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Nov 082013

MLSCup2013PlayoffsLogo2 MLS 300x248 MLS Playoff Roundup


MLS Playoff Roundup

This week’s midweek MLS playoff action provided plenty of surprises and massive amounts of drama.  Although it is unfortunate that the Supporter’s Shield recipient, the New York Red Bulls, were bounced out of the tournament early, it is good to see three out of the top four seeds still alive. The Supporter’s Shield race was close all season so at least one of the teams that was in the running for the title at the end of the regular season will be rewarded with home-field advantage in MLS Cup  Here are the final results from this week’s action and the upcoming ties for the Conference Finals:

MLS Conference Semi-Finals Results

Conference Match Fixture Aggregate
Eastern New England 1-Sporting   Kansas City 3 3-4
Eastern Houston 2- New York  1 4-3
Western Los Angeles 0- Real Salt   Lake 2 1-2
Western Seattle 2- Portland 3 3-5




MLS Conference Finals Matchups

Conference Match Fixture(Lowest Seed First) Game #1 Game #2
Eastern Houston v Sporting Kansas City 11/9 2:30 NBC Sports Network 11/23 NBC Sports Network
Western Real Salt Lake v Portland 11/10 9pm ESPN 11/24 ESPN


A couple of thoughts before we get to the next round of matches:

  • While many people will give credit to the Houston Dynamo for once again pulling off the upset and beating the New York Red Bulls, let’s face facts: the Red Bulls blew this game. Much like in Sunday’s game the Red Bulls dominated the first half, controlling possession, taking good shots on target and having a stout, resolute defense. Even without Jamison Olave they looked like they were going to go through. It is very difficult to score on Houston Dynamo GK Tally Hall so one would have thought that would have been enough to get the Red Bulls through. Instead in typical Red Bulls fashion, their defense breaks down in the 37th minute (thanks in part to Ibrahim Sekagaya refusing to go off or at least stop play because of an injury,) and the team plays right into the hands of the Dynamo. Houston did exactly what they always do: play solid defense, rely on Tally Hall to make 1-2 quality saves, make the most out of free kicks and use their deep bench to their advantage. The Red Bulls had this team beat not just once, not just twice, but three times over the span of this two-leg playoff. Although I am sure that there are plenty of fans who will be happy with the Supporter’s Shield, the team’s first-ever trophy, it feels like yet another missed opportunity for the Red Bulls.


  • While the Red Bulls may have letdown their fans with the result on Wednesday, the worst performance thus far in the playoffs belongs to the Seattle Sounders. Facing a 3-1 deficit and going on the road to their hated rivals, the Portland Timbers, one would have thought that the Sounders would have come out of the box playing aggressive and trying everything to pull closer to Portland. Instead, within the first 47 minutes the club was down 3-0. Only a complete breakdown by the Portland defense made this game at least marginally close, but the Sounder’s last two goals felt more like garbage points than anything else. The Sounders have looked flat for the past two and a half months and really have not been the same team since Forward Eddie Johnson decided to give the “pay me” sign to owners back in August. I am not really sure why Adam Moffat and Shalrie Joseph were starting over Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales, but it seemed to be counter-productive to the whole “scoring” thing.

    What made Seattle so great for so many years is it felt like this team had a plan that you could see on the field.  From youth development to scouting to signing international players, you could always see that there is a clear direction for this club. But by signing players like Joseph, Martins, and let’s be honest Clint Dempsey, it feels like the club is unbalanced that there are too many overpriced, experienced players and not enough young talent to bring some creativity and flair. Perhaps with Lamar Neagle out due to yellow card accumulation they had to readjust their lineup.  But Seattle has not looked good for a few weeks now and I would think that there may be some changes in terms of player personnel at the end of the season.

  • As for the other two Semifinal losers, Los Angeles and New England, their postseason runs almost feel like trial runs for next year. Both teams are loaded top young talent, and to be honest both probably made it farther than they should have this year.

    That may sound strange with Los Angeles, but if you think about all of the things that they have gone through this season with David Beckham leaving, Landon Donovan heading to parts unknown for a few months, the goalkeeper mess, trading Mike Magee, and the Omar Gonzalez contract situation they have had a lot happen to them this season. As opposed to caving in, the club signed an excellent goalkeeper in Jaime Penedo, signed Gonzalez and Donovan long-term deals, and give playing time to many of their academy players. DEF Kofi Opare, MID Jose Villareal, FWD Gyasi Zardes, and FWD Jack McBean are all considered to be some of the top young talent in American and all of them will figure prominently in Coach Bruse Arena’s game plans next year.

    Unlike the Galaxy, no one expected the New England Revolution to make it this far, let alone take Sporting Kansas City to the limit in a two-leg playoff. Revolution management’s efforts to improve their academy and draft selections have led them to accrue a core nucleus of explosive, talented players. Credit should also go to Coach Jay Heaps, who has done a phenomenal job in getting all of these players to play as a unit, which can be difficult if you don’t have a foundation to build off of.

    What will be interesting is to see how this team replaces GK Matt Reis (retiring) and MID/FWD Juan Agudelo (Transfer to Stoke City) in the offseason. Backup GK Bobby Shuttlesworth was a very capable replacement for Reis during the season, but he often lacked decisiveness when it came down to the final minutes. Agudelo will be far more difficult to replace. His partnership with Fagundez and Rowe in the midfielder was the key for the Revolution’s success this year. You have to wonder if signing former US Men’s National team Forward Charlie Davies in August was meant to be Agudelo’s replacement. Davies plays a very similar style to that of Agudelo; however he has never been the same since the car crash that nearly took his life back in October 2009. The good news is that if Davies does not work out, the club has plenty of Allocation money and young players to move for a more proven veteran striker.


