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Defending champ Sounders open camp with plenty of questions

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TUKWILA, Wash. — Barely two months after celebrating their second MLS Cup title, the Seattle Sounders opened training camp Tuesday in a winter snowstorm.

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The thin layer of snow on the practice field was hardly the biggest obstacle facing Seattle after a challenging offseason. Players have departed and the team has struggled to finalize new signings – not to mention league-wide uncertainty regarding negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

All told, it’s been a quiet break for a team trying to build on last year’s title run.

“That offseason after you win is always the roughest offseason because everyone gets recruited, right?” general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “Understandably and correctly, everyone’s like, `Oh, you have a really good team, we want your players. And so players get other opportunities. So we have to always work through that. And if you combine that with not having a CBA, that’s been really tough.”

The Sounders will return the core of a roster that led Seattle to its second league championship, but Lagerwey would like to make supplemental additions, especially entering a season where depth will be tested due to the number of competitions Seattle faces. Along with the MLS season, the Sounders will also be in the CONCACAF Champions League, U.S. Open Cup and the Campeones Cup against the champion of LigaMX.

Making those additions would be easier for Lagerwey and coach Brian Schmetzer if Seattle knew the structure of the CBA. Right now, it’s all a guessing game.

“They’ll tell us when they tell us, and when they tell us, then we’ll jump in and do everything we can,” Lagerwey said. “In the meantime, you wind up as a GM doing more work because you have to have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C, and you might not be able to execute any of them.”

The uncertainty of the CBA has a major trickle-down for Seattle, especially in its more glaring area of need along its defense. The Sounders started camp with just one center back in Xavier Arreaga and in need of a left defender. Roman Torres signed with Inter Miami in the offseason, and both Kim Kee-hee and Brad Smith – key contributors to Seattle’s defense – are unlikely to return, Lagerwey said.

Midfielder Victor Rodriguez, who scored the key second goal in the final victory over Toronto, is also not returning to Seattle.

For now, a thin roster is fine. But Seattle begins its busy season on Feb. 20 when it starts play in the Champions League. The Sounders open the MLS season on March 1 hosting Chicago.

“It’s challenging to open training camp without perhaps a full roster,” Schmetzer said. “I can’t hide from that fact. But that’s part of life.”

Report: Inter Miami set to hire Diego Alonso as first head coach

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Inter Miami are reportedly on the brink of announcing their first-ever head coach.

[MORE: Chicago Fire announce the arrival of Raphael Wicky]

According to ESPN’s Jorge Ramos y su Banda, David Beckham’s new expansion side have reached an agreement to appoint Diego Alonso as the team’s first head coach. The report states that an official announcement from the MLS side is set for Monday.

Alonso, 44, most recently was at the helm of Monterrey, winning the Concacaf Champions League with the deep-pocketed Mexican club in May of 2019. Prior to his time with Rayados, Alonso was in charge of Pachuca, where he won the Clausura in 2016 and Concacaf Champions League in 2017 during his four-year spell with the club.

As a player, Alonso’s 16-year career saw him play in Mexico, Argentina, China, Spain and his native Uruguay. In addition to his club career, Alonso recorded eight caps with the Uruguayan national team.

Inter Miami, who will debut in MLS in March against LAFC, had reportedly been in talks with Patrick Viera and Carlo Ancelotti recently.

Less than a month removed from preseason, the Florida franchise has yet to complete its roster, although the Beckham and company are set to sign MLS veterans Juan Agudelo and Roman Torres at “significantly lower salary figures,” according to The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio.

La Liga: Messi leads Barca over Atletico, Sevilla wins

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It took 86 minutes to find the opener at the Wanda Metropolitana, but Barcelona came through to move back in front of the La Liga title race, and who else but Lionel Messi was the man of the hour.

The Barcelona legend worked a beautiful one-two with Luis Suarez at the top of the box and slotted it into the bottom-left corner to see Barcelona through with a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid. It wasn’t exactly pretty for the visitors as Gerard Pique struggled at the back on numerous occasions, but they pulled out the clean sheet. It helped that Atleti managed to put just two of its 17 shots on target, with Alvaro Morata only managing to test the keeper once in his six efforts.

