Drilling down on: at Portland 0, Columbus 0

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Man of the match: Andy Greunebaum had six saves (including two layouts on Rodney Wallace efforts) and was commanding coming off his line during a particularly tenuous stretch just shy of the 40-minute mark. He continues to be one of the Crew’s bright spots.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • File this one under “For MLS diehards only”. Within the context of each team’s season, there were some interesting story lines playing out. As a stand alone game, Saturday’s offering wasn’t the ideal display of MLS’s product.
  • John Spencer made a number of changes to the starting XI that lost in Montreal, with Jack Jewsbury moving to right back (as Steve Purdy recovers from a concussion). With Rodney Wallace, Frank Songo’o coming in to midfield while Futty Danso (returning to health) was slotted into central defense, the lineup had an experimental feel.
  • Danso impressed on his return, combining with Mike Chabala to lock down the left side (not that Columbus was knocking). Eric Brunner, who dressed but did not play against his former club, may now be the odd man out.
  • Jewsbury was strong when the play was in front of him, but he was obviously rusty positioning himself when not engaging a player in possession. Still, as a pseudo-emergency fill in, he acquitted himself well.
  • One person not changed from last week was Troy Perkins, though he did play with a face mask protecting the nose laceration sufferd last week at the boot of Sanna Nyassi.
  • But all notes about Portland’s defense come with a huge caveat. Although Columbus had an aberrational first half sequence that saw two balls cleared off the line, the Crew offered very little going forward. Emilio Renteria was a non-factor, as was his replacement, Justin Meram. There was no push from the midfield, and with Chad Marshall on the bench, Columbus had now threat from dead balls. Put it all together, and Troy Perkins was only credited with one save on the night.
  • Against a Portland midfield that’s not exactly thought of as the league’s best, Columbus needed somebody to step up. Eddie Gaven, Tony Tchani, and Milovan Mirosevic were all pretty transparent, while Danny O’Rourke may as well have been a defender. There was nothing in this Crew side at said “this team can get the goal.”
  • As the match wore on, a series of like-for-like substitutions implied both coaches felt their sides were going in the right direction. The only meaningful change saw Spencer debut Mike Fucito and drop Darlington Nagbe back to left midfield, though Portland’s approach stayed the same. It was as if neither team was aware wins are worth three, draws are worth one.
  • While both struggling teams got a point, neither should be happy with the result.
    • Portland was just drawn at home by one of the East’s struggling sides, and without Marshall in the lineup, they should have expected a better result.
    • For the Crew, they failed to take advantage of a back line that made three changes from a week ago. Potentially worse, they never seemed too worried about it.
  • Portland now gets a bye while Columbus returns home to face FC Dallas next weekend. Both teams have a lot of work to do before they’re ready to face the rest of the league again.

Celtic’s Griffiths tears into Rangers chairman after “gulf” comments

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Celtic star Leigh Griffiths took the Old Firm bait and promptly swallowed the fisherman.

If you missed it, Rangers chairman Dave King said Celtic should’ve been even further ahead of their rivals given the setbacks handed to Rangers, who finally climbed back to the Scottish Premiership this season.

Celtic went unbeaten, drawing just four of 38 matches and finished 39 points ahead of Rangers on the table.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

If Celtic won all 38, they could’ve finished 47 points clear of Rangers. So, we guess the gulf could be bigger.

Here’s what Griffiths had to say:

“What was the gulf? 30-odd points. How does he expect that to be bigger? They were touting at the start of last season that they were going to win the league and this and that.

Joey Barton was coming up and saying he was going to be the best player in Scotland – he lasted a few months. In the first [Old Firm] game, they got hammered 5-1 and they got hammered 5-1 at the end of the season. So, the gulf couldn’t be any bigger. This season, they’ll be trying to bridge the gap.

“Ultimately it’s about what we do and if we are at our best nobody in Scotland can live with us.”

It was absurd talk from King, who doesn’t need to amp up one of the world’s best rivalries and also doesn’t have a leg to stand on considering the dominant season from the Bhoys. Wow.

