Will Johnson’s winning free kick and takeaways from Portland’s win over San Jose

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHMV-zPqccc]

PORTLAND, Ore. — The goal above was all the Portland Timbers needed for their second straight win, but there was a lot exposition that came before Will Johnson’s game-winner. With the exception of a small stretch in the middle of the first half, Portland dominated play, racking up 64 percent possession and a 427-185 edge in completed passes. They also forced eight second half fouls, with Ramiro Corrales’s 77th minute takedown of Kalif Alhassan setting Johnson up for his third goal of the season.

It’s the worst spot on the field to give up a free kick. Just beyond the arc is far enough out to allow a player to get a ball up and over the wall. If he can do that, he’ll gets either side of goal to choose from, and if he’s not capable of hitting both sides, a team can put a right- and left-footer over the ball, making it even more problematic for a goalkeeper to place a helpful wall.

source: Getty ImagesWill Johnson (right) isn’t Portland’s normal free kick taker, but with Diego Valeri out, Caleb Porter had a feeling his captain would deliver. “Why don’t you smack a free kick goal today,” Porter texted his captain before Sunday’s game. The extra free kick practice Johnson put in mid-week paid off.

Burying his curler into the left side of Jon Busch’s net, Johnson vaulted his team to third in the Western Conference, Portland collecting the second win of the Caleb Porter era. Along the way, the Timbers continued to quell concerns the defense may not be able to support Porter’s ambitious attack, the Timbers keeping their second straight clean sheet.

Here are the takeaways from Major League Soccer’s weekend finale:

Two straight shutouts for Portland – David Horst is out long-term, and Andrew Jean Baptiste’s abductor injury didn’t improve in time to take his place. That meant Mamadou “Futty” Danso, a long-time Timber who hadn’t started since last October’s trip to Seattle. Picking him over rookie Dylan Tucker-Gagnes, Porter made the right call. A matter match for San Jose’s physical forwards, Danso turned out to be the game’s best defender.

The performance led to Portland’s second straight shutout, and although the results have been at home, the clean sheets have come against two of the league’s better teams. San Jose won last year’s Supporters’ Shield, Houston made the MLS Cup final, but neither was able to score in Portland.

Wondolowski out wide? That didn’t work – “The first thing I thought was I’d rather have Wondo wide than up top,” Porter said, asked to describe his reaction to Frank Yallop’s starting XI. For the first time this season, both Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon were in the team, but rather than change formation, he sent Chris Wondolowski  right to fill in for the injured Shea Salinas. Despite the mismatch with personnel, Yallop stuck to his base 4-4-2.

The result was a quiet night for the league’s reigning MVP. With the exception of a late header hit right at Donovan Ricketts, Wondo’s most noteworthy actions were the times he came inside to pressure Will Johnson or Mikael Silvestre, defending that ultimately left him chasing left back Michael Harrington up the flank.

“What we tried to do out wide is really make him defend,” Porter explained. “The more that Harrington got forward, the more it pulled him away from goal.”

Wondolowski finished the match with more fouls committed (two) than shots on goal (one).

Combative San Jose – They like to be the “alpha dogs.” That’s how Will Johnson termed it after the match. San Jose’s response to Portland’s possession and movement was to try and rough them up, with Diego Chara, Danso, Darlington Nagbe, Ryan Johnson, and Mikael Silvestre all spending time on the ground.

“I don’t fault them for that,” Porter said of San Jose’s aggression. “They want to win. But we have no problem with it. We’ll fight too.”

“One of the things I told the guys: We need to outfight them, but we need to out football them, too.”

In a way, it was a complement to Portland. San Jose’s not afraid to play a physical style. The Timbers forced them to push the envelope.

Oh, Alan Gordon – One Quake that pushed the envelope too far, Alan Gordon finished a short night with an ignominious hat trick. His feet-first slide through Chara in the 41st minute sent the Colombia writhing, drawing a yellow card. In the 69th minute, Gordon swung his arm while leaping into an aerial challenge, caught Silvestre in the face, and earned a second yellow.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. In the second half, television cameras appeared to catch Gordon mouthing the same homophobic slur that earned Marc Burch a three-game suspension during last year’s postseason. Just as like in November, the slur was directed at Will Johnson, who was with Real Salt Lake during last year’s postseason.

Johnson declined to comment on or confirm what Gordon said. A representative from the Earthquakes said the team would release a statement addressing the incident.

MORE: Alan Gordon apologizes: “that language has no place in our game”

Money from Wembley replay will “support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years”

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone