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?

Fabinho admits interest in Manchester United

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If even a fraction of this summer’s transfer interest is real, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has taken every precaution against his biggest 2017 enemy: scheduled congestion.

Mourinho was a regular critic of United’s schedule last season in the run-up to its UEFA Europa League title win over Ajax, and is building his roster up for the UEFA Champions League.

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The manager already had plenty of attacking options, and has added Victor Lindelof to his stable of defenders while reportedly flirting with PSG’s Marquinhos, too. Defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic is also a reported target (as are half of the world’s elite footballers).

And now, a wry smile from Monaco’s Fabinho hints that Mourinho may be making progress with another target.

‘‘It’s a tempting invitation. … I would first talk to my agent, Monaco too, to decide everything right. But it’s a great club, sure enough I would think well about it.”

Fabinho played mostly right back in 2014-15 before splitting time between that position and defensive midfielder the following year and seeing most of his time at CDM last season. Mourinho has lavished praise and given a contract extension to right back Antonio Valencia and has Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, and Paul Pogba at CDM (though the latter can certainly operate higher up the field).

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.