Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Portland Timbers

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(Through the week we’ll look at three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

Portland failed in 2012, and they know it. From the moment owner Merritt Paulson fired coach John Spencer, he set about making it clear to fans: Last season – a year in which he’d asked for a playoff appearance – was not acceptable. While Portland was only four points out of a playoff spot at the time of Spencer’s departure, the Timbers spent the rest of the season near the bottom of the west preparing for the arrival of Caleb Porter.

Change is already evident in Portland. There’s no air of disappointment lingering from last season. Instead, a new coach and an entirely different approach has restored the optimism. They may not be saying it out loud, but for the second year in a row, the Timbers plan to compete for the postseason.

Here are three (of many) questions they’ll need to answer this winter if they’re going to make waves:

  • Can Porter adapt?

On Tuesday, former Zip Darlington Nagbe was asked if he was having flashbacks to college training. Surprisingly, he said no. All of the drills Portland’s done this week are brand new to the somebody who played under Porter at Akron.

So Porter’s already adjusting. Whether that translates to wins is all that matters, something we won’t know until (at least) March, even if early returns are encouraging. The Timbers are training like a team ready to play to the strengths of Ryan Johnson, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, Will Johnson, and Diego Chara. That fit may ultimately be the magic that justifies Porter’s hype.

  • Is Diego Valeri worth the label?

We’ve seen a lot of Designated Players come and go, most of which haven’t met the expectations that come with the label. We should adjust our views on the high-priced talents, but still, when you hear a team is bringing in a new designated player, you rightfully assume they think very highly of him.

And so we have Portland’s Argentinine import Diego Valeri, a loanee from Lanus brought in to orchestrate the attack. Even on the nights he can’t generate goals, he’s doing to be tasked with managing a possession-based passing game that should take pressure off the defense.

As with Porter, early returns are encouraging, but on an expensive loan deal (and with little pedigree outside of Argentina to recommend him one way or another), fans would be right to reserve judgment. In case you missed it, the last DP didn’t work out so well.

  • Can Darlington Nagbe reach his potential?

We don’t even know where he’ll play, so it’s hard to predict what he’ll do in 2013, but with the acquisition of Valeri, Nagbe looks set to assume a more goal-scoring role. He started in one last season when John Spencer paired him with Kris Boyd up top in a 4-4-2, but when Gavin Wilkinson took over and switched to a 4-3-3, Nagbe had to orchestrate the transition.

While he’s capable of doing that, Nagbe is the Timbers’ best goal scorer. His skill and instincts in the penalty area (along with the acquisition of Valeri) suggest he should be moved back forward. Given the paucity of scoring threats on Portland’s rost, the move’s almost necessary if the Timbers are going to score enough goals.

If the chance produces a much-needed double-digit goal scorer, Portland will have solved their biggest problem.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: Real Salt Lake

Premier League TV, streaming schedule: Week 13

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Week 13 of the Premier League season is almost upon us. The games just keep coming thick and fast.

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The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Friday
3 p.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]

Saturday
10 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Brighton – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Brom – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Stoke City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle Untied vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Chelsea – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
8:30 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
9 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Arsenal – CNBC [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM

Europa League, live: Arsenal, Everton in action

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Two Premier League teams continue their UEFA Europa League journeys on Thursday in very different places.

[ LIVE: Follow Europa League games ]

The Gunners are already through to the Round of 32 and are looking to secure top spot in Group H, while Everton have nothing but pride to play for in Group E with the Toffees already eliminated.

Arsene Wenger will once again play Arsenal’s “B team” for their trip to German outfit FC Koln, while David Unsworth and Everton will aim to beat Italian side Atalanta at Goodison Park so they don’t finish bottom of their group.

Elsewhere some tasty games have been set up as everything is to play for in Group J with Ostersund, Zorya Luhansk, Athletic Bilbao and Hertha Berlin all still able to win the group. The same is possible in Group I with Red Bull Salzburg, Marseille, Konyaspor and Vitoria battling it out.

AC Milan and AEK Athens are battling it out for Group D, while Hoffenheim have their work cut out to make it out of Group C.

