MLS

MLS: Sounders start season with a bang, Dynamo edge Earthquakes

By Sports Desk April 16, 2021

Raul Ruidiaz netted a brace and Joao Paulo scored a stunning goal as Seattle Sounders started their 2021 MLS season with a 4-0 drubbing of Minnesota United.

Ruidiaz scored twice in the second half after Joao Paulo's memorable opener to give last season's runners-up Seattle the perfect start on opening day.

The Sounders – beaten by Columbus Crew in the 2020 MLS Cup final – hit the front four minutes into the second half, Joao Paulo cushioning a cleared cross with one touch before rifling a thunderous volley into the top corner on Friday.

Ruidiaz entered the new season on the back of 12 MLS goals last term. According to Stats Perform, his 0.76 goals per 90 minutes led the league in 2020. When the Peruvian star was on the field, the Sounders scored two goals per 90 – besting their average of 1.5 goals per 90 when he was not last year.

A dominant force in the Western Conference since Brian Schmetzer succeeded legendary former boss Sigi Schmid in 2016, the Sounders doubled the lead with 20 minutes remaining when Will Bruin teed up Ruidiaz.

Ruidiaz made it 3-0 three minutes later after Cristian Roldan turned provider before Fredy Montero completed the rout four minutes from time at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, where the Sounders had an expected goals (xG) difference of 20.9 last season, well clear of next-best team Los Angeles FC (12.0)

In the only other match on Friday, Houston Dynamo edged San Jose Earthquakes 2-1.

Houston built a two-goal buffer by the 55th minute thanks to Memo Rodriguez and Maximiliano Urruti.

A stunning 74th-minute strike from San Jose substitute Paul Marie set up a tense finish, but the Dynamo held on for maximum points.

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    Veteran striker Derbyshire seized upon a slack pass to dink home a cheeky finish in the fourth minute – the earliest goal by any Macarthur player in the A-League.

    The hosts were indebted to a magnificent point-blank save by Adam Federici from Rudy Gestede that preserved their lead – an advantage that was doubled in the 39th minute when wing-back James Meredith headed home Jake McGing's cross to crown a fine team move.

    Elvis Kamsoba reduced the deficit for second-bottom Victory after substitute Lleyton Brooks sprung the offside trap and his shot came back off the post.

    But Derbyshire was played in by Michael Ruhs to coolly slot home his 13th goal of the season, strengthening Macarthur's grip on a finals berth and moving them nine points behind runaway leaders Melbourne City.

  • Eder willing Lille and Fonte on to 'huge' Ligue 1 title triumph Eder willing Lille and Fonte on to 'huge' Ligue 1 title triumph

    Lille winning Ligue 1 would be "something huge for French football" according to their former striker Eder.

    Christophe Galtier's side could be crowned champions on Sunday when they host Saint-Etienne, if their result in that match betters Paris Saint-Germain's efforts against Reims.

    Even if the race goes to the final weekend, a three-point lead with two games to play and the title race being in Lille's hands represents a phenomenal achievement.

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    "I think it's amazing for the championship because a lot of people have been saying that the French championship is PSG and no others," he told Stats Perform.

    "I think that a lot of people, a lot of teams this year have been proving that they are there to compete with PSG, like Lyon and Monaco. They are having a great season.

    "Lille have been doing amazingly well and I think that this is going to be something huge for French football."

    Eder represented Lille between 2016 and 2018, a span that took in his undoubted career highlight – a goalscoring turn off the bench to snatch a 1-0 extra time victory for Portugal over hosts France in the final of Euro 2016.

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    "We have groups of chats, and we are always cheering for Jose Fonte," Eder added. "We have our fingers crossed and we hope that he is going to win."

    Fonte has played 35 of Lille's 36 Ligue 1 games this season.

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  • Rudi can't fail - Rudiger's rise from Lampard outcast to Tuchel's defensive rock at Chelsea Rudi can't fail - Rudiger's rise from Lampard outcast to Tuchel's defensive rock at Chelsea

    Antonio Rudiger is no stranger to putting himself in difficult and painful situations for the cause, as evidenced by the defensive lynchpin of Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea revival sporting a protective face mask during matches over recent weeks.

    Nevertheless, even as a player who appears to relish a challenge and refuse to back down from a confrontation, Chelsea playing behind closed doors might have done Rudiger a favour earlier in the year.

    The Stamford Bridge faithful, for all the success lapped up during the Roman Abramovich era, are certainly not shy when it comes to voicing their displeasure over an unpopular change in the dugout, of which there have been plenty.