Conference Final Previews:

Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City

A rematch of last year’s 2012 Conference Semi-Finals matchup, which saw the Dynamo upset Sporting K.C. 2-1 on aggregate, this series should be a very close set of games. Although Sporting did defeat the Dynamo earlier this 1-0 in Houston, who at the time had a 25 game home unbeaten streak, the Dynamo were also able to get a 1-1 draw at Livestrong Park in Kansas City. Expect a very physical set of games: in their two previous matches this season the two teams had a combined 56 fouls and 6 cards (all yellow.)

The key to this series is if Sporting Kansas City can limit the number of unnecessary fouls. The reason why the Dynamo are so difficult to defeat in a two-legged playoff is that they have are able to exploit their opponents weaknesses and are deadly with set pieces. Kansas City cannot give away too many chances to the Dynamo or they will suffer the same fate as the New York Red Bulls.

Although it seems like Bad Karma to pick against the Dynamo, given their history, I give the slight edge to Sporting Kansas City. Yes they will be physical and probably draw a few unnecessary fouls, but they have also shown that they are able to come back from any deficit and pull out a victory. MID/FWD Graham Zusi has been in amazing form as of late, and I really like the partnership that he has developed with Sooney Saad. Also, if Claudio Bieler (game-winning goal in extra time against New England on Wednesday) is actually ready to play he could be a difference-maker in this series off of the bench.

Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers

If you are a soccer mom or dad and you want to get your son or daughter to watch a game of American soccer, have them sit down in front of the T.V. and watch one of the two matches between Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers this month. No, not because Timber Joey gets to chop down a tree or because you want to explain to your kids what “YSA” means. Chances are they already know that one. You want your kids to watch this matchup because these two teams when they are at their best play the best form of American soccer.

What’s interesting about this match is that it would seem that the Timbers would have a distinct advantage over RSL. They have not lost a match since late August, a 4-2 loss to Real Salt in Utah, and just smoked the Seattle Sounders. Plus Real Salt Lake’s form has been very poor since the U.S. Open Cup final against D.C. United and it looked like all of the controversy regarding coach Jason Kreis’ contract had finally got to them.

Then Thursday night happened and the Real Salt Lake team that at the halfway point of season were the front-runners for the Supporters Shield showed up again. The swift counter-attacks on the right flank by Luis Gill was back, as was Alvaro Saborio’s clever touches and passes. I also really like the addition of Velasquez to the lineup, who was the only player to play with any initiative during the previous match.  They also showed tremendous perseverance after having Javier Morales’ splendid free kick nullified by a curious call by the referee.

Despite all of this, I still like for Portland to make it through to the MLS Cup. While Real Salt Lake has turned it on as of late, Portland has not really given one bad performance throughout this entire MLS Season. Even in the early part of the season, when the team was still trying to adjust to Coach Caleb Porter’s style, they always played with a commitment to defense and avoiding risky shot selection in the attacking third.

Going back to the 3-3 draw against Real Salt Lake in August, Portland found tremendous success in moving the ball through the center of the midfield through Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe up to Ryan Johnson and Diego Valeri. Real’s midfield is more of an attacking midfield than a defensive one and had tremendous problems against the Los Angeles attack during their two game set. Although I would expect RSL GK Nick Rimando and RSL DEF Chris Schuler to continue their solid run of form, it will be difficult for RSL to keep up with the Timbers offense.




Oct 302013

Brian Sanders, Adam Uthe and Sean Maslin look at the 2013 MLS Cup Playoff play-in and Conference Semifinals

click here to listen

The Playoff Push

 Posted by on October 2, 2013 at 5:22 pm  Blogs/Media, MLS, United States
Oct 022013

MLS Cup 300x169 The Playoff Push

Robbie Keane’s face told the story. After heading in a Landon Donovan free kick in the 90th minute to put the Los Angeles Galaxy level with the Portland Timbers, his face went from incredible joy to sheer anguish as the referee raised his flag and called for an offsides on Keane. Keane looked disgusted, but he also looked slightly despondent. He knew how much that goal meant to the Galaxy and their season. The Galaxy had the chance to go level on points with the Timbers in the standings in the Western Conference. Instead, the club sees themselves four points behind the Timbers and only a point ahead of fifth-place Colorado and sixth-place Vancouver. On a weekend with so many exciting matches and so many different teams in playoff contention, Major League Soccer was able to show one of the true assets that it has over so many other soccer leagues: the playoff push.

One of the major criticisms that Major League Soccer receives from fans, ex-players, officials, and pundits is the supposedly awkward arrangement that it has between their regular season and the playoffs. Supposedly, the existence of the playoffs cheapens the regular season and devalues the merit of winning the supporter’s shield. Most experts in professional football will tell you that the best system is a single table system where each team plays every other team twice. Never mind that the United States is about 2-3 times as large as most European countries and has twice as many time zones. And never mind that that the English League Championship has a playoff system to determine who will be promoted to the Premier League. Or that the Champions League has a playoff system based off of seeding.  It is supposedly important that we implement this square peg of a “traditional” system into the round hole that is American geography. We have to be exactly like everyone else. Or at least the way the Europeans sometimes play.

Although it sounds tempting to once again follow the Europeans and do exactly everything that they do (sometimes,) let’s do some thinking outside of the traditional box of soccer. Although there are some flaws with the current Major League Soccer system (playing on international dates and too many international matches with foreign clubs come to mind,) the current playoff system does provide for tons of intrigue and can allow for many exciting games as the season winds down. If you look at this weekend’s slate of games, only one match did not include at least one team that has a shot at making the playoffs (Toronto- D.C. United.) In every other match, each team has a decent chance at winning a spot in their respective Conferences playoff spot.

