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.

Manchester United vs Crystal Palace, live! Score, updates, how to watch, stream, videos

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Manchester United looks to keep climbing up the Premier League table when its hosts improving Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday (watch live, 10am ET online via Premier League on Peacock).

United has won all three of its cup matches since a Jan. 22 setback at Premier League leaders Arsenal, and now face Palace before two matches with Leeds

STREAM LIVE MANCHESTER UNITED vs CRYSTAL PALACE

Palace hasn’t won in 2023, though the Eagles managed back-to-back draws with Manchester United and Newcastle in their past two matches. Both of those were at Selhurst Park.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Manchester United vs Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Manchester United vs Crystal Palace live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
Online: Premier League on Peacock


Key storylines & star players

Man United’s lost Christian Eriksen through April but acted quick and in impressive fashion with the loan addition of Marcel Sabitzer from Bayern Munich. Desperate for playing time and a more attacking role than what was asked of him by Bayern, the Austrian star may be just what the doctor ordered even before Eriksen went down. This is a hard-edged player with plenty of attcking firepower to boot.

Palace, of course, is still all about their creative players, as Wilfried Zaha, Michael Olise, Eberechi Eze, and Odsonne Edouard can deliver the goods with just a half-chance, but look out for Deadline Day adds Albert Sambi Lokonga, on loan from Patrick Vieira’s former team Arsenal, and Naouirou Ahamada, who they hope will add a needed ball progressor in the heart of the pitch.


Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Christian Eriksen (ankle), Donny van de Beek (knee), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Jadon Sancho (undisclosed), Anthony Martial (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (thigh), Luke Shaw (illness), Scott McTominay (undisclosed)

Crystal Palace team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Wilfried Zaha (hamstring), Joachim Andersen (calf), Nathan Ferguson (undisclosed), James McArthur (groin)

Brentford vs Southampton, live! Score, updates, how to watch, stream, videos

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Brentford will try to extend their unbeaten run, which began all the way back in October, when they host bottom-of-the-table Southampton at Gtech Community Stadium on Saturday (watch live, 10 am ET on Peacock Premium). 

STREAM LIVE BRENTFORD vs SOUTHAMPTON

The Bees’ (30 points) eight-game unbeaten run (4W-4D-0L) has taken them up to 8th in the Premier League table, now closer to the top-four (nine points) than the relegation zone (13 points) in their second-ever season in the PL. Saints (15 points), meanwhile, are living dangerously at the bottom, though the gap between themselves and safety in 17th place is just two points.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Brentford vs Southampton

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Brentford vs Southampton live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10 am ET, Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium

Not much going on in west London. Saints happy to sit back and Brentford struggling to create chances on the counter.

An even game so far with Saints having a few chances early on and Brentford have caused problems with crosses into the box.


Key storylines & star players

Last time out, Brentford settled for a frustrating 0-0 draw with Leeds, but before that they rattled off successive wins over West Ham, Liverpool and Bournemouth with just one goal conceded in three games. Ivan Toney is 3rd in the Premier League with 13 goals, trailing only Harry Kane (16) and Erling Haaland (an absurd 25). After initially struggling to replace the creativity of Christian Eriksen (4 assists in 11 appearances last season), Thomas Frank’s side is firing once again thanks to Mathias Jensen (4 in 20), Toney (3) and Josh Dasilva (2) picking up the slack.

After losing 3-1 to Newcastle over two legs in the League Cup semifinals, Southampton return their attention to the ongoing relegation battle. Having won just one of their last nine Premier League fixtures (1W-1D-7L), Saints made four first-team signings to strengthen the midfield and attack. They brought in some experience (30-year-old midfielder Mislav Orsic from Dinamo Zagreb and 28-year-old forward Paul Onuachu from Genk) along with some youth and potential (a pair of 20-year-olds, midfielder Carlos Alcaraz from Racing Club and winger Kamadeen Selumana from Rennes).


Brentford team news, injuries, lineup

OUT: Pontus Jansson (thigh), Frank Onyeka (hamstring), Shandon Baptiste (adductor)

Southampton team news, injuries, lineup

OUT: Valentino Livramento (knee), Kyle Walker-Peters (hamstring), Juan Larios (adductor), Alex McCarthy (ankle)

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Wolves vs Liverpool, live! Score, updates, stream link, video highlights

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Liverpool hopes it can boost its top-four hopes by hurting Wolves’ plans for Premier League safety when the duo meet Saturday at the Molineux (watch live, 10am ET Saturday online via Peacock Premium).

It’s the third meeting since early January between the sides following a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup and a 1-0 Liverpool win in the replay.

STREAM LIVE WOLVES vs LIVERPOOL

Wolves sit 17th with 17 points, only outside of the bottom three due to Bournemouth’s poor goal differential. Last place is just two points away, as there are seven teams within three points between 14th and 20th.

Liverpool, meanwhile, is 10 points off the top four but has played at least one fewer match than all but two of the eight teams ahead of them (Sixth-place Brighton and leaders Arsenal).

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Wolves vs Liverpool.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


Wolves vs Liverpool score: Wolves lead 2-0 on early o.g., Dawson debut goal


How to watch Wolves vs Liverpool live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
Online: Premier League on Peacock


Liverpool own goal video: Wolves 1-0 Liverpool

Craig Dawson goal video: Debutant makes it 2-0 to Wolves with rare goal

 


Key storylines & star players

Winning games is about scoring goals and only two Wolves players have more than one. Daniel Podence has collected five, while Ruben Neves has four. Even more surprising, Wolves are still waiting on a goal from Raul Jimenez, Diego Costa, or injured Pedro Neto. Perhaps Matheus Cunha or Pablo Sarabia will chip in soon.

Liverpool has one win from its last three Premier League outings, but there’s a heaping helping of bad luck to their struggles. The Reds have 24 goals from open play and 20 allowed in that same situation. Their expected goals in those spots is 34.6 – 24. Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez have been especially unlucky despite combining for 12 goals and six assists on the season.


Wolves team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Pedro Neto (ankle), Sasa Kalajdzic (torn ACL), Boubacar Traore (undisclosed), Chiquinho (knee)

Liverpool team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Virgil van Dijk (thigh), Roberto Firmino (calf), Ibrahima Konate (hamstring), Luis Diaz (knee), Diogo Jota (thigh), Arthur Melo (thigh)

Brighton vs Bournemouth, live! Score, updates, stream link, video highlights

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Brighton will continue their chase for European qualification, while Bournemouth try to climb out of the relegation zone, when the two sides meet at Amex Stadium on Saturday (watch live, 10 am ET on Peacock Premium). 

STREAM LIVE BRIGHTON vs BOURNEMOUTH

Graham Potter and Roberto De Zerbi have, between them, guided Brighton (31 points) all the way up to 6th place in the Premier League table. The gap to 5th-place Tottenham is five points; the gap to Manchester United in 4th in eight. Bournemouth, meanwhile, are in the bottom-three for the first time this season after picking up just one point from their last five PL games.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Brighton vs Bournemouth

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


Brighton vs Bournemouth score, video highlights: 0-0


How to watch Brighton vs Bournemouth live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10 am ET, Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Brighton team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Alexis Mac Allister (suspension), Jakub Moder (knee), Adam Lallana (undisclosed), Levi Colwill (undisclosed), Evan Ferguson (ankle)

Bournemouth team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: David Brooks (thigh), Lewis Cook (knee), Neto (thigh), Dominic Solanke (knee), Marcus Tavernier (thigh), Ryan Fredericks (undisclosed), Junior Stanislas (undisclosed)

Follow @AndyEdMLS