Ryan Johnson

Two Ryan Johnson goals give Timbers first win of Caleb Porter era

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PORTLAND, Ore. — One week after their worst performance of the season, Portland broke through for the first win of the Caleb Porter era, getting two second half goals from Ryan Johnson to hand the visiting Houston Dynamo a 2-0 loss.

In the process, Portland showed a threat they never had to exhibit to show through Porter’s first four games. When Johnson redirected a 55th cross from Diego Chara past Tally Hall, the Timbers had their first lead of the season, surprising given the team came into Saturday’s match with seven goals. Once they were ahead, the Timbers were able to take advantage of a side chasing the game, eventually countering their way to a two-goal lead.

It was that sparked the effort out of halftime, a turnover of his making creating a gilt-edged chance for Darlington Nagbe early in the half. Moments later, Chara’s run behind Corey Ashe set up the opening goal. Rodney Wallace then blasted a 20-yard shot off the crossbar and right post before Portland finally bought their insurance.

In the 73rd minute, Nagbe forced a turnover just inside Portland half before getting a return ball from Kalif Alhassan. Laying off into the left of Houston’s area, Nagbe set up Johnson for the game’s final goal.

It was a deserved result for a team that dominated after an even first half. Houston withstood an initial Timber push that opened to game to control the heart of the opening period. Though the Timbers had the better of play before half time, the teams went into intermission goalless in what looked destined to devolve into a war of attrition.

Portland had lost David Horst to a knee injury after 18 minutes. At the 29-minute mark, Diego Valeri left with what appeared to be concussion-like symptoms. For Houston, Giles Barnes picked up a knock through a Mikael Silvestre challenge before halftime, while Corey Ashe appeared to hurt his ankle in the second half.

It was in that second half that Porter turned the match. After Valeri left, Porter initially persisted with a 4-2-3-1 formation that used Nagbe in the playmaker’s role. But the young attacker appeared lost, unable to establish the fluidity Valeri promotes. In the second half, Porter moved Nagbe into a more natural supporting striker’s role, shifting his formation to a 4-4-2.

The move created space behind the forwards, an area Chara dominated from the onset of the second. Jumping from deep midfield to win balls coming out of Houston’s end, Chara transformed Portland’s attack from reliant on traditional buildup to menacing through counters. His run behind Ashe created the first goal in the 55th minute, while another Portland counter put the match away in the 73rd.

For Houston, the match had to feel like a typical, everything against us road game – the type of circumstance that happens two or three times over the course of the season. They were without Will Bruin, and in the days before the match, Boniek Garcia was also ruled out. Under a persistent Portland rain shower, Jeld-Wen’s FieldTurf was slicker than BBVA Compass Stadium’s could ever play. Even the first goal held hints of bad luck, hitting off a sprawling Tally Hall before eventually dropping over the line.

But that point of view overlooks a Timber performance that finally lived up to the hype. The Timbers held 62 percent of the match’s possession and put six shots on goal to Houston’s two. The second half was basically one-way traffic.

It was the breakthrough the Timbers had hoped for last week in Colorado, but with the team finally in the win column, Portland’s first month’s struggles will gain a new perspective. They’ve got their first win under Porter.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.