Major League Soccer is just a very different league than many other professional leagues throughout the world, and that is not a bad thing. Variety is good. It makes things interesting and gives fans plenty to talk about. Although I wonder what a Premier playoff would look like, I do understand that the last few weeks of a Premier League season can be quite dramatic. It was like that two years ago, when Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero scored against Queen’s Park Rangers in the last game of the season to claim their first Premier League title while Manchester United was still on the pitch hoping a result in their match would keep them alive.

If the Europeans would like to have a single table system with no playoffs, then go ahead. But given the relative age of Major League Soccer and how most clubs outside of the Northwest are still growing their fanbases it makes more sense right now to have a playoff system. Our country loves playoffs and we love the drama that leads up to it, even if the team we support has no shot of winning it all. It is why the NCAA tournament so huge. People in this country want to believe that their club has a chance. They don’t want to be complacent with mid-table.  And it is good for the teams to use situations like the playoffs to build support for their team. It is good for a team like the New England Revolution who has not been a relevant team for 4-5 years to show their fans that they are respectable again because they have a shot at the playoffs.

Having this many teams with a chance for a playoff spot spurs interest in not only the players, but the fans as well. Due to the parity of the league, any team has the chance to knock off any other team at any venue. This why you were able to see the Philadelphia Union shock Sporting Kansas City 1-0 on Friday night at Live Strong Park. It’s why the Columbus Crew was able to go down Dallas Park and eliminate their Pioneer Cup rivals F.C. Dallas. And it’s why a team like the Portland Timbers was able to step up in a rainy mess at Jeld-Wenn field in Portland and pull out an important 1-0 victory. In each of these matches, because other games were going on at the same time, you would see fans pulling out their iPhones to check updates on other games, to see where their teams would be in the standings, and to try and cheer their fellow fans up who feel like all hope is lost. As sad as it sounds, one of the true signs that I have seen all season of the attachment that has grown for Major League Soccer with the supporters was when Tim Cahill scored to even it up for the New York Red Bulls against the Seattle Sounder. There is nothing like seeing and hearing an arena of 50,000 supporters completely deflated.

I had the pleasure of watching last year’s slugfest between D.C. United and the Columbus Crew and seeing the playoff push firsthand. Both clubs were tied on points for the fifth and final playoff spot. In a match where the game was 2-1 throughout the majority of the match, members of the Barra Brava the D.C. United Supporters groups seemed to lose interest as it dawned on them that they would have to go to Bridgeview and get a result against the Chicago Fire. Fans were routinely checking their iPhones for the latest results from the Houston Dynamo match or waiting for any information from RFK Stadiums decrepit scoreboard. Although any fan would be happy with clinching a playoff spot anywhere, there is something special about doing it at home. United ended up scoring the tying goal in the 59th minute, which then led to Lewis Neal scoring a game-winning goal in the 91st minute to send D.C. United into the playoffs. Although the club has won three MLS titles, if you ask any member of Barra Brava what their favorite moment in D.C. United history is, I would imagine that Neal’s goal is up there.

Although this weekend did not provide any playoff-clinching goals, there was no short of theatrics. The San Jose Earthquakes continued their Cinderella run by beating Chivas U.S.A. 1-0 on a goal by Forward Chris Wondlowski in the 87th minute (And yes, you even got to see Steven Lenhart get sent off.) Houston- New England played to a draw keeping both of their playoff hopes alive. Real Salt Lake, playing a mostly reserve team in preparation for Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final with D.C. United, managed to shock Vancouver away from home and further tighten their lead on first-place in the Western Conference. Chicago blew a two goal lead to the Montreal Impact and nearly could have won the match had Mike Magee, one of the league’s leading candidates MVP, hit a penalty kick off of the crossbar dooming his team to a draw and possibly a 7th place finish in the Eastern Conference.

Even the D.C. United- Toronto F.C. match featured a beautiful volley by D.C. United forward Jared Jeffrey and even more amazing scissor kick goal by Toronto F.C. forward Daryl Russell. Whether you were watching a match at the park, the bar, NBC, or on whatever D.C. United is using for coverage now, you got to see two teams playing hard for nothing more than a spot on the team.

While no MLS match could feature players of the quality of the Premier League or any of the other top European leagues, each came with its own set of drama and flair. Having watched enough Premier League matches at the end of the season when players go at half pace and where things feel predetermined. I still remember being completely shocked last season when Queen’s Park Rangers were relegated and seeing the players laughing and feeling just terrible for their fans. Rather than seeing a team work hard and try to gut out a victory, they seemed like they did not care and were more interested in just collecting their paycheck. At least Chivas U.S.A., a club who may not exist next season, tried to keep up with the Earthquakes and put on a good show for their fans.

In the weeks ahead, the number of teams that are still eligible to make the playoffs will be trimmed. F.C. Dallas was knocked out this weekend and I would suspect that there will be a few more casualties this weekend. For some fans, the end of the season will just be another stepping stone towards the playoffs and hopefully towards an MLS Cup. For other fans, they will reflect upon missed opportunities in June and July, on injuries, and on player management. But until then if you are an MLS fan you should turn your television and watch the emotions  of October soccer.

Aug 072013

Basle v Tottenham Clint Dempsey second goal2 2928145 300x159 Why Dempsey’s move to Seattle makes sense from a footballing standpoint

The news Friday that Clint Dempsey was close to completing a move to the Seattle Sounders caught everybody off guard.  Ives Galarcep of SBI described it as “the biggest splash by an MLS signing since David Beckham joined the league,” in his article on the transfer.  Much has been written about what it means for MLS and the Seattle Sounders for the current USMNT captain to return to the league while still ostensibly in his prime at 30-years-old.  Likewise, much has also been made of whether this is a good move for Dempsey, considering the fact that the World Cup is less than a year away combined with Jurgen Klinsmann’s desire to see his top players playing at a high level in Europe.

