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.

STREAM: CONCACAF tripleheader concludes with USMNT

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CONCACAF’s bottom three sides in the Hex standings look to make the table incredibly tight as World Cup qualifying finds three-straight matches on the docket beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.

Honduras vs. Costa Rica

Los Catrachos were creamed 6-0 by the U.S. on Friday, and return home hoping a wounded Costa Rica remains vulnerable. Honduras is dead last on goal differential, but three points would be huge and put them level with Los Ticos. Costa Rica won its first two matches before falling to Mexico on Friday.

Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico

El Tri has two wins and a draw from their first three Hex matches, and will be without Rafa Marquez on Tuesday. A win guarantees Mexico the top spot heading into the next round of matches in June. The Soca Warriors surprised some with their 1-0 win over visiting Panama on Tuesday. Mexico is a different class.

Panama vs. USMNT

Despite its miserable start, the U.S. can find itself as high as second with a win and help from Honduras. The injuries remain plenty for the Yanks, who are without Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, Sebastian Lletget, and John Brooks. Panama has allowed just a single goal through three Hex matches, but also has only managed one.

AFC and Oceania wrap: Iran, New Zealand take next steps

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With CONMEBOL and CONCACAF serving as the main course later Tuesday, the morning and afternoon saw big World Cup qualifiers on the other side of the world.

[ MORE: Three keys for USA v Panama ] 

Asian qualifying

Iran is on the verge of qualification for Russia 2018 after Persepolis star Mehdi Taremi bagged his ninth international goal in a 1-0 home win over China.

Iran leads Group A by four points, but second-place South Korea and third-place Uzbekistan kept pace with 1-0 home wins of their own. Hong Jeong-ho scored in South Korea’s win over Syria, while Odil Ahmendov’s 65th minute free kick was enough to push Uzbekistan past Qatar.

The goalkeeping was… less than ideal.

Over in Group B, shutouts were the name of the game for high-powered hosts as well.

Japan stayed atop the group with a 4-0 win over Thailand, as a trio of players with Premier League experience — Maya Yoshida, Shinji Kagawa, and Shinji Okazaki — joined Gent’s Yuya Kubo on the scoreboard.

Saudi Arabia is level with Japan on points thanks to Yahya Al-Shehri’s post-halftime goal in a 1-0 win over Iraq, while Australia saw off United Arab Emirates thanks to goals from Burton Albion’s Jackson Irvine and Ingolstadt’s Mathew Leckie.

That leaves Australia three points behind Saudi Arabia and Japan in the race for two of three automatic spots. The Socceroos hosts the Green Falcons in June before an August trip to Saitama in a pair of matches which will decide who goes directly to Russia and who has to win a pair of playoffs: One against the Group A’s third-place team and another against CONCACAF’s fourth place side.

Oceania qualifying

New Zealand took the next step in collecting Oceania’s berth in the intercontinental playoff with a 2-0 win over Fiji in Wellington. PEC Zwolle winger Ryan Thomas bagged a brace for the All Whites.

New Zealand will next face either Tahiti, Solomon Islands, or Papua New Guinea over two legs in late August and early September for the right to battle the fifth place CONMEBOL team for a World Cup berth. That could be Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, or even Colombia.

Tahiti hosts Papua New Guinea at 1 a.m. EDT Wednesday, and will be the odds-on favorite to face New Zealand with a win.

After further tests, Lletget to miss 4-6 months

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So much for initial reports.

Less than 24 hours after the LA Galaxy announced that Sebastian Lletget had come through his injury on USMNT duty with no structural damage, a specialist found something worse.

Lletget has a Lisfranc injury and requires surgery, meaning the Galaxy and the U.S. will be without the midfielder for four to six months.

[ MORE: Spurs eager for U.S. return ]

Lletget, 24, spent a half-decade with West Ham but couldn’t break into the squad before returning to the U.S. last summer. He became a mainstay for the Galaxy, earning a call-up to the national team.

He scored his first USMNT goal on Friday to open the World Cup qualifier against Honduras, but was injured after a hard sliding tackle from Ever Alvarado.

Galaxy has depth beyond Lletget and Jermaine Jones, with Rafael Garcia, Joao Pedro, and Baggio Husidic able to fill a similar role, but this one stings for the Galaxy. Get well, Sebastian.

Scouting report: Everton target Orlando’s Cyle Larin

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Reports have been suggesting the Orlando City’s star striker Cyle Larin is attracting some serious interest from Premier League side Everton.

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Larin, 21, has started the MLS season off in red-hot form and the report suggests the Toffees have bid $4 million for his talents. They’ll likely have to up that offer for the Canadian national team star.

What is Larin all about?

With Romelu Lukaku seeming to be heading towards the exit door this summer as his contract saga rumbles on, it’s not outlandish to state that Larin has a very similar style to the prolific Belgian international. Of course, he has yet to test himself in the PL and Lukaku’s boots would be a big pair to fill if Larin did arrive at Goodison Park as some kind of replacement in the coming months, yet when you watch Larin play there are so many similarities between the pair.

Ronald Koeman is always eager to give youth a chance and with Tom Davies, Ademola Lookman and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all getting regular minutes this season, so Larin would get chances to impress if he ended up on Merseyside.

Here are some key stats Toffees fans will want to know too:

  • 17 – Number of goals Larin scored in his debut MLS season, the most-ever by a Rookie
  • Larin has scored all three of Orlando’s goals so far in the 2017 MLS season
  • He has scored 39 goals in 68 appearances for Orlando since arriving in 2015
  • For Canada, he has five goals in 19 appearances after making his debut as a teenager
  • Larin became the first-ever Canadian to be selected as the first overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft when he joined Orlando in 2015

Click play on the video above to see Larin’s best moments so far in MLS, as he continues his impressive development.