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.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.