 To the first point, I think few would argue that this is a great move for MLS in terms of increasing the league’s prestige by bringing, with the possible exception of Michael Bradley, the best US soccer player right now back to the league he left seven years ago.  Though Dempsey is only a year younger than Donovan, it also gives MLS a chance to, at least in the short term, find a new face for the league who is not a balding Cambodian monk (only kidding Landycakes).   The move makes sense not only from a marketing standpoint, but it also demonstrates that MLS is making significant strides in improving the standard of play.  A few years ago, Dempsey probably would not have considered a return to MLS until later in his career, now it is a viable option for him.

Signing Dempsey was also a good move for the Seattle Sounders.  As reported by NBC sports, they clearly have the money and the willingness to spend it to be able to pay the $9 million transfer fee and $32 million in wages over the next four years, after they restructured Shalrie Joseph’s contract to free up a designated player slot.  Dempsey is exactly the sort of player the Seattle have seemed to have been missing this season, a dynamic player who can link midfield and attack who also has the ability to create something for himself.  Sounders fans have been crying out for a big signing to help the team get over their playoff hump and make a serious challenge for MLS cup after DP’s like Freddie Ljungberg and Blaise Nkufo failed to set the league alight.  Dempsey fits the bill and should be able to help the team climb up the standings in the West to set up a run in the playoffs.

With Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins already on the books in Seattle, there is some question as to where Dempsey fits into Sigi Schmid’s tactical setup.  Will one of the aforementioned players be sacrificed to allow Dempsey to play as a second striker, will he play in behind the two forwards in a midfield diamond with Osvaldo Alonso behind to provide defensive cover, or will the Sounders adapt a 4-2-3-1 formation with Johnson pushed out to the left in a role he has played for the national team, Dempsey in the middle, Rosales on the right, and Martins up top?

The possibilities are intriguing.  While there could be an issue if Sigi feels compelled to play all of his ‘marquee’ players at the same time, he is too experienced of a coach to make such a mistake and he has already shown his willingness to bench Johnson, Martins, or Rosales in favor of a player in good form such as Lamar Neagle at times this season.  Thankfully for Seattle, they have got a hardworking and versatile player in Clint Dempsey (he played seven different positions for Tottenham last season according to and, provided he does not fall curse to the Sounder’s injury curse this season, he should be a huge success at Century Link stadium.

Now, to the most controversial part of the move in the eyes of many fans: was joining Seattle a good move for Dempsey?  As Roger Bennett writes on, many US fans have an inferiority complex when it comes to the league in their own backyard, MLS.  Go to any preseason friendly featuring an MLS and European club and you are likely to see far more Real Madrid, Manchester United, or Barcelona jerseys than those of the local side.  Likewise, if you see a couple people playing a game of Fifa, chances are they are replicating El Clasico, not the ‘Superclasico’ between the Galaxy and Chivas. The fact is MLS’s biggest competitors are no longer the NFL, NBA, or MLB, but the Premier League, La Liga, or even the Mexican top flight.  There is a deep-seated perception among many fans that the quality of play in MLS is miles behind most every European league.

This can be seen in the differing perspectives many fans have of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan; Dempsey is viewed as a success for playing in Europe for a lower to middle half of the table club in Fulham before spending a season with Tottenham where he never established himself as a regular starter, while Donovan is viewed as a flop for his time in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen and is perceived as being soft for never wanted to make the move to Europe on a permanent basis after his loan spells with Bayern Munich and Everton.  From this perspective, Dempsey is making a huge mistake by returning to MLS.

However, there is amble evidence that moving to MLS is not necessarily the massive step down in the level of competition many seem to think it is.  MLS clearly is not yet on the same level as the Premier League, but the starting XI of a top club like the LA Galaxy would not find themselves out matched in a one-off game against a bottom half of the table side like Aston Villa (the type of club Dempsey would have had to go to in order to find regular playing time), though obviously the financial constraints of MLS would mean that in a full season, the lack of depth in their roster would see them struggle to compete consistently.

Whatever the Premier League’s merits, there were consistent rumors that even if he was not actually transfer listed, Dempsey was not in Andre Villas Boas’s plans and the fact of the matter is that other clubs were not exactly queuing up to sign Dempsey.  Yes, he is a quality, proven player, but at 30-years-old, he has little to no resale value and most clubs would rather try to develop a younger player themselves than rely on a veteran who is talented, but not talented to the level where age becomes irrelevant.

Therefore, does it make more sense for Dempsey to stay on at Spurs where he may be used as an impact sub by AVB, or go to a club where he will be a franchise player guaranteed to start barring injury?  Clearly, playing in MLS has not hurt a player like Landon Donovan, who has been a regular for the USMNT for a decade despite never plying his trade in Europe on a permanent basis.   Likewise, players like Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Graham Zusi, Eddie Johnson, and now Clarence Goodson have all started for the full national team in recent qualifiers while in MLS, while the likes of Joe Corona and Damarcus Beasley have also featured while playing their football in North America.

American player plying their trade domestically also benefit in a way from MLS’s schedule, with the winter break allowing them time to recover physically and mentally before heading to the World Cup in midseason form.  Alternatively, Dempsey could also head back to England on loan to keep his match fitness up during this time.  Dempsey will still be under plenty of pressure to perform at a high level, perhaps more now that he is on big money at one of the most demanding fan bases in MLS, who boast an attendance of 4620 more than the number of fans who attended White Hart Lane on an average match day according to  Will Dempsey fulfill his dream of playing in the Champions League by moving to Seattle?  No, unless of course the Sounders quality for the CONCACAF variety for the coming season.