Messi’s winner marked his ninth goal of the season and gave Barcelona its eighth win in their last nine league games to go top of the La Liga table, level with Real Madrid on 31 points but ahead on slim goal differential.

Elsewhere, Diego Carlos’s first goal of the season gave Sevilla a 1-0 win over Leganes to keep hold of third position in the La Liga table. Leganes had a few good chances late, but Guido Carrillo and Youssef En-Nesyri couldn’t find the back of the net, and Leganes has just a pair of one-goal losses against two top-three sides to show for their efforts the last two weeks.

Athletic Bilbao topped Granada 2-0 with goals at the end of each half by Raul Garcia and Yuri Berchiche respectively. The first came from the spot after a foul by Rui Silva only given after a VAR check. Athletic then doubled the lead in the 83rd minute through Berchiche’s first strike of the campaign, seeing them through to fifth in the table, level on points with fourth-placed Real Sociedad.

Osasuna somehow held off Espanyol for a wild 4-2 win despite falling a man down with over a half-hour to play. Marc Roca put Espanyol in the lead from the penalty spot 20 minutes in, but Ruben Garcia and Ezequiel Avila struck three minutes apart moments after the second-half restart to put Osasuna up. In the 52nd minute the game changed as Facundo Roncaglia absorbed his second yellow card, sent to an early shower. Despite that, Osasuna stayed strong, scoring a pair of man-down goals in the final minutes of the game to go up 4-1 with finishing touches by Jon Moncayola and Roberto Torres, leaving Espanyol to just a late consolation by Jonathan Calleri.

Finally, Getafe pasted Levante, putting up nine shots on target to Levante’s two en route to a comprehensive 4-0 victory, moving the hosts up to seventh in the table on 24 points.

La Liga: Real Madrid beat Alaves late to leapfrog Barca (for now)

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ PL PREVIEW: Arsenal’s post-Emery era begins; Man United host Villa ]

Alaves 1-2 Real Madrid

Without ever hitting their full stride through the season’s first 14 games, Real Madrid have managed to keep pace with Barcelona to set up what should be a thrilling La Liga title race over the next 24 weeks. Zinedine Zidane’s side survived yet another scare on Saturday and came away with a narrow victory away to 14th-place Alaves. With Barca still to play Atletico Madrid on Sunday, Real Madrid sit atop the table with a three-point advantage.

Sergio Ramos headed Los Blancos into the lead in the 52nd minute, but it was quickly erased when Lucas Perez converted from the penalty spot in the 65th.

Madrid’s winner was anything but pretty, but the ball crossed the goal line and that’s the only fact that matters. Luka Modric lofted the ball high into the penalty area and Isco got his head to it barely a yard off the goal line, but Fernando Pacheco made a stellar save only to see the ball roll across the face of goal to Dani Carvajal, who poked it over the line for 2-1 in the 69th minute.

Valencia 2-1 Villarreal

Speaking of surviving, Valencia survived a chaotic derby affair with Villarreal at the Mestalla Stadium to climb back into the top-six.

Jasper Cillessen denied Gerard Moreno from the penalty spot in the 14th minute, but that was just the start of a truly wild affair. Sergio Asenjo made a series of spectacular saves to maintain Villarreal’s clean sheet in the first half. His magic ran out shortly after halftime, though, and in hard-to-swallow fashion. Maxi Gomez played an otherworldly curling ball over the top to find Rodrigo Moreno inside the penalty area, and Moreno got the slightest of touches on the ball and managed to recover the ball on the other side of Asenjo for a quick finish from a tight angle.

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who’s on loan from Fulham after the player and club’s disastrous lone season in the Premier League, hammered home from near the penalty spot just five minutes later. 19-year-old Ferran Torres bagged the winner in the 70th minute, rifling a waist-high bouncing ball past Asenjo for his second league goal this season.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 4-1 Eibar
Mallorca 1-2 Real Betis

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Sevilla v. Leganes — 6 a.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao v. Granada — 8 a.m. ET
Espanyol v. Osasuna — 10 a.m. ET
Getafe v. Levante — 12:30 p.m. ET
Atletico Madrid v. Barcelona — 3 p.m. ET

Chelsea draws Valencia despite Pulisic goal

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The Chelsea defense was shambolic, but Valencia’s finishing was worse, and it seemed that Christian Pulisic‘s goal and Kepa Arrizabalaga’s penalty save would be enough. Then Daniel Wass produced a moment of sheer brilliance good enough to keep the Spanish side’s Champions League hopes alive.

Valencia missed a host of big chances that should have won them the game, but in the 80th minute Wass arrived to deliver a goal worthy of points from acres away to secure a 2-2 draw.

Valencia were on the front foot the first 30 minutes, but they were left empty-handed as Maxi Gomez missed a blinding chance on 20 minutes that left the home fans stunned. A wonderful cross form Rodrigo on the break fell right to the feet of Gomez, but the Uruguayan completely whiffed while sliding in awkwardly at the far post, a surefire miss of the season candidate.

Gomez again was left begging on the half-hour mark as the cross from Dani Parejo was too far for Ferran Torres but reached Gomez at the far post where his effort was saved by a charging Kepa Arrizabalaga despite the goal gaping.

Chelsea began to push after that, and worked a pair of chances with N’Golo Kante firing over the bar and Tammy Abraham forcing an exceptional save from Man of the Match Jasper Cillessen who tipped his poke over the bar. Just as the Blues were getting going, Valencia finally found the back of the net. From the right flank Rodrigo delivered a fabulous lofted cross into the middle of the box and Carlos Soler volleyed it home past Arrizabalaga.

The Blues responded right away, with Mateo Kovacic delivering a speculative turn-and-shoot from the top of the box that squirted inside the left post past a diving Cillessen for the Croatian’s first Chelsea goal. He nearly had a second before halftime as he rifled in a silky Pulisic delivery from the far post and Cillessen saved. Chelsea suffered a blow just before the break as Tammy Abraham landed awkwardly and was in serious pain, holding his left hip. Abraham was replaced by Michy Batshuayi upon the second-half restart.

Just moments after the whistle blew, Pulisic put Chelsea in front 2-1 as he nodded home Kurt Zouma‘s header with a toe poke. It was initially ruled out for offside, but after an extremely long VAR review, the goal was given as technology proved Pulisic was just level with the defender. Ezequiel Garay was booked for dissent after the goal was given, appearing to argue that he was fouled by Zouma on the aerial challenge.

Yet again the Chelsea defense was let off as Valencia should have scored, but Torres missed over the goal with a chip attempt as the Blues scrambled and Arrizabalaga was out of his net. Chelsea again allowed Valencia through as Jorginho was harshly whistled for a penalty in a clash with Jose Gaya, but after VAR allowed the call to stand, Arrizabalaga made a spectacular save to maintain the lead.

The game remained wide open as Chelsea nearly doubled the lead through Willian whose feed from Batshuayi left him alone with a charging Cillessen who saved well. Valencia began to pour on the pressure, and ultimately it bore fruit. A feed to the right by Parejo was dummied and left to Wass whose cross (it was absolutely a cross) stunningly found the top corner and into the back of the net off the woodwork.

Chelsea nearly found a winner thanks to a massive deflection on a Batshuayi shot, but Cillessen somehow managed to make a kick save despite already having gone to ground to meet the initial hit. For good measure, Valencia missed a sure winner at the death, with Rodrigo mishitting at the far post from a Gaya cross along the face of goal.

The two points lost for Chelsea were valuable ones in a crowded Group H, with the trio of Chelsea, Valencia, and Ajax all coming into the day level on seven points. With the Blues still to play Lille while Valencia has to take on Ajax, they will still believe to be holding the upper hand, but it will all come down to the final match day.