to chances

Seattle placated themselves with the quantity of chances they produced on Saturday, which is a mistake. At the end of the game, they may have doubled the Timbers’ overall shot total, but they put as many shots on target as their opponents: Five. In that light, it looks like the Sounders may be playing Portland’s game. While they weren’t exactly roasted on the counter attack (as Caleb Porter implied after the game), Portland generated the slightly better chances. And they executed on those chances.

[MORE: Portland Timbers thriving after unexpected death of ‘Porterball’]

Seattle’s capable of creating the same opportunities, but they have to work for them. They can’t settle for the low percentage chances Portland cedes and prepares for. They can’t assume one of their set pieces will come good. They need to be more patient. They need to execute the same way the Timbers executed on their second goal. Despite holding the ball for three-fifths of the game, we didn’t see many (any?) sequences like that from the Sounders.

source: Getty Images
Sigi Schmid is the only coach in the Sounders’ MLS history. The team’s poor finish to the 2013 season has led to speculation about his future. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Like Seattle, Portland isn’t blessed with stellar defenders. They’re fine, not great, and they’re dependent on good goalkeeping and a strong shield. Getting through Diego Chara and Will Johnson is not easy, but Seattle needs to get at Pa Modou Kah and Futty Danso. They need quality over quantity.

  • And of course …

This is a very important game for Sigi Schmid. Is he gone if Seattle loses tonight? I don’t know, but there’ll be every reason for Joe Roth and Adrian Hanauer to doubt he’s the man that can get them over the top. He’s done a remarkable (perhaps under-appreciated) job getting Seattle to this point, but year after year, it seems this point is a stumbling block. Given how the team has performed in first legs, it’s fair to wonder if preparation or mindset is a problem.

[MORE: The hard truth in Seattle: Sigi Schmid is almost certainly gone without a big series reversal]

But the stakes and consequences transcend Sigi Schmid. This is a team which this year (with the help of Major League Soccer) spent more in transfer fees than any in league history. They have a full allotment of Designated Players and two other stars (Osvaldo Alonso, Eddie Johnson) who’ll want that recognition in the near future. While not winning a title could be chalked up to the variability of a playoff system, nose-diving at the end of a season is a much more worrisome outcome.

If Seattle loses tonight, they’ll finish the season with one win in their last 10 games. Even if they hadn’t landed Clint Dempsey, those results would have forced the team to reconsider their course. All their personnel decisions — not just coaches, but also players — would be made knowing they came up well short in 2013.

VIDEO: Portugal lead Iran at HT; Spain 1-1 Morocco

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We’re through the first 45 minutes of Monday’s Group B finales at the 2018 World Cup, and things are happening. A quick rundown…

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos combined to commit a disastrous gaffe at midfield, resulting in a goal for Khalid Boutaib in the 14th minute. At this point, Spain would have finished second, behind Portugal, and headed to the far more difficult side of the knockout bracket.

Five minutes later, it was Iniesta who, with a little help from some slightly lesser geniuses, unlocked the Moroccan defense to set up Isco for an emphatic finish. La Furia Roja moved back to the top of the group, on goals scored.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

In the afternoon’s other game, Portugal and Iran appeared destined for a 0-0 scoreline at halftime, until Ricardo Quaresma unleashed a stunning, outside-of-the-foot curler from outside the box to beat the goalkeeper and put Portugal ahead — both on the day, and in the table. As things currently stand, Portugal would win the group and Spain would finish second.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 4

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In the fourth episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England players have been preparing for their next match in an unusual way, Argentina has a huge meltdown, and more.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Click play on the video above to watch the fourth episode in full.

Atlanta leads way with six All-Star Fan XI selections

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It may be hard to believe with all the World Cup festivities going on, but the Major League Soccer season is nearly halfway over.

[ MORE: Toronto FC’s 2018 has been far from their cup-winning 2017 ]

And that means it’s almost All-Star time.

The MLS All-Stars will continue their recent tradition of facing a European superpower in August, with Juventus being welcomed to the United States in early August.

But, which players from MLS will we see in action?

Last season’s expansion sweetheart Atlanta United leads the way in the fan voting with six players from the Eastern Conference side voted into the Fan XI, including attackers Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender/captain Michael Parkhurst also made the team from Atlanta.

In all, only five clubs were represented based on the Fan XI, with the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela and Laurent Ciman, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Portland Timbers star Diego Valeri each rounding out the squad.


Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)

Defenders: Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta United), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles Football Club), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Miguel Almirón (Atlanta United), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club – EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge)

Saudi Arabia steals late win over Egypt in Group A finale

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Saudi Arabia pulled off a late 2-1 win against Egypt on Monday in their Group A finale, as the two nations ended their 2018 World Cup run in the group stage.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Salem Al Sawsari scored in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time to give the Saudis a late winner in the match, as the attacker struck the post in the dying moments before the ball crossed the line.

The Pharaohs took the lead in the 22nd minute, after a tremendous run from Mohamed Salah and lob over the Saudi Arabia goalkeeper.

Salah has two goals at the World Cup for Egypt, who were already eliminated heading into Monday’s match.

Saudi Arabia was granted a chance to equalize prior to halftime, however, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary brilliantly stopped Hattan Bahebri’s penalty kick in the 41st minute to preserve the Egypt advantage.

El Hadary became the oldest player in World Cup history to appear in a match at the age of 45.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

The Egypt keeper wasn’t as lucky the second time around though, with Salmon Al Faraj converting a penalty kick in the 51st minute.

Saudi Arabia finishes group play in third place on three points, while Egypt goes winless in its three matches.