Circling back on Kris Boyd’s place under Caleb Porter

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Despite missing eight games last season, Kris Boyd was the Portland Timbers’ leading scorer, albeit with a modest seven goals. And while that status is augmented his place as the club’s highest paid player, the former Rangers star finds himself out of his team’s plans before his first training session with new head coach Caleb Porter, the situation creating a quandary for both player and club.

At least, that’s the situation the sides find themselves in after a surprisingly blunt assessment during Porter’s introductory press conference.

The 29-year-old striker was signed as a Designated Player during last year’s preseason, his $1.5 million total compensation dwarfing the salaries of a team whose next-highest 2012 earner made $356,250 (Danny Mwanga). For that, the Timbers expected a player who would be among the league’s leading scorers. Instead, they got a striker who failed to have a consistent impact on games, head coach John Spencer unable to forge a connection between his countryman and Darlington Nagbe.

By the time Gavin Wilkinson stepped in for Spencer at the beginning of July, Boyd was losing his place in the team. Bright Dike started seeing the bulk of time as the Timbers started auditions for Porter’ eventual arrival.

With their formation shifting from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, Boyd no longer fit. He finished the year injured and out of the team.

In that respect, it’s not surprising Boyd doesn’t seem to be in Porter’s plans. What is surprising is the nature in which the news was revealed.

During his Tuesday introduction, the tone seemed to change when a reporter asked about Boyd. Porter paused, seemed to consider how blunt he wanted to be, and then offered a euphemism before laying the truth bare, providing a startlingly frank assessment that gave the room pause.

Here’s the full question and response:

Q: Coach, can you tell me how Kris Boyd fits into your plans?

A: Kris Boyd is obviously contracted to be a member of the Portland Timbers. But what I will say is after watching him play quite a bit — and I have watched this team play quite a bit — Kris Boyd is a player that I think will have a hard time playing the way that we want to play.

That’s no knock on Kris. He would fit in a lot of different systems, but with what I want out of my strikers, it’s going to be very difficult for him to offer what I’m looking for in that position.

At the same time, if he comes back and proves that he can offer those things, then certainly he’ll be given the chance to play like anybody else. But based on what I’ve seen, based on certainly what he’s shown as a player, it’s going to be difficult for him to fit in.

Later, Porter was asked to describe what he looks for from his strikers:

Q: What do you need out of your striker?

A: I like … (my strikers) to score goals.

Q: But there are things that lead to that, obviously.

A: Yes. The striker, to me, is more than that, actually – than (just) scoring goals. They need to fit into the team. They need to be the first line of pressure when we’re defending. They need to be obviously a guy that can also be a linking player when we’re playing through them. They help with our connection with the midfielders in combination play. They need to be a guy first and foremost who’s threatening to the back line.

Ultimately, I prefer a bit more pace-y, athletic, powerful, presence in the striker position. But ultimately, they need to score goals, too.

I’m of two minds about how this went down. There’s no doubt Boyd doesn’t fit in Portland. He didn’t fit under Spencer or Wilkinson, and he’s even less likely to fit under Porter. He hasn’t contributed anything beyond his modest goal total, has none of the qualities Porter wants in a striker, and seemed an inferior option to Dike, a player who spent part of the summer in USL Pro. Boyd just wasn’t very good, and with one of Major League Soccer’s few million dollar salaries, he’s practically untradeable.

Still, there is an element of message-sending to Porter’s response that’s disconcerting. An introductory press conference seems a poor venue for singling out spare parts, particularly considering Porter has yet to meet or train with his full team. The coach said he has been in touch with almost all of his players, but he’s still a week away from his first practice.

source: Getty ImagesThis hugely expensive asset, this player that’s “contracted to be a member of the Portland Timbers” – Porter hasn’t evaluated him in person, yet. While Portland’s new coach eventually said Boyd will have a chance to impress him, the comment seemed more a concession than legitimate opportunity.

But judging Boyd is not the problem here. Porter has also passed judgments on Will Johnson, Michael Harrington, Ryan Johnson, and Diego Valeri – the new Timbers who will to help where Boyd could not. Nobody can begrudge a coach’s right to evaluate somebody outside of practice, regardless of whether those evaluations are positive or negative.

How that judgment was delivered is the problem. Whether he was effective or not, Boyd put forth effort for the Timbers last year. Even at the end of the season, when he’d been out of the team for some time, Boyd was reportedly willing to come back an help the team play out a string of inconsequential games. That willingness may seem obligatory given his lucrative contract, but the attitude underscored Boyd’s commitment.

In time, we may see this kind of honesty as one of Caleb Porter’s virtues. Perhaps he is intent on being open and forthright while trusting us to process the information correctly.

Even by that standard, there was still something strange about how Porter’s comments. He made it very clear the Timbers organization wants to move on from their expensive mistake. While that’s an understandable position, an introductory press conference may not have been the right platform for that message.

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.