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.

 

Bravo fit again, but will he start Chile’s Confed Cup group finale?

Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
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MOSCOW (AP) Claudio Bravo is fit again and could start in goal against Australia at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Saturday.

Bravo – who is Chile’s joint most-capped player with Alexis Sanchez – hasn’t played since April 27, when he injured his calf for Manchester City in a derby game with Manchester United.

“Claudio is fit, he’s managed to train the last couple of days just like his other teammates,” Pizzi said. “He’s ready and available to play.”

Pizzi brushed off concerns about a lack of match fitness, saying that “quite obviously we take into account that factor” but players like Bravo are “are of such good quality that it isn’t that important they haven’t played in the last couple of months.”

Stand-in Johnny Herrera played in Chile’s 2-0 group stage win over Cameroon and Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Germany.

Gary Medel was substituted with a minor injury while playing in defense for Chile against Germany. Teammate Francisco Silva said Saturday that Medel had complained of “a very small muscle contraction issue” but was now fit.

Pizzi said he will aim to tire out Australia with Chile’s trademark all-action style, even though his team struggled for energy in the latter stages against Germany.

“This energy drop we had in the second half didn’t damage us too much because the opposing team couldn’t maintain a high pace because of the demands we’d imposed on them,” Pizzi said of the Germany game.

“We’re going to try to get (the Australians) tired as well and use this to beat our opponent, and we hope this is going to translate into goals.”

USMNT’s Wood extends Hamburg contract through 2021

Photo credit: Hamburg / Twitter: @HSV
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HAMBURG, Germany (AP) American forward Bobby Wood extended his contract with Bundesliga side Hamburger SV on Saturday to 2021.

Wood, who joined Hamburg from second-tier Union Berlin, scored five goals and set up two more in 28 Bundesliga games. He had 17 goals in 31 second-division games for Union the season before.

“Not only his goals count for us, but his readiness to run and challenge,” Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt said. “Bobby is a key player for our offense and a real team player.”

Wood has eight goals in 32 appearances for the United States.

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win 2-0

Photo credit: NYCFC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The only thing standing in the way of New York City FC avenging their infamous 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls with a lopsided demolition job of their own, on Saturday, was an otherworldly goalkeeping performance from Luis Robles. It was the Red Bulls shot-stopper, with his four saves on the afternoon (three of them coming in spectacular fashion), who kept Jesse Marsch’s side within touching distance for more than an hour. Jack Harrison was denied early on by Robles, but got the better of him not long later for the game’s opening goal. Heroics from Robles kept the score at 1-0 for another 32 minutes, before Ben Sweat’s (accidental?) header made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, managed their first shot on target in the 80th minute. That’s three wins in a row for NYCFC, who go seven points clear of their Hudson River rivals and keep Toronto FC in sight at the top of the league table, five points ahead.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

18′ — Robles goes full-stretch to deny Harrison — David Villa’s vision and Rodney Wallace‘s hold-play created the chance for Harrison, but Luis Robles’ acrobatics denied the 20-year-old Englishman in spectacular fashion.

33′ — Harrison not to be denied this time — Sweat delivered the ball to Harrison near the top of the box, and the second-year man did everything right with what’s a really, really difficult chance to take — facing away from goal, first-time, ball traveling across the goalkeeper, upper-90 to the far post.

65′ — Sweat loops a header past Robles for 2-0 — Sweat probably didn’t mean it, but the ball hit the back of the net, and that’s all that matters. Not a bad time to score your first MLS goal, either.

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Man of the match: Luis Robles

Goalscorers: Harrison (33′), Sweat (65′)

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.