MLS Preview: FC Dallas at Portland Timbers

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Even if the this week’s Major League Soccer schedule has been mercifully abbreviated due to the FIFA qualifier window, there’s still a dandy sitting out there in Week 6.

FC Dallas visiting Portland absolutely qualifies for “Dandy” status.

It’s the league leaders (FC Dallas) visiting the league’s hottest team. Kickoff Saturday from Jeld-Wen Field in Stumptown is set for 5 p.m. ET on ESPN. FC Dallas has lost just once since early March, and that was in Seattle while missing some of its best men. Portland, meanwhile, is unbeaten in 12 in a row.

First-year Timbers manager Caleb Porter (pictured) and his ability to so quickly spin gold out of club  that struggled mightily through its initial pair of MLS seasons is among the best stories of domestic soccer in 2013. Meanwhile, Schellas Hyndman’s FC Dallas has been a surprise as well – not so much that his team would bounce back after so many crushing injuries last year, but that it would bounce so high in this year of redemption.

So much of the Western Conference leader’s success has been in Texas this year. Not only have they built an unbeaten (7-0-1) record in MLS matches, they also just eliminated Houston to move into the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals inside the Frisco ground.

But it’s also worth noting that the Red Stripes have taken points in four of six matches away from FC Dallas Stadium this year, too.

One issue for Dallas could certainly be that Open Cup win. Hyndman’s team prevailed 3-0 on Wednesday, had a day to recover and then needed to get on the plane for Oregon. Hyndman, who holds the Open Cup in high regard because it is named after a personal friend and the patriarch of Dallas soccer, played a mostly-first choice lineup.

Portland played more of a mix in its Open Cup win this week, and had the benefit of staying in Oregon in between matches.

There was controversy last time Porter’s team met FC Dallas. A Darlington Nagbe goal had given the Timbers a 1-0 lead after the break, but Kenny Cooper converted an iffy penalty kick award as the teams split the points in Texas.

(Porter thought it was more than “iffy.” What he said: “It’s hard to win a game when you’re playing against 12 men. For me, that’s just unfair, completely unfair.”)

Dallas will be without its top striker, Panamanian international Blas Perez, and Peruvian first-choice goalkeeper Raul Fernandez. Portland will be also be nicked by internationals no available, including left winger Rodney Wallace, a Costa Rican international who is having a great year after conversion from defender, and center back Futty Danso

Stylistically, look for Portland will possess the ball as the visitors attempt to play a lot of defense, counter attack through the likes of Kenny Cooper and speedy Colombian Fabian Castillo, and score off set pieces. Dallas has hit 11 of its 27 goals this year off free kicks or corner kicks, most off the left-footed service of Brazilian midfielder Michel, who has turned into one of the top finds of Major League Soccer’s off-season.

 

Report: Man City, Guardiola to discuss new contract this summer

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Manchester City does not want to let Pep Guardiola start the third year with the club without signing on for longer term.

Guardiola enters the third and final year of his deal in August, and the BBC reports that Man City plans to negotiate a new deal with the Catalan wizard this summer.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given City’s outstanding sophomore season under Guardiola.

Unbeaten City has an 11-point lead on the Premier League table after 18 weeks, with one draw and a PL record 16-straight wins. They have 56 goals scored, conceding just 12.

They’ve won five of six UEFA Champions League matches, only losing a match their opposition needed and they did not, 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. City faces Basel next, and visits Leicester City in the League Cup quarterfinals Wednesday.

Lanzini charged by FA for fooling ref with dive

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Manuel Lanzini dove to earn a penalty in West Ham’s 3-0 win over Stoke City on Saturday at the bet365 Stadium, and he may pay for it.

Lanzini, who also posted an assist in an influential performance, drew the penalty converted by Mark Noble when he hit the deck under minimal contact from Erik Pieters.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

He could miss two matches for “successful deception of a match official,” the same penalty given to Everton’s Oumar Niasse for a similar offense.

West Ham pulled out of the drop zone with the win, but has three bottom-half battles coming up over the festive fixtures: Saturday versus Newcastle, Dec. 26 at Bournemouth, and Jan. 2 versus West Brom.

Griezmann backtracks over ‘insensitive’ blackface tweet

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MADRID (AP) Soccer star Antoine Griezmann has apologized for any offense caused after posting an image of himself on social media in blackface as part of an NBA party costume on Sunday.

Griezmann, who is white, was also wearing a wig and holding a basketball in the photo which had “NBA 69 ALLSTARS” on the jersey.

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The photo on his official Twitter account was accompanied by the message “80’s Party” followed by basketball and laughing emojis.

One response called the photo a “bad idea” with others urging the France forward to delete the tweet.

Griezmann at first reacted to the criticism by tweeting: “Calm down friends, I’m a fan of the Harlem Globetrotters and of this great era… It’s a tribute.”

He later tweeted an apology to those he had offended.

“I recognize that’s it’s insensitive on my part. If I offended some people I’m sorry,” he wrote.

The 26-year-old Griezmann plays for Spanish team Atletico Madrid but has been linked to a move to Barcelona.

Alex Morgan named CONCACAF Female POY, Navas wins Male POY

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CONCACAF awarded some of its finest players and coaches on Sunday night, and two familiar faces took home the evening’s most notable awards.

[ MORE: Making sense of table in Man City’s world ]

U.S. Women’s National Team forward Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride) and Keylor Navas of Costa Rica and Real Madrid each earned Female and Male Player of the Year honors, after boasting tremendous 2017 seasons.

Morgan who primarily plays for Orlando in the NWSL, was also a member of Lyon, who went on to win the Women’s Champions League this past season.

Navas, on the other hand, played a key role in Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League run, as well as Los Blancos’ La Liga title.

For Morgan, the award is her third since CONCACAF began handing out its annual awards in 2013. Meanwhile, Navas has now won Male Player of the Year on two occasions.