Seattle Sounders v Portland Timbers

Would Mix Diskerud have been worth a Designated Player slot? Merritt Paulson has thoughts

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This isn’t going to come as a shock to anybody who follows me on Twitter, but I’m a big fan of Portland owner Merritt Paulson. Or better put, I’m a big fan of the way he goes about his business (I don’t know the guy personally). Via his always active Twitter account, he’s constantly connected to the Portland faithful, and his honest (sometimes brutally honest) way of interacting with followers provides a refreshing alternative to the sterile no-speak communications departments are hired to churn out.

Organizations are always talking about how to keep The Conversation going (as if “The Conversation” was a lead in to The Closer that TNT was trying to bleed another season out of), but you don’t do that through sunshine and happiness press releases. You do it by being up front and honest, an approach so rare its elicits a mild, unspoken shock from the fan base. That’s why Paulson’s social media presence polarizes, dividing people between those that get it and those nostalgic for fax machines and teletype. it’s not exactly something out of MLS 1.0’s instruction manual.

The Best Soccer Show podcast caught some of Paulson’s brutal honesty yesterday, their ranging interview covering three topics I found particularly interesting:

1. U.S. Soccer will not be playing a Hex match at Jeld-Wen – We suspected it. Paulson confirmed it. Portland has taken a stand on laying temporary sod on top of their FieldTurf surface. U.S. Soccer has taken a stand on giving them a qualifier. CONCACAF may not have a problem with it. USSF does.

I think it’s ridiculous, but I’ve covered that ground before. Lumping all turf fields together is like lumping all natural surfaces together. As Paulson concedes in the interview, grass would be preferable, but is that enough to take Jeld-Wen off the list entirely? As Dan Gargan implied, perhaps it is, but when turf antagonists Thierry Henry and David Beckham have no problem with Portland (as Paulson details in the interview), maybe others should re-think their stances, too?

2. Cascadia Cup controversy – Paulson didn’t comment on it directly. He said he’d been asked not to, but he did predict the lingering dispute between Major League Soccer and Pacific Northwest supporters groups will be resolved amicably. Breaking out my Official Read Between the MLS Lines Handbook, it sounds like the league is committed to working with, not stonewalling, supporters.

3. Timbers, league weren’t sold on Diskerud as a Designated Player – This was by far the most interesting tidbit from the interview. When asked why Portland’s negotiations with U.S. international Mix Diskerud broke down, Paulson said the deal that fell apart at the last-minute wasn’t completed because Diskerud would have had to be made a Designated Player.

That shouldn’t be a surprise given Diskerud’s earning potential in Europe. What’s surprising is Portland seemed to be close to getting the 22-year-old on a non-Designated Player deal. However, when the price went into the special compensation range, not only did Portland and the Major League Soccer home office have problems with the pact, it forced the Timbers to choose: Diskerud or Diego Valeri? And we know how they chose.

I’m not sure I would have made the same choice. Let’s take it as a given Valeri’s a better player. Portland knows more about that comparison than we do, and we should take their word on it until well after March 2. There is still a certain caché to being the first to lure a young American back from Europe. I wouldn’t have been able to resist.

Again reading between the lines, it sounds like Diskerud was interested in playing for Caleb Porter, was willing to leave some of his European money on the table, but ultimately he wasn’t willing to make the kind of concessions necessary to fit into Portland’s plans.

It’s an understandable decision on both parts. Diskerud pursued an option that didn’t quite pan out, while Portland wasn’t ready to draw up a new game plan. But from the point of view from a soccer-loving Statesider, it’s hard not to feel like something slipped through our fingers.

Here’s the whole interview:

Report: Chelsea making first waves in $88m Bernardo chase

MONACO - NOVEMBER 22:  Bernardo Silva of Monaco  during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Monaco FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC  at Louis II Stadium on November 22, 2016 in Monaco, .  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Monaco has slapped a massive price tag on Bernardo Silva, and The Times says that isn’t stopping Chelsea.

Antonio Conte is trying to land the 22-year-old Portuguese attacker according to the report, which says that the Blues are already chatting up the Ligue 1 outfit.

[ MORE: Wenger’s Sutton pitch worry ]

Silva has six goals and seven assists in France’s top flight this season, adding another three in the UEFA Champions League. He did not appear at EURO 2016 thanks to a hamstring injury, as Portugal won the Henri Delaunay Trophy.

Chelsea is ready to spend $88 million on the right winger, who can also play in a attacking center mid role. From The Times:

Monaco would like to secure a minimum of €80m (£68.4m) for Bernardo, who is comfortable operating on either the left or right wing or as a number 10. With Barcelona, Real Madrid and both Manchester clubs also expressing their interest Monaco, who play Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday, believe a money-spinning auction may develop.

Transfer prices can be hard to predict, but is Silva the sort of talent that will tempt nine figures? We’ve been surprised before, and at his age it’s possible, but color us skeptical.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”