San Jose adds Designated Player from Legia Warsaw

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Valeri ‘Vako’ Qazaishvili is the latest MLS Designated Player, as the Georgian will hit the pitch for San Jose this season provided his visa and ITC go through.

Qazaishvili comes from Legia Warsaw after five seasons with Vitesse in the Eredivisie. The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been capped 24 times, and scored in Georgia’s 2-2 draw with Moldova earlier this month in World Cup qualifying.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Equally adept at right or left wing, Qazaishvili posted a goal and two assists for Legia following his transfer from Vitesse. He scored 28 goals and added 13 assists in 121 matches for the Dutch side.

From SJEarthquakes.com:

“We were looking for a player, a younger, offensive player, that really excites the fans and has the possibility to stay with us for a long period of time. That’s what we found with Vako,” said Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli. “We wanted a player that knows how to take on a defender one-on-one, that sees the goal and that also wants to bring a spark to our game.”

San Jose sits seventh in the Western Conference table, and only two teams — Colorado and DC — have scored fewer goals in MLS. Jahmir Hyka and Cordell Cato have been fine, but San Jose needed a better chance creator.

Qazaishvili, in theory, fits the bill. If he has half the impact of fellow Legia export Nemanja Nikolic, San Jose is cooking with gas.

Transfer rumor roundup: Van Dijk to Chelsea, Ox to Anfield

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More and more players are being linked with Manchester United, but — believe it or not — the Red Devils aren’t the only club seeking talent.

DiMarzio is reporting that Antonio Conte is close to securing the services of Southampton center back Virgil Van Dijk, insisting the Dutch back is Conte’s top choice ahead of Juventus power house Leonardo Bonucci (which isn’t to say there isn’t room for both). The price? An eyebrow-raising $77 million.

[ MORE: Confederations Cup scenarios ]

Meanwhile, Conte is selling talented Bertrand Traore outside the Premier League. A solid season on loan at Ajax upped interest in the 21-year-old striker, and L’Equipe says it’s a $22 million move to Lyon for Traore.

How much do you think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is worth? Liverpool may think his value is as high as $32 million, as The Independent reports that Arsenal is prepared to sell the Southampton Academy product to the attacker-heavy Reds.

Meanwhile, Serge Gnabry‘s wild journey looks to have another stop despite a purchase from Bayern Munich this summer. Gnabry was one of Germany’s heroes at the Olympics and left Arsenal for Werder Bremen last summer. He thrived, and earned a deal to Bayern, but Kicker brings quotes from a Hoffenheim player that are hopeful of a loan for this season.

Messi offers to pay $558,000 to avoid 21-month jail sentence

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has offered to pay an additional fine of 500,000 euros ($558,000) to ensure he avoids a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud that a judge is expected to suspend, a Spanish state prosecutor said Friday.

State prosecutor Isabel Lopez Riera told The Associated Press the fine-for-time deal was presented by Messi’s lawyers to the judge who will rule on whether to suspend Messi’s sentence – as is widely expected. Lopez Riera said she has told the judge that her office is not opposed to the deal.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Lopez Riera said Messi’s lawyers have made a similar offer for the Barcelona player’s father, Jorge Horacio Messi. He is offering to pay 360,000 euros ($402,000) to avoid his 15-month sentence for helping his son cheat on his taxes.

In Spain, prison sentences under 24 months for first-time offenders can be suspended by a judge.

The government attorney representing Spain’s Tax Office in the case will also be able to weigh in on the proposed deal. As state prosecutor, Lopez Riera is impartial in the case as a defender of the public interest.

Last year, a court in Barcelona found Messi and his father each guilty of three counts of defrauding tax authorities of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million) from 2007-09. The unpaid taxes were from money made through endorsement deals, not Messi’s salary paid by Barcelona.

Messi was fined 2 million euros and his father 1.5 million euros. Both were originally sentenced to 21 months, but his father’s sentence was later reduced to 15 months.

In the last two weeks, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho have been accused by a Madrid-based state prosecutor of having defrauded Spain’s Tax Office of millions of euros (dollars) in unpaid taxes.

Both have denied wrongdoing.