But at the end of the day, this was never going to happen unless perhaps Dempsey was willing to move to big side in one of Europe’s smaller leagues.  By moving to Seattle, Dempsey will be in a role similar to the one he will occupy with the national team next summer in Brazil; not a bit part player, but the team leader, who will be expected to perform every time he steps onto the pitch.  Playing in MLS is a smart move for Dempsey because it gives him the security of playing time he simply would not have received at Tottenham.

Bonus: Did Dempsey foreshadow his move to Seattle a couple of months ago?

Aug 052013

With all due respect to Clint Dempsey, his move to the Seattle Sounders is not even in the top 3 of this list…

Gonzalo Higuain

The Argentinian striker has moved from Real Madrid to Napoli in Serie A where he will be expected to replace the void left up front by the departure of Edinson Cavani.

Raul Albiol

And speaking of Real Madrid players joining Napoli, the veteran Spanish defender joins Higuain and signs a four year deal.

Roberto Soldado

The prolific Valencia striker has completed a (reported) €30 million ($39.7 million) move to Tottenham Hotspur after weeks of speculation and negotiations.

Diego Lugano

The veteran Uruguayan center back has completed a two year move from Paris-Saint Germain to West Bromwich Albion.

Kevin Gameiro

The French striker leaves his native Paris-Saint Germain and signs a five year deal with Sevilla in La Liga.

Morgan de Sanctis

The former Napoli goalkeeper has completed a two year move to AS Roma for a reported fee of just €500,000 ($662,000) where he will replace the recently sold Maarten Stekelenburg.

Loic Remy

The QPR striker joins Newcastle on a season long loan after arriving in the EPL back in January.

Gary Hooper

The former Celtic striker completed a three year to move to Norwich City after much speculation about whether or not he would stay in Scotland.

Yannick Sagbo

The Ivory Coast international departs Evian (France) and joins newly promoted Hull City and signs a two year deal for a reported fee of £3 million ($4.6 million).

Lucas Biglia

The former Anderlecht central midfielder completed a five year move to Serie A’s Lazio.

Joel Campbell

For the third time since being bought by Arsenal three years ago, the Costa Rican striker will go on loan for the season, this time to Olympiakos.

Derk Boerrigter

The Ajax winger has transferred to Celtic where he signed a four year deal with the Scottish giants.

Steven Caulker

The former Spurs defender has completed a four year move to recently promoted Cardiff City.



Aug 052013

130802 clint dempsey lg Ambitious Sounders seal Dempsey deal

Seattle Sounders have pulled off one of the biggest coups in MLS history by persuading Tottenham Hotspur striker Clint Dempsey to sign for them.

Just 12 months ago Spurs, currently 15/8 to finish in the top four this season with Paddy Power, were willing to spend £6million to sign Dempsey from Fulham, but boss Andre Villas-Boas has now decided to discard the 30-year-old, having completed the signing of Roberto Soldado from Valencia.

It’s true that Dempsey endured a difficult 2012-13 campaign at White Hart Lane, but it is still a major shock to see an established USA international who is in the prime of his career, opt to leave the Premier League and move to the MLS.

Dempsey spent more than five years with Fulham, finding the net 50 times in 184 Premier League appearances for the Cottagers before snubbing Liverpool’s advances last summer and moving to north London. His old club Fulham have sometimes struggled for firepower since, and are now outsiders in the football betting odds to finish in the top six come next May.

However, he struggled to settle at Spurs and managed only seven goals in 29 Premier League matches, picking up just five more goals in 14 Cup appearances.

The Seattle Sounders have evolved into the best-supported team in MLS since playing their inaugural match in March 2009.

They are averaging 40,000 fans a game, approximately 50 per cent more than the next best supported side, the LA Galaxy.

They signed the former Newcastle United striker Obafemi Martins earlier this year from Levante and the Nigerian striker has been a great success in Seattle, scoring seven times in just 14 appearances for the Sounders.

Dempsey is a proven international and has scored 16 goals for his country in the last three seasons and returns to his homeland after spending almost seven years in England.

He left the New England Revolution for Fulham in December 2006 in a $4million deal which at the time was the largest amount ever paid for an MLS player.

Jun 182013
timbers dallas 27 300x200 Know Your MLS Teams: Portland Timbers

The Timbers Supporters Showing Their Allegiance in Portland

Founded: 1975. There have been four different incarnations of the Portland Timbers. The first team played in the North American Soccer League from 1975 to 1982. The second team played from 1985 to 1990 in various leagues on the West Coast. The third team played from 2001 to 2010 in the A-League, the USL First Division, and the American Professional Soccer League. The fourth team started play in 2007 Major League Soccer after owner Merritt Paulson bought the rights to the Timbers name.)

Where they Finished Last Season: 7-18-9- Eighth Place in the Western Conference.

Pedigree: 2012 Cascadia Cup Champion, Runners Up Soccer Bowl 1975 (NASL,) 2009 USL Western Division Champions, 2004 A-League Western Division Champions.

Rivals: Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps (Cascadia Cup)

Supporters: The Timbers Army

Head Coach: Caleb Porter (First Season.)

Top Returning Players: GK Donovan Ricketts, DEF Mamadou Danso, MF Diego Chara, DEF/MF Jack Jewsbury, MF Diego Valeri, MF Darlington Nagbe.

Key Additions: DEF Michael Harrington (Sporting Kansas City,) DEF Mikael Silvestre (SV Weder Bremen-Germany,) MF Diego Valeri (Club Atletico Lanus- on loan,) MF Will Johnson (Toronto F.C.,) MF Ben Zemanski (Chivas U.S.A.,) FWD Ryan Johnson (Toronto F.C.,) FWD Frederic Piqiuionne (West Ham United F.C.)

