Major League Soccer team previews: PORTLAND TIMBERS

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Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.

No. 5 in the West are the Portland Timbers:

Significant additions and subtractions: It starts with the new head coach, former University of Akron boss Caleb Porter. Some know him for building a collegiate powerhouse in Ohio. Others will remember him from the U.S.’s failed attempt to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Regardless, the 38-year-old has already made over the club. The team’s play is completely transformed from last season.

Part of that makeover is a slew of significant additions, moves that have brought in the likes of Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Ryan Miller, Micheal Harrington, and Ben Zemanski. Attacking midfielder Diego Valeri has lured from Argentina to be the focal point of the attack. Former Manchester United and Arsenal defender Mikael Silvestre now tops the Timbers’ center back depth chart. In all likelihood, only three players who started against Philadelphia to open the 2012 campaign will be in Porter’s starting XI on March 3.

Encouragingly for Portland, there aren’t many significant losses. The most newsworthy: Kris Boyd had his seven-figure deal were bought out in January. The rest of the losses (Frank Songo’o, Eric Alexander) were players who’d have trouble making Porter’s bench.

Strengths: Here’s the rub with Portland: When you go position-by-position, it’s difficult to see anywhere on the field where they have significantly above average talent. It’s up to Porter to take fuse talent with style and create a sum that’s greater than its parts.

So Portland’s advantages will have to be philosophical. They’ll have to be tactical, and they’ll have to be ideological. The team has to transcend their talent.

The players are being tasked with mastering an approach their coach believes will win games. If they respond, the team’s strengths will be their passing, the resulting possessing game, and the movement that enables it.

With Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe, that could lead to goals, but until the games count, it’s just a big, entertaining hypothesis.

Pressure points: Portland had one of the worst defenses in the league last season. This year, it could be worse. David Horst and Hayner Mosquera, last year’s starters in central defense, are injured to start the season. Mikael Silvestre is a 35-year-old dice roll, while Donovan Ricketts has fallen off sharply from the form that led the LA Galaxy to an MLS Cup in 2011.

More concerning than the talent is the style. Porter’s approach is leaving his center halves isolated, exposing his team to counterattacks. In their final preseason game, Portland saw Sweden’s AIK have success playing quick and long directly at the Timbers’ defenders, an approach that led to a number of chances.

For Portland, it was a worrying scouting report to give the opposition eight days before their opener.

source: Getty ImagesDifference maker: As owner Merritt Paulson noted, Portland essentially chose Valeri (right) over Mix Diskerud. So far this preseason, you can see why. The former Lanus attacker has the talent to be one of the better creative presences in the league. If that talent shines through in the regular season, Valeri will not only have justified his Designated Player price but vindicated his club’s decision to pass on Diskerud.

Potential breakout player: Again, it’s Darlington Nagbe. He has elite talent, but he’s yet to produce elite numbers. With the acquisition of Valeri, Nagbe’s free to pursue more goals. If Porter’s team clicks, his assist numbers should see a drastic increase, too.

Bottom line: The players they’ve brought in represent a drastic improvement over last year’s squad, and thus far in preseason, Portland’s attack has reflected this. If their defense comes around, the Timbers could challenge the West’s big four. Otherwise, they’ll fight for fifth and could finish as low as seventh. It all comes down to whether Portland’s center halves can keep up.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Geiger, Marrufo, Villarreal picked as Gold Cup referees

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) Mark Geiger, who three years ago became the first American to referee a knockout stage match at the World Cup, is among 17 referees picked for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Americans Jair Marrufo and Armando Villarreal also were announced Thursday for the 12-nation tournament, which runs from July 7-26 in various U.S. cities.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Geiger, who is from New Jersey, was a referee for France’s 2-0 win over Nigeria in the round of 16.

Three each were picked from Mexico (Roberto Garcia, Fernando Guerrero and Cesar Ramos) and Honduras (Melvin Matamoros, Oscar Moncada and Hector Rodriguez).

Two will come from Costa Rica: Henry Bejarano and Ricardo Montero.

Others picked for the tournament are Joel Aguilar (El Salvador), Drew Fischer (Canada), Walter Lopez (Guatemala), Yadel Martinez (Cuba), John Pitti (Panama) and Kimbell Ward (St. Kitts and Nevis).

Watch Live: Germany, Chile in Confederations Cup showdown

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Alexis Sanchez is back in the Chilean starting lineup for the Confederations Cup’s marquee match-up on Thursday at 2 p.m.ET live on Telemundo Deportes.

Chile faces Germany for the Group B driver’s seat, holding a one goal advantage in goal differential.

[ WATCH LIVE: Cameroon vs. Chile on Telemundo Deportes ]

Germany starts Arsenal’s Shkodran Mustafi and Liverpool’s Emre Can in a young lineup with Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich and Barcelona’s Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.

Report: Manchester United outbidding giants for PSG’s Marquinhos

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Brazilian outlet Globo Esporte says Manchester United has made the best offer to Paris Saint-Germain in a three-team giant battle for Marquinhos.

According to the report, the transfer fight is between United, Juventus, Barcelona, and Real Madrid, though only the first three sides have lodged bids.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Barca’s offer is said to be the lowest, around $50 million, while United is said to be willing to pay a staggering $78 million for the 23-year-old Brazilian.

Marquinhos has made 155 appearances for PSG since joining from Roma in 2013. He’s reliably made 40-plus appearances over the past three seasons, and has 17 caps for Brazil.

A terrific defender who excels in keeping possession, Marquinhos has also played some right back for PSG.

VAR steps in to help Australia draw Cameroon 1-1

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Twenty-one year-old Cameroon midfielder Zambo Anguissa scored a deft late first half goal, but Video Assistant Referee helped Australia to a match-tying penalty kick as both sides stayed alive in the Confederations Cup after a 1-1 draw on Thursday.

Australia captain Mark Milligan scored for Australia in the second group stage match for both teams at the Confederations Cup in Russia on Thursday.

Both teams lost opening matches, and victorious Chile and Germany square off at 2 p.m. ET

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Australia struggled to put any semblance of threat together, and wasted its prime chance just after halftime when Mathew Leckie cued up Tomi Juric only to see the Luzern striker waffle before mailing a harmless chance wide and high.

The Socceroos came close again in the 55th minute, as a Leckie shot was blocked wide of goal. Their forward-thinking allowed some chances for Cameroon, too, as Aboubakar missed wide himself in the 58th minute.

Referee Milorad Mazic used Video Assistant Referee to change a corner kick to a penalty kick in the 60th minute, and Australia captain Milligan buried the spot kick to make it 1-1.Cameroon defender Ernest Mabouka chopped down Alex Gersbach in the box.

Aboubakar had a near post offering blocked wide by Milos Degenek, and the corner came to nothing. Australia had survived.