Below is a look at the full schedule for Thursday’s games, while you can click on the link above to stay updated on all the action across Europe.


Thursday’s Europa League schedule

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET

Premier League player Power Rankings

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After Week 12 and heading into Week 13, who are the best players in the Premier League following their displays last week?

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Players from Manchester City and Chelsea dominate our rankings, with Arsenal and Liverpool also well represented.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Even
  2. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Even
  3. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – New entry
  4. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Up 3
  5. Paul Pogba (Man United) – New entry
  6. Alvaro Morata (Chelsea) – Up 3
  7. N'Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Down 3
  8. David Silva (Man City) – Down 2
  9. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – Up 4
  10. Callum Wilson (Bournemouth) – New entry
  11. Leroy Sane (Man City) – Down 4
  12. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) – Down 3
  13. Kyle Walker (Man City) – New entry
  14. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool) – New entry
  15. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 3
  16. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) – New entry
  17. Richarlison (Watford) – New entry
  18. Ederson (Man City) – Up 1
  19. Pascal Gross (Brighton) – Up 1
  20. Jack Cork (Burnley) – New entry

Michael Bradley has strong views on Crew’s relocation

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Michael Bradley didn’t hold back when asked about the Columbus Crew potentially being relocated to Austin, Texas, by their owner Anthony Precourt.

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The captain of Toronto FC and the U.S. men’s national team had his every touch booed during TFC’s 0-0 Conference Final first leg draw at Columbus’ Mapfre Stadium on Tuesday and was asked afterwards about the uproar regarding the Crew’s possible relocation to a city over 1,200 miles away.

Bradley, 30, did not sit on the fence.

“Look, on one hand you feel for the small group of loyal supporters that they have who have been here since the beginning, who continue to support the team and come out week after week. On the other hand, you can’t deny the fact that things here have really fallen behind in terms of the atmosphere in the stadium, the quality of the stadium, what it’s like to play here,” Bradley said.

“I don’t know who’s at fault for that… there’s a lot going on, and I get that – and like I said, as an outsider I don’t know what that falls on. But again, the reality is just that as the league has continued to grow and grow – and this is not the only one, but this is one of a few markets that has not kept pace.”

Does Bradley have a point?

Looking at MLS in terms of average attendance over the past seven years since MLS expansion became rampant, Columbus’ highest average attendance was 17,125 in 2016. That was still over 4,000 below the league average, even if you believe attendance stats in MLS are vastly miscalculated in many markets with “tickets sold” included in many attendance figures.

For the 2017 regular season only Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas are drawing smaller crowds, on average, than Columbus’ average of 15,439, and there’s only a few hundred difference between those three clubs.

When you look at the somewhat recent arrivals of Seattle, Portland, Montreal, Vancouver, New York City FC, Orlando City and now Atlanta and Minnesota United into the league, you just can’t compare their strong attendance numbers with Columbus and other MLS ever-present franchises such as Colorado and Dallas.

Bradley, on one level, is spot on. There is a distinct, and obvious, difference from the clubs set up in MLS in 1996 who are still in MLS today and the stadium deals those who entered in MLS 2.0 and 3.0.

Of course, his comments will not sit well with Columbus’ fans who are fighting desperately with the #SaveTheCrew movement to keep their club in Ohio with Precourt, MLS and the City of Columbus no closer to an agreement about plans for a new stadium for the Crew in downtown Columbus.

Above all, this is about more than attendances. Plenty of MLS markets have struggled in the past, or are struggling right now, to attract new fans and many Columbus supporters believe having a new owner who has their heart set on keeping the team in the city and improving the team and situation is the key. It’s hard to blame them for wanting that and not rolling over just because their current owner wants to try something different.

This is a tricky situation to see a “winner” from, with Precourt the only one set to benefit if he successfully relocates the Crew to Austin and they become profitable and big crowds turn up.

The situation is an absolute mess and with reports suggesting only two gates were open for Columbus’ playoff game against Toronto on Tuesday to slow down fans entering the stadium, it is become an embarrassing situation for MLS, especially as it appears they had the agreement in place with Precourt for a potential relocation to Austin when he purchased the Crew in 2013.

Once again, what a mess.