Key Departures: DEF Steve Purdy (Chivas U.S.A.,) DEF Eric Brunner (Houston Dynamo,) DEF Lovel Palmer (Real Salt Lake,) DEF Kosuke Kimura (New York Red Bulls,) MF Eric Alexander (New York Red Bulls,) FWD Mike Fucito (San Jose Earthquakes,) FWD Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock F.C.) FWD Danny Mwanga (Colorado Rapids.)

Young Player to Watch: Darlington Nagbe


What is there not to like about the Portland Timbers? A team with a ravenous fanbase (their average attendance is 20,000 people per game,) and rivalries with the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps that date back to the 1970s the Portland Timbers have helped this league grow immensely in the past three years. In a league that has struggled to make regular season matches noteworthy, anytime you go to a Timber’s match you are in for a show.  The support that the Timbers Army shows to the players, even during the last two seasons, gives hope that American soccer can prosper in this country. Oh, and I am pretty sure Timber Joey, the Portland Timber’s mascot, can beat up any other mascot in professional sports.

No one can take anything away from what the Portland supporters have done off the field. But on the field the club has struggled in its first two years. It would seem that because was already this Portland Timbers structure existed before they entered the league that they were not an expansion team. The problem is that they were an expansion team, and with being an expansion team comes growing pains. Last season was very difficult for the Timbers. The club had the third worst record in the league last season , ahead of the disasters that are Toronto F.C. and Chivas U.S.A. The club also scored only 34 goals last season and allowed 56, which were both third worst in MLS behind the previously mentioned Toronto and Chivas. When your team cannot score and you cannot stop giving up goals, you will not win in any league.

This club may have had its growing pains the past two season, but seems to have gone past them. Unbeaten in their last matches, Portland currently sits in 3rd place in the Western Conference. Credit for this turnaround begins with the hiring of Caleb Porter as their Head Coach. The former coach of the Akron Zips, the U.S. college soccer team that won the 2010 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship, Porter has had a hand in developing some of the best young players in Major League Soccer. This list includes, among others, D.C. United Defender Perry Kitchen, Seattle Sounders Midfielder Steve Zakuani, Forward Darren Mattocks and current Portland Timbers midfielders Ben Zemanski and Darlington Nagbe. Porter may have had some difficulties coaching the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team, losing to El Salvador and missing out on the 2012 Olympics. But he is still one of the top American coaches and may have needed some more experience coaching in MLS before moving to the National Team.

There was also a complete overhaul of their roster starting with their defense. Adding a player like Michael Harrington to a line that includes Pah Modou Kah, Mamadou Danso, and Jack Jewsbury, who alternates between Midfield and Defense has given them some stability and some veteran leadership which they sorely needed last season. So far this season, the club has only allowed 16 goals, which is the third lowest in the Western Conference. While Donovan Ricketts is back in goal, he seems to be in better form than last season. It will benefit the Timbers down the stretch that Jamaica is essentially out of World Cup Qualifying and will probably be looking for a younger keeper other than Ricketts to start.

Though an improved defense is one of the reasons why this team has made many strides in their third season, this team’s strength is still their midfield. I rarely make public pleas to U.S. Men’s National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but this time I will make an exception. Jurgen: please figure out some way to expedite Darlington Nagbe’s Citizenship process because he is the most talented in MLS and probably the United States outside of Michael Bradley. Nagbe is a citizen of Liberia, but has lived in the United States since he was 11. Soccer is in his blood: his father Joe Nagbe was the captain of Liberia and played in Europe for PAOK Thessaloniki F.C. and A.S. Monaco. He is an excellent distributor, can blow past defenders like the wind, and has a knack for make impossible shots look easy. Watch this goal on Saturday against F.C. Dallas and be amazed. He is also the recipient of the 2011 MLS Goal of the Year, which may be one of the best goals I have ever seen.

Whereas Nagbe has always been a talent, it seems that the additions Will Johnson and Diego Valeri have eased the pressure on the 22 year old. Diego Valeri has thrived on the outside passes that he has received from his defenders, forcing crosses into the box for the likes of Will Johnson and Nagbe. Valeri, who is on loan from Lanus in the Argentine First Division, has thrived in his partnership with Jewsbury on the right side. His distribution skills help open the field for the Timbers attack. He also has a knack for the goal, scoring 4 goals in 12 matches this season. Will Johnson has also been a major asset on the attack, scoring five goals this season.

The other player in the midfield worth mentioning is Diego Chara. The little Colombian (he is 5’7’) has one of the prettiest step over moves in the league. The only problem is that he needs to work on his finishing: during the F.C. Dallas match he had at least 3 golden opportunities to score and just could not finish his shots. What makes the Timbers midfield so dangerous is that they have so many weapons going forward, which makes them nearly impossible to defend against.

The one area that has done well so far this season, but could be an issue as the season goes on is at forward. So far this season, they have looked fantastic. They currently lead the league in goals with 25 tallies, 9 of which have come from starting forwards Ryan Johnson (5) and Rodney Wallace (4). With a team of midfielders that love to shoot, it leaves a lot of extra opportunities for their forwards if there are deflections or missed opportunities.

The problem is that it seems that the team is only two forwards deep. Frederic Piquionne is not the solution. While he has been a good influence on the attack by being able to push the ball on the left hand side and cross it into the center of the box, he still has not scored a goal yet this season. At 34, it does not seem like there is much left in him. He has 18 shots this season, but only four on goal and only four assists. He was not much better during his tenure with West Ham United F.C. either. “He wasn’t a success at West Ham,” says ESPN FC writer, host of the always entertaining ESPN F.C. podcast and noted West Ham United supporter Dan Mason.  “He originally signed from Portsmouth, where they suffered two relegations in two seasons. In the Championship he was rarely selected by [West Ham United F.C. coach Sam] Allardyce, who loaned him to Doncaster [Rovers.] He had almost a comic ability to arrive ever so slightly too late, or to only get a featherlight touch on the ball. A poor player.”

