Drilling down on: at Portland 1, Sporting Kansas City 0

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Man of the Match: Where there was a whole bunch of good but not a lot great for Portland, Diego Chara may have been the “good-est” of them all. Steady throughout the night and positionally solid in defense, Chara provided a calm presence on the ball at the end of the match as the Timbers killed off Sporting Kansas City’s first loss of the season.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • In truth, neither team was very good, but Portland didn’t have to be. They rode the luck of the first half own goal from Chance Myers to get some desperately needed momentum.
  • The deciding play was a combination of bad luck and poor execution from Kansas City. A duel at midfield saw Matt Besler best Kris Boyd, but as the KC defender went up and headed a ball that unknowingly went to Chara, Boyd peeled off an made a run down the right flank. Chara hit him quickly, Boyd immediately got the ball in, and in the Sporting panic, Julio César collided with Myers, forcing an unfortunately strong finish into Jimmy Nielsen’s goal.
  • The loss ruined Sporting’s perfect record and illustrated just how remarkable it is to string together any long streak. Chalk this up as one of those games that just happens, and in this sport, it happens quite often. Tonight KC drew the short straw.
  • That said, although Kansas City perhaps had the better of play (particularly in the first half), they seemed to have trouble with the quickness of players like Chara, Lovel Palmer, Darlington Nagbe and Mike Chabala. They also didn’t have as much of a physical advantage as they would normally like, given a back line that started Steve Purdy, Hanyer Mosquera and Eric Brunner.
  • The Purdy start was a small surprise and really highlights the Bobby Convey problem. We’ve talked about it before, but Bobby Convey just isn’t fitting in KC’s system. Peter Vermes is square pegging this one. As a result, John Spencer was able to start a 6’4″ right back, sacrificing foot speed for size, knowing that Convey was not going to be much of a threat. On set pieces, as Purdy picked up Kei Kamara, it mattered.
  • That wasn’t the only tinkering coach Spencer did. Palmer started in defensive midfield, with him and Jack Jewsbury given the task of keeping up with Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi. For the most part, it worked. Jewsbury and Palmer didn’t offer any creativity or punch going forward, but they were able to run with Kansas City’s duo – no small feat.
  • Spencer’s tinkering in midfield has cost the team cohesion, though. On a number of counters, the midfield just wasn’t able to read each others’ movements. On one first half break Chara, then playing on the left of midfield, drifted toward the middle, closing the space between him and Nagbe. By the time he hit the Timbers’ dangerman with a pass, there was only five yards between them. Chara had drawn defenders to Nagbe and, after laying off, ran into the passing lane between Nagbe and Boyd. (The duo did seem to work better when Spencer switched them, putting Nagbe on the left.)
  • Portland’s offense wasn’t able to generate many serious chances of their own, and while that is a common refrain from KC opponents this year, it begs the question of whether Nagbe should be playing in midfield or at forward. With Portland’s lack of midfield depth, Spencer may not have options.
  • Two Disciplinary Committee notes. Lovel Palmer made a slightly desperate lunge at Kei Kamara in the first half. He was carded, tempers flared, though I bet the committee won’t all agree the tackle deserves further punishment. Aurelien Collin, however, is likely going to be suspended after he kicked Purdy with full force in the right inner thigh. Ostensibly trying to play a descending ball, it was a ridiculously reckless challenge. You don’t take a full swing when a defender is on your back.
  • Sporting’s hot start is over. They’ll be disappointed with how things played out, but there’s no need for change. Portland, however, need to enjoy this result and get back to work on Monday. They won’t get a gift goal every week.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.