MLS Preview: Portland Timbers at Sporting Kansas City

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As a contest of fan enthusiasm, this would be a real doozy. Both clubs enjoy tremendous home support, boisterous and knowledgeable, and the houses are always packed.

As a soccer game, it doesn’t look bad either.

Portland has found its way recently under Caleb Porter (pictured). Meanwhile, Sporting KC was unbeaten in five consecutively before running into the LA Galaxy buzz saw (in a pretty unfavorable situation) last weekend.

So tonight’s match from inside Sporting Park should be a great one for viewing; kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET.

Peter Vermes’ team from the Midwest was rolling until last weekend, a real tour du force in defense through most of April. Then came the Round 8 visit to the Home Depot Center, where a well-rested Galaxy took advantage of a team traveling in from the East Coast. SKC had just dusted off New York in mid-week, so the trip into Southern California just three nights later was always asking a lot.

Honestly, we should just write that one off. The Matt Besler- and Aurelien Collin-led back line, backstopped by goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and bracketed by two of the league’s underrated defenders (outside backs Chance Myers and Seth Sinovic) will still be tough to penetrate.

But the Timbers will have a chance, especially if playmaker Diego Valeri is on his game. The Timbers are undefeated in their last five and have scooped up 7 of a possible 9 points in April. During the five-game run, Porter’s team has managed draws in Seattle, Colorado and (most recently) San Jose. In fact, the Timbers were a minute away from collecting their initial road win under Porter until a stoppage time goal for the Earthquakes meant another set of split points.

Still, not bad for a team that was a perfectly yukky 1-12-5 away from Jeld-Wen Field last year.

Said Porter of last week’s result: “We knew it would be really difficult to go into San Jose and get another win. … In the end, the perspective is positive that we get a point, but we were a minute away from getting three points.

“What’s even more impressive is we’re not happy with the draws. That means that you genuinely have belief in your group. These guys, no matter if we’re home or away or who we’re playing, they believe we can get a result.”

One bad issue for the Timbers: midfield engine Will Johnson may miss due to some family issues, and that would be a big loss for the visitors.

Both teams play a possession game. Sporting Kansas City has tamed the go-go, high-pressure ways that served to keep opponents pinned in – but a style that wasn’t translating into playoff success. So they are keeping the ball more patiently now, playing through Oriol Rossell and Benny Feilhaber in midfield. That deliberate, ball-on-the-ground style was always the plan for Portland under Porter.

With patient possession so valued for both sides, don’t look for a high-scoring contest. Especially not considering the teams’ defensive form. Prior to conceding last weekend, the Timbers had gone “clean sheet” for 312 consecutive minutes, thanks in some part to former Manchester United center back Mikael Silvestre, who has recovered from those early MLS wobbles to become a trusted figure around Jeld-Wen. Which looked impressive enough until you noticed SKC’s own defensive streak.

Vermes’ team had went 546 minutes, which was the fifth longest in MLS history.

VIDEO: Sporting KC’s Medranda scores wonder goal in win over Vancouver

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Sporting KC showed again on Friday night why they’re the rightful leaders at the top of the Western Conference, pulling four points ahead of the LA Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps with a dominating 6-0 win over the Whitecaps at home.

Scottish forward Johnny Russell bagged a hat-trick in the game, all by the 48th minute, but the highlight of the night came off the foot of 24-year-old Jimmy Medranda. The Colombian scored an absolute worldie from a ridiculous angle, taking the space given to him outside the top-left corner of the box and sailing it over the head of Vancouver goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic and into the back of the net.

It was, of course, massively beneficial to Sporting KC that Vancouver went two men down in the 40th minute after a huge skirmish that saw Yordy Reyna and Efrain Juarez both sent off. Reyna earned his marching orders for throwing Russell to the ground, while Juarez reportedly used unacceptable language.

Still, KC was already up 3-0 when the incident occurred, and credit must go to teams that take advantage of what has been handed to them. Sporting KC certainly did that as Russell becomes the first Scotsman to score an MLS hat-trick since Colorado’s John Spencer in 2001, and Medranda’s wonder goal sealed the deal past the half-hour mark.

