Drilling down on: at Portland 1, Colorado 0

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PORTLAND, Ore. – With a swift counter just before halftime, Portland had not only crafted Friday night’s winning goal but also climbed out of last in the West.

Man of the Match: Hanyer Mosquera embodied the cliché “didn’t put a foot wrong.” In open play, he (along with partner David Horst) got the best of Conor Casey, consistently winning physical battles against the Rapids’ striker. On crosses, he was Portland’s most reliable defender  – the main reason the Timbers kept their fourth clean sheet of the season.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Honduran Hendry Thomas made his Rapids debut, pairing with Jeff Larentowicz deep in Oscar Pareja’s midfield. His inclusion allowed Larentowicz to get forward more often, occupying space behind Martin Rivero. It also put somebody in position to try and cover for Tyrone Marshall.
  • Marshall, again starting to the left of Marvell Wynne in central defense (with Drew Moor staying right), had a tough first half, jumping into midfield too quickly, vacating his space in the line. Sometimes Thomas covered for him. Other times it was Wynne. Regardless, Marshall wasn’t winning enough of his challenges to justify his abandoning position.
  • In the 45th minute, Marshall got burned. Darlington Nagbe brought his team into a counter, carrying the ball toward Portland’s final third. The moment he got left back Tyson Wahl to commit, he played a pass in front of right wing Sal Zizzo. In the process, Nagbe had also drawn in Marshall. When Zizzo put his second touch to the edge of the six for Bright Dike, Wynne and goalkeeper Matt Pickens were left in a no-win situation. 1-0, Portland.
  • For Pickens, the goal carried some Morrisettian irony. Throughout the first half, Pickens had done a very good job reading the play in front of him, picking the right time to come off his line to break up the Timbers’ attack. For much of the first half, Colorado held the edge in shots on goal, and not because they were the better side. Pickens was breaking up plays before Portland could get off shots.
  • At the other end, Colorado’s attacks kept breaking down as Portland’s physical center halves, Mosquera and Horst, able to out-muscle the Rapids’ lone striker. Without a partner to play off of, Casey was stranded. Outnumbered, he always turned to find one defender free to take him on.
  • In the second half, Pareja tried to shake it up, first bringing on Omar Cummings (at halftime), then replacing Casey with Andre Akpan. But initially staying with the same formation (playing Cummings out right), Colorado allowed their first half problems to carry over into the second. Eventually Pareja went to two up top, but only shortly before Portland started making their substitutions.
  • Still, Colorado was almost able to equalize late, with a cross from the right giving Cummings a chance to head the Rapids even from five yards out. The ball ended up sailing through the six, Cummings fanning on the potential equalizer.
  • With the loss, the Rapids fell to last in the Western Conference, an ignominious distinction given what the Timbers have gone through this summer.
  • Portland now sits one point back of seventh place Chivas USA. With two games in hand on sixth place Dallas, the Timbers are in position for another late season, morale-boosting surge up the table.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday