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”

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

Photo credit: New England Revolution / Twitter: @NERevolution
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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

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John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”