While they could replace him with one of their attacking midfielders, I am concerned that may disrupt the flow of their midfield which has been their source of their success this year. One player that may be a solution is by giving more minutes to Jose Adolfo Valencina. He has only played about 60 minutes this season, but I was impressed by his ability to control the ball in the May 18th match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. He was able to trap the ball off of his chest, gain possesion and fire an excellent shot that evened the game up. He may not need to be their starting forward, but he should be an serviceable option off of the bench or for the occasional spot start.

The turnaround this team has had in under a year is phenomenal. It finally seems that the enthusasim that is shown in the stands is met on the pitch by a team that can impose their will on offense, and play lockdown defense. If they can find a decent third striker and avoid any cataclysmic injuries, they will certainly make the playoffs. Beyond that, it could be difficult. Clubs like the Houston Dynamo and the Los Angeles Galaxy have poached teams in the past who fit Portland’s bill. The Timbers success will depend on their veteran midfielders and whether or not Nagbe can continue his breakout season in the playoffs.

Beer of Choice:  Green and Gold Kolsch, Widmer Beer Company

Normally I would not go with a beer that is sponsored by the team  but as a fan of Widmer beers and a supporter of all things Kolsch (Except Grolsch, which is as my brother would say “Gross”) I have to give this beer my full endorsement for all Timbers matches. First, the brewer Abraham Goldman Armstrong actually won a beer making competition that was sponsored by the team.  And the fellow gets to sell it during Timbers? While some teams may sell awful things like giant Bud Lights or Coronas (I am looking at you RFK Stadium,) it is good to see a team that understand what makes soccer great. German beers and chainsaws.

May 182013

images Know Your MLS Team: Seattle Sounders

Club Founded:  1974 (NASL)

Where they Finished Last Season: 15-8-11 Semi-Finalists, Western Conference.

Pedigree: Three-time winners of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (2009, 2010, 2011)

Rivals: Cascadia Cup (Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps;) Heritage Cup- To be decided from the teams who originate from the North American Soccer League (San Jose Earthquakes.)

Supporters Groups: Emerald City Supporters, SoCal Sound, Gorilla FC, North End Faithful

Coach: Sigi Schmid

Top Returning Players: GK Michael Gspurning, MF Mauro Rosales, MF Steve Zakuani, FWD Eddie Johnson.

Key Additions: FWD Obafemi Martins (Levante.) MF Shalrie Jospeh (Chivas USA,) MF Djimi Traore (Marseilles.)

Key Departures: FWD Freddy Montero (Millionaros,) DEF Jeff Parke (Philadelphia Union)


While the Sounders may not be one of the founders of Major League Soccer, their history in American soccer makes them one of its most prestigious. Founded originally in 1974 as expansion club in the North American Soccer League (NASL,) the Sounders have existed in one form or another for close to 40 years. In a country that has largely ignored its soccer history outside of Pele and FIFA World Cup 1994, the Sounders fans have kept this team and its spirit alive playing in leagues like the American Professional Soccer League, United Soccer League, the A-League, and Major League Soccer. With an average attendance of 43,144 the Sounders easily have the largest attendance in MLS. According 2012 attendance figures, the Sounders fans should be considered one of the most respected and well organized groups in the world. But what about the team?

Since the club entered MLS in 2009, the club has never missed the playoffs and has been a perennial contender for the MLS Cup. But they have never won the title and they have never actually been a participant in the MLS Cup. While they are a three time winner of the U.S. Open Cup and are currently in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League, MLS Cup glory is what this team wants.

From a tactical standpoint, the team’s strength stems from the work of Midfielder Mauro Rosales. The diminutive Argentine, who comes from Newell’s Old Boys system in Argentina and has previously played for River Plate and Ajax, is quite an explosive midfielder who is also an excellent crossing midfielder. He has an excellent complement with Brad Evans, who is more of a defensive midfielder. The two are joined by the Democratic Republic of the Congo midfielder Steve Zakuani, an explosive player who is coming back from a terrible leg suffered in 2010. The addition of Djimi Traore, a former Liverpool product, should strengthen their backline immensely. Seattle’s biggest weaknesses was their defense year, and so far Mr, Traore has shown himself to be a very capable left back. I would  like to say that he is an under the radar player, but with his goal in Wednesday’s match Mexican side Tigre it appears that is no longer the case.

The major question that this team has coming into the year is how the duo of  Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson will work together and if either of them can replace the goals that Montero provided for this team. That will be difficult. Montero, who is Seattle’s all-time leading goal scorer with 47 goals, is about as close to a world class player that MLS has ever produced. As a Newcastle fan, my memories of Martins are not good. An immensely talented player, he never seemed like he ever grew up. Sure he would surprise teams with his speed and vertical leap. But when he would play the Arsenal’s, the Manchester United’s, or even a strong defensive team like Stoke City, he would be found out as a player of pure skill and nothing more. Players that solely rely on their talents and never developed the instincts and the strategy that this game requires can play for many years but never do much of anything. Since he left Newcastle in 2009, Martins has played for VFL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, Rubin Kazan of the Russian Football Championship, and Levante of La Liga scoring only 16 goals in 41 matches. While there is certainly a drop off in between the leagues listed and MLS, it will be difficult for him in a league that prides itself on defense and physical play.

