San Jose Earthquakes v AIK - Portland Timbers Tournament

MLS match preview: Portland Timbers at San Jose Earthquakes

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Portland’s undergone so many changes since last year, it’s useless to leverage any past experience to prepare for Caleb Porter’s new-look Timbers. And since their style’s so different from any other team in Major League Soccer, opponents don’t have a deafult plan to contain that type of approach. In a league short on stylistic diversity, Porter’s possession-hogging style can catch opponents by surprise, particularly on first impression.

That’s a theory that has a flip side. If a pass-happy Portland is benefiting from opponents being caught off guard, they’re likely in for some regression the second time around the league. Once a team’s been exposed to the Timbers’ venom, they can start developing some resistance. Eventually, somebody will come up with an antidote. (Not that this metaphor doesn’t describe the entire history of soccer tactics.)

Sunday night, we’ll see if San Jose’s built any resistance. One week after falling at JELD-WEN Field, the Supporters’ Shield holders welcome the Timbers to Buck Shaw, the second of the team’s back-to-back meetings.

The first proved eventful, though not always for the right reasons. Setting aside Alan Gordon’s transgression, San Jose used their physicality to try and slow down the their hosts, a plan that may have worked were it not for Will Johnson’s game-winning, 78th minute direct kick. The 1-0 win was not only Portland’s second-straight victory; it extended San Jose’s winless run to three.

Now the Earthquakes, a team that’s only scored more than one goal in a game once this season, will be without Gordon (suspended for four games). They should also be without Jason Hernandez in central defense, though for a San Jose that’s had to deal with major injury concerns throughout the season, there is some good news. Marvin Chavez, last year’s team leader in assists, declared himself ready-to-go on Wednesday, while right back Steven Beitashour played 45 minutes in a reserve match on Monday. If both play, San Jose will be as healthy as they’ve been all season despite the absences of Gordon and Hernandez.

But the Earthquakes biggest advantage may have nothing to do with their squad and everything to do with where Sunday’s game will be played. Through their first two-plus years in the league, Portland has only won three road games, a terrible “success rate” that’s yet to change under Porter. While the Timbers have drawn both their road games this season (at Seattle and at Colorado), they fell behind each time, giving up early goals in matches then never led. With Portland employing noticeably different approaches in their two road games (compared to what they’ve done at home), Porter’s yet to show this team can shake their Jekyll and Hyde ways.

The return of Diego Valeri might help. The Timbers’ Argentine playmaker missed last Sunday’s game. Portland elected to exercise caution while adhering to concussion protocol. This week, Valeri’s set to return, an addition which could help the Timbers convert their possession advantage (64.7 percent last week) into more shots on goal (only two).

For San Jose, Gordon’s absence could be a blessing in disguise. While it goes limit Frank Yallop’s options at forward, it almost assures the Earthquakes will play Chris Wondolowski up top, something that didn’t happen in Portland. At JELD-WEN, Yallop elected to use “Wondo” at right midfield while starting Gordon and Steven Lenhart at forward, a deployment that limited Wondolowski’s influence. With Chavez back a Gordon out, Wondolowski should return to the forward role that allowed him to win last year’s Most Valuable Player award.

Regardless of who starts, San Jose will need to come up with another way to slow down Portland. Last week, the Timbers responded to being roughed up, and given Yallop’s tactical preferences, we’re unlikely to see the kind of formation change that would help offset the Timbers’ advantages through the middle.

San Jose needs a new trick, but whatever approach Yallop employs, its success will likely hinge on the simplest thing: Can the San Jose’s team just play better?

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.