Jurgen Klopp already wants a piece of Man City next season

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Manchester City may have run away with the Premier League title this year, but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp can’t wait for a clean slate to try and challenge City’s title defense next season.

The Reds are into the Champions League semifinals and also looking to finish the Premier League season strong in a battle for positioning in the top four, but when asked about next year, Klopp was giddy.

“Of course I don’t fear the challenge,” Klopp said in his prematch press conference ahead of Liverpool’s Premier League visit to West Brom on Saturday morning.

The German made it clear he wants a piece of Manchester City next season. “This year, if City plays a normal season – which they didn’t do – then it would have been really close until the end because we are now all close together.”

“United is four points ahead [of Liverpool], Tottenham is two points behind. It’s a real fight for these positions. All big six pretty much delivered this year but City delivered the best. We will see. It’s difficult to deal with success as it is difficult to deal with other things in football but I’m pretty sure they will be strong again.”

Liverpool is one of only two teams to beat City in league play this year, with Manchester United being the other. Klopp and company torched the City back line in a wild 4-3 victory that ended City’s 22-match unbeaten run. Ultimately, though, Klopp knows they have to look at the entire season as a whole to best the defending champs next year, not just their matches against each other.

“It’s not important how good City will be, it’s about how we can get all the other points, plus the points we got so far again,” he said. “That’s the job to do. That is why it is always possible that it is closer. But are they able to dominate? They don’t have a limit to spending and all that stuff so I don’t know.”

VIDEO: Goalkeeper sends Memphis Depay flying with skillful touch

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Former Manchester United attacker Memphis Depay has one of the brightest spots for Lyon this season that sees them battling with Monaco and Marseille for 2nd place behind a dominant PSG. He has scored 15 goals and assisted 11 others this Ligue 1 campaign, adding to his tally just four minutes into Friday’s 5-2 win over Dijon, the sixth win in a row for the club that pulled them within a point of Monaco.

However, there was a moment to forget for Depay in the victory as well.

With the score still at 1-1 in the 19th minute, Depay was sent high up the pitch to press Dijon goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet, owner of the leakiest net of the Ligue 1 season. Nevertheless, sometimes the underdog prevails, and that’s what happened as Depay flung himself at the ball to put Reynet under pressure.

One silky touch by the netminder was all it took for Depay to end up on his backside.

The 24-year-old Dutch winger has had a fantastic season and one that could potentially propel him back to the biggest stage and a bigger paycheck, but for now, we can all poke fun at his misery in the moment.

Dortmund admits interest in signing Batshuayi permanently

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Michy Batshuayi might be out for the season with a serious ankle injury, but he may have already done enough to earn a permanent move to Borussia Dortmund.

The Chelsea striker moved on loan to the Bundesliga side in January and made an immediate impact, scoring two goals on his debut, and ultimately wound up with seven goals in 10 Bundesliga games before his ankle injury brought his season to a close. Now, the Dortmund front office is speaking very highly of the Belgian goalscorer, not so subtly hinting that they will take an aggressive approach this summer.

The interest to sign him is there,” said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. “But first we have to wait and see who will be Chelsea’s coach next season. Then we’ll start looking.”

Chelsea has Antonio Conte currently at the helm, but there are strong rumors that the Italian will depart at the end of the season as the Blues sit comfortably outside the Champions League places. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is known for his quick trigger, and despite Conte winning the Premier League just last season, this year’s disappointment will likely not be tolerated.

That yet-to-be-determined future has a significant impact on Batshuayi’s future, as Watzke mentions. The new Chelsea boss could take a liking to Batshuayi, which could complicate his permanent move. In addition, it’s possible that current players on the Blues roster could depart, like Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, or Willian, making Batshuayi’s place at Chelsea more tenable.

There’s plenty to be sorted out in the coming months, but with Batshuayi’s 10-game performance at Westfalenstadion at the forefront of Watzke’s mind, it’s clear there will be potential here as the summer draws near.