First E.J., now Obafemi Martins? What’s going on at forward for the Sounders?

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Even if the worst case scenario happens, the Seattle Sounders have Clint Dempsey and Lamar Neagle, a forward duo most Major League Soccer teams would envy. Yet with Eddie Johnson having likely played his last game in Seattle while Obafemi Martins is looking to move, it’s worth considering what’s going on at forward in the Sounders.

The Johnson news made waves on Wednesday, but another piece of news was obscured by yesterday’s headlines of Sigi Schmid’s confirmed return: Seattle’s Nigerian international put out a come and get me plea, saying he felt “out of the loop” in Seattle. That’s not a reference to his place in the team; instead, it hints at his desire to return to Europe, were presumably he’ll increase his chances of making Nigeria’s potential World Cup squad.

[MORE: Cap casualty? Eddie Johnson may have already played his last game for Seattle]

[MORE: Sigi Schmid to remain as Seattle head coach]

Whether it’s true that Europe increases his chances for Brazil 2014 doesn’t matter. Martins perceives it to do true, so despite spending less than a year with a team that had to help buy-out his contract to free him from Levante, the vagabond is looking for another move. The 29-year-old specifically mentioned Turkish champions Galatasaray, who are coached by his former Inter Milan boss Roberto Mancini. If getting back in the loop is his goal, though, Martins would likely consider other spots, be it on a short-lerm or permanent basis.

He liked MLS, he said. The United States had been a good experience, and he’s been treated well by Seattle’s fans. Seemingly, Martins just has a thing for loops.

For some, this will serve as an ‘I told you so’ moment, with many noting Martins had played with five clubs in six years before joining Seattle. If he were to move back to Europe in January, it would likely be to his seventh team since the summer of 2009. At this point, no new Martins employer should expect the wandering attacker to stay long. The man’s a bit of a mercenary, having only appeared in 20 MLS games before now entertaining a move.

If you’re Seattle, a team already looking to trade one of its starting forwards, what do you do? Given how much was invested to get Martins to Seattle, the team would presumably want some return on their investment (if they’re even willing to let him go). If a team like Gala’s ready to do that, it’d be best to take what you can get, cash in, and go back into the market. Yesterday’s comments cast  doubt on the notion Martin will be willing to settle in Seattle.

Conceivably, this could open a Designated Player spot for Eddie Johnson, but don’t look for Seattle to do an about face on the U.S. international. Even if cap considerations are a big part of the Johnson picture, there would have to be a serious course correction for “E.J.” to be in rave green come March.

Instead, Seattle would likely take Martins’ departure as an opportunity to test the market, even if that opportunity would be an unexpected one. If they’re still willing to show the financial commitment they did with the Dempsey and Martins deals, the Nigerian’s departure could be a boon. The Sounders can find a striker who’s not so obsessed with loops.

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal close in on Leno; Man City near Jorginho signing, and more

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Arsenal looks like it will have a new man between the pipes for next season.

According to a report from German publication SportBild, Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno will be introduced as an Arsenal player on Tuesday, after a reported $23-29 million transfer fee. The 26-year-old was on Germany’s 35-man pre-World Cup squad, but was one of the last cuts as Joachim Low went with Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp in Russia.

Leno became the full-time starter for Leverkusen as a 20-year-old, and has held the position of the No. 1 for the last six seasons, earning plenty of Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League experience along the way.

It’s unclear what will happen to current Arsenal No. 1 Petr Cech. The 36-year-old Premier League legend experienced one of his worst seasons in net for Arsenal and he could begin the season as a backup, unless he moves to a new club. He reportedly has a contract through 2019.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the Premier League and Europe.

(more…)

VIDEO: Mertens scores wonderstrike for Belgium

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After a frustrating 45 minutes, it took only two minutes for Belgium to finally get on the board, even if it was a goal sprinkled with magic dust.

Off a partially cleared ball on the right side of the box, Belgium attacker Dries Mertens whalloped a shot that arced over Panama (and former LA Galaxy) goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, giving Belgium a 1-0 lead.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Croatia’s Kalinic sent home from World Cup

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It’s only been five days, and we have our first World Cup dismissal.

According to a bombshell report out of Croatia, Croatia National Team head coach Zlatko Dalic has sent home striker Nikola Kalinic from the team’s camp, after the AC Milan player reportedly refused to be a substitute during Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

[Update: The Croatia FA confirmed the decision, releasing this statement from Dalic. “During the Nigeria encounter, Kalinić was warming up and was supposed to come on in the second half. However, he then stated that he wasn’t ready to come on due to a back issue. The same thing happened during the Brazil friendly in England, as well as before the practice session on Sunday. I have calmly accepted that, and since I need my players fit and ready to play, I have made this decision.”]

The report states that Kalinic refused to come on due to an injury, but Dalic had said recently that his team had no injuries that would keep players out, potentially meaning that Kalinic used the injury claim as an excuse.

Croatia’s FA is expected to confirm the news on Monday.

After a rough season at AC Milan, with just six league goals in 31 Serie A appearances, Kalinic, at 30, is likely finished with the Vatreni. He scored three goals in World Cup qualifying but hasn’t started for Croatia since a 2-0 win over Peru in March. Kalinic did score against Spain in Croatia’s shock 2-1 win exactly two years prior to Saturday’s match.

He was deemed second choice to Mario Mandzukic as the center forward up top, but was reportedly asked to spell Mandzukic during Croatia’s match against Nigeria, and Kalinic reportedly refused.

If true, Croatia will continue with 22 players for the remainder of the tournament.