Seattle has all of the tools to make a serious run at the MLS Cup this year. They have made some good adjustments along their midfield and their defense, and Gspurning is one of the top young Goalkeepers in the league. But their season will depend on whether or not Martins can adapt to the MLS and if Johnson can work off of his comeback season last year and finally become the player that American fans have thought he would be for the past five years.

Beer of Choice:

Pike XXXXX Stout, Pike Brewing Company. In order to appreciate a Sounders match properly, you need a beer that has a little bit of Seattle in it and enough kick to survive the frigid temperatures of the Bird’s Nest. Pike Brewing’s Stout is essentially a coffee stout with a hint of chocolate and licorice. With an alcohol by volume percent of 7.0% it gives you the heart and caffeine to sing with the Emerald City’s finest supporters.

May 092013

int 130509 Sounders SportingKC hl Sporting KC suffers 1 0 loss to Seattle Sounders FC

The Seattle Sounders FC defeated Sporting Kansas City 1-0 in front of a sold-out crowd on Wednesday night at Sporting Park.A 94th minute goal from Djimi Traore sent the Sounders home with three points.

Kei Kamara made his first appearance for Sporting Kansas City since returning from his loan stint with Norwich City FC and Josh Gardner made his first start as a Sporting Kansas City player.

Sporting Kansas City’s first chance of the match came a mere 15 seconds in when Jacob Peterson dispossessed defender Zach Scott, sped down the left flank and fired a low shot that was saved by goalkeeper Michael Gspurning.

In the 13th minute, Sporting came close on another chance when C.J. Sapong took an attempt from the top of the box that floated just wide of the far post.

Seattle nearly went up a goal in the 20th minute of play when Mario Martinez played in a long ball that Brad Evans just barely clipped over the crossbar with a well-timed header.

Five minutes later, the home side followed up with a chance of their own when U.S. international Graham Zusi boldly struck from 20 yards out but Gspurning made the save.

Seattle were quick to respond in the form of a free kick from Martinez that evaded the wall and was goal-bound, but goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen made a sliding save.

With two minutes remaining in the first half,  Sporting had their final chance of the first half when Ike Opara neatly headed down the ball down to Chance Myers, whose 20-yard volley was blocked by Gspurning.

The second half was relatively quiet until the 80th minute when Myers lofted in a pass headed for Kamara, but it was cleared out. Claudio Bieler settled the deflected ball and shot wide of the far post.

Three minutes later, Kamara, in his first MLS appearance of 2013, took a low shot from deep in the right corner, but Gspurning wasn’t phased and snuffed out the chance.

The match appeared headed for a draw until the fourth minute of stoppage time when Zach Scott’s throw-in fell to Traore, whoseshot sailed past Nielsen from close range.

Sporting Kansas City will return to the road to face Eastern Conference rival the Houston Dynamo at 7 p.m. CT on Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium.

May 072013

Kei+Kamara+Sporting+Kansas+City+v+New+England+d9gNeUss61Dl Sporting KC hosts Seattle Sounders on Wednesday in rematch of 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final

Sporting Kansas City welcomes the Seattle Sounders FC to Sporting Park at 7:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday in a rematch of the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final. The two teams meet for the first time since Sporting Kansas City prevailed in a penalty kick shootout last August at Sporting Park to end the Sounders’ three-year reign as U.S. Open Cup champions.

Sporting Kansas City forward Kei Kamara, the team’s leading goal scorer each of the last three seasons, returned to the club on Monday upon the completion of his loan agreement with Norwich City FC of the Barclays Premier League. He scored one goal in 11 appearances for the Canaries and is expected to be available for selection on Wednesday after training with the team today.

The mid-week match-up comes three days after Sporting Kansas City posted a 4-0 victory over Chivas USA to move into first place in the Eastern Conference. Graham Zusi was named MLS Player of the Week with a goal and game-winning assist in the performance, while Designated Player Claudio Bieler added two goals to move into the League lead with six on the season.

Jimmy Nielsen leads the League with six shutouts, moving atop Sporting KC’s all-time chart with 38 clean sheets in his MLS career. Wednesday’s meeting will feature two of the top goalkeepers in MLS as Nielsen and Seattle’s Michael Gspurning were the only two goalkeepers with goals against averages below 1.00 last season.

Seattle enter the fixture unbeaten in their last four matches in all competition, but at the bottom of the Western Conference standings seven games into their season. Their trip to Sporting Park will be a third straight road match for Sigi Schmid’s squad, who are coming off a 2-2 draw at Philadelphia on Saturday.

Argentinean midfielder Mauro Rosales, the 2011 MLS Newcomer of the Year, contributed a goal and an assist in Seattle’s first multi-goal game of the campaign. Former KC forward Eddie Johnson scored his second goal of the season in the 10th minute en route to extending the team’s unbeaten streak to 34 games when scoring first.

The Sounders will be without forward Lamar Neagle and homegrown defender DeAndre Yedlin on Wednesday due to suspension after both players received red cards in the final 10 minutes of Saturday’s showdown with the Union. The visitors are also managing injuries to Designated Players Shalrie Joseph and Obafemi Martins, as well as former No. 1 overall SuperDraft selection Steve Zakuani. All three players missed the Sounders’ previous match along with two-time MLS All-Star Osvaldo Alonso due to personal reasons.

Schmid, the League’s all-time leader in wins with 195 MLS victories (including playoffs), has used 11 different lineups in the team’s 11 matches in all competition this year.

Sporting Kansas City is winless in their last six MLS matches against Seattle since winning the first-ever meeting between the two sides in 2009. The Sounders hold a 5-1-1 record in the all-time regular season series, including wins in all three MLS games played in Kansas City. In the lone MLS meeting a year ago, Sporting KC and Seattle split the points in a 1-1 draw at CenturyLink Field.