    There was the vocal backing for Roberto Di Matteo weeks after his sacking in 2012. Interim boss Rafael Benitez was the villain in that situation but calling out any perceived culprits among a squad often noted for wielding player power has also marked times of tumult.

    When Jose Mourinho's second spell at Chelsea ended with the then-reigning Premier League champions lurching close to the relegation zone in December 2015, he was backed by plenty of fans amid accusations of player betrayal. One banner in the ground famously branded Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa to be "The 3 Rats".

    Had stadiums been full around the time of Frank Lampard's January demise, it is possible Rudiger would have faced similar scrutiny.

    "There have been so many nonsense rumours around about me since last week," he told The Athletic in February, following speculation that urged the Chelsea board to dispense with Lampard. "I've never talked with the board about the situation of the coach or on any other topics."

    In a separate interview with Sky Sports, Rudiger explained he suffered "immense" racist abuse online after Lampard's sacking, both an indication of the levels of toxicity at play and a deplorable sign of our times.

    It certainly did not feel plausible that, in the space of four months, Rudiger would be arguably the form defender in European football and leading Chelsea's charge under Tuchel for a pair of major honours, starting in Saturday's FA Cup final against Leicester.

    Indeed, the most remarkable element of Rudiger being singled out as a man responsible for so many of the ills at Chelsea around the fall of Lampard was how little he had been involved in the first team.

    He started two of their first 17 Premier League fixtures before being recalled in the wake of a 3-1 defeat by Manchester City to start back-to-back games against Fulham and Leicester – the latter of which was a 2-0 defeat that effectively sealed Lampard's fate.

    Overall, Rudiger made nine appearances in all competitions under the former England midfielder this season, with eight of those starts. His 742 minutes on the pitch were dwarfed by first-choice duo Kurt Zouma (1,999) and Thiago Silva (1,552).

    Tuchel's decision to switch Chelsea into a 3-4-2-1 shape obviously did Rudiger and his fellow centre-backs a favour in the most basic terms of one more slot in the team being available, but the Germany international has repaid his countryman's faith emphatically.

    In 21 appearances since, he has been involved in a remarkable 14 clean sheets. No defender in the Premier League, or elsewhere in Europe's top five leagues for that matter, can boast more in this time.

    The six goals conceded with him on the field is also the lowest across the continent's elite divisions for any defender to have started 15 or more games from January 27 onwards, which was the date of Tuchel's first game in charge – a 0-0 draw with Wolves.

    Rudiger rested up for Wembley in midweek when Chelsea went down to a lacklustre 1-0 home loss to Arsenal. He was an unused substitute for the only other league defeat of Tuchel's tenure, an unhinged 5-2 collapse versus West Brom after Silva was sent off.

    In the 19 Premier League games Rudiger has not started in 2020-21, Chelsea have conceded 26 goals at a rate of 1.4 per game. With the ex-Roma man in the first XI, this plummets to seven in 17 (0.4 per game).

    Those seven goals have arrived over the course of 1,530 minutes on the field, meaning Rudiger has seen a goal conceded every 218.6 minutes. This is the best ratio in the Premier League for any defender to have played 1,000 minutes or more this term, with Manchester City pairing John Stones (194.9) and Ruben Dias (148.1) next on the list – suggesting the Champions League final in two weeks' time could be something of a cagey affair.

    When set alongside his Chelsea central defensive colleagues Zouma, Silva and Andreas Christensen, Rudiger's imposing qualities are evident. He has made 29 tackles in the Premier League this season, an average of 1.7 per 90 minutes, with no other member of the quartet averaging above one.

    His 7.1 duels per 90 is bettered by Zouma (7.6), although both have the same return when it comes to duels won (4.8).

    Of course, Rudiger has starred within a collective recalibration. In the Premier League, Tuchel's Chelsea have faced an average of 7.8 shots per game at an expected goals (xG) value of 0.6, down from 10.1 and 1 under Lampard.

    Adjustments beyond the defence have also made the Blues harder to play against. They control matches far more effectively, with an average of 663.6 passes per game up from 612.7 at a slightly better accuracy (87.7 per cent from 86.3).

    Chelsea are also pressing opponents more effectively, allowing an average of 10.1 passes per defensive action (PPDA) under Tuchel, behind only FA Cup final foes Leicester and Leeds United across the period in question. This season with Lampard in charge, they averaged 11 PPDA, which was fourth among all Premier League teams.

    The improvements have made life a little easier for defenders, but when Chelsea step out at Wembley there will be no mystery over the identity of their standout performer at centre-back – even if he is wearing a mask. Rudiger has lifted himself off the scrapheap to become Tuchel's talisman.

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