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.

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.

Espanyol fires former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Espanyol says it has fired manager Quique Sanchez Flores with the club slumping in the Spanish league and in danger of facing a relegation fight to end the season.

Espanyol announced the decision on Friday, adding sports director Jordi Lardin has also been let go.

Sanchez Flores, a former manager of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Watford, among other clubs, coached the Barcelona-based club for the past two seasons.

Reserve team coach David Gallego will take over for the remaining five rounds of the season, starting with a visit to Girona on Sunday.

Espanyol hasn’t scored a goal in five matches, and has only two wins in the last 15 rounds. It is in 16th place, nine points from the drop.

Brooks yanked after 29 minutes on return from injury

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USMNT defender John Brooks, whose season has been largely ruined by injuries, made his first start since mid-December after finally returning from a knee injury. It didn’t last long – just 29 minutes.

It doesn’t appear to be injury related, however.

After earning a yellow card just 13 minutes in, Brooks was yanked by new Wolfsburg manager Bruno Labbadia in the 29th minute with the club down 1-0 on the road at Borussia Monchengladbach. Brooks was furious as he came off the pitch, and reports from Germany seem to suggest that his substitution was a tactical decision rather than injury-related.

Brooks has made just eight Bundesliga appearances this season, starting the campaign on the shelf with a thigh injury before his knee problem kept him off the field almost four months through the winter and into the spring.

After his withdrawal, Wolfsburg conceded two more goals before halftime as Monchengladbach grabbed a 3-0 lead via goals from Raffael and Christoph Kramer, with Lars Stindl having already given them a lead eight minutes in.

It’s understandable why Labbadia would be cautious with his more aggressive players. Wolfsburg is in danger of the drop, level with Mainz and Freiburg on 30 points with one of them almost assuredly to finish in the relegation playoff position. Still, it’s an unfortunate turn of events for Brooks after finally making his way back to the field, and he was visibly angry as he came off the pitch.

FA Cup semifinal preview: Can Mourinho win Man United another title?

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It’s been a season of highs and lows for Jose Mourinho, but he could put Manchester United on the precipice of another title this Saturday.

The FA Cup semifinals resume this weekend at Wembley Stadium, with Manchester United facing off against Tottenham and Chelsea battling Swansea. It’s a pair of great matchups with plenty of enticing storylines to watch ahead of and during the games.

[MORE: All our coverage of Arsene Wenger’s decision to step down]

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Jose Mourinho lost a lot of the good-will earned after Man United’s win over Manchester City as his side capitulated in a 1-0 defeat to last-place West Bromwich Albion.

Now, with a week to stew on that result, Mourinho is just two games away from raising another piece of silverware for Man United, though it won’t exactly be the trophy the fans were hoping for. At the same time, Tottenham, a team on the up and up, would love to win the FA Cup and take control fully of North London from rivals Arsenal. A trip to the final for Tottenham would be the next step in the club’s climb to greatness.

Chelsea vs. Southampton— 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday

It’s been a disappointing season for both clubs, but on different levels. Chelsea, the defending league champions, has struggled most of the season to consistently score goals and will likely finish outside of Europe – unless they make the final of the FA Cup. So there’s a lot riding on the line for Chelsea heading into Sunday’s match.

For Southampton, with Mark Hughes now in charge, it’s almost a throw-away game. If they win, they could be the first team since Wigan to be relegated and qualify for European football the next season, but it could also be a game in which the beleaguered squad could gain some confidence, beating one of the big clubs in England.