MLS FC Dallas Timbers Soccer

Three things to take from Portland’s win over FC Dallas

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In a brilliantly exciting match that featured 37 shots, it was the most unlikely one that picked up the huge three points for Portland.

Darlington Nagbe’s turn-around shot smashed the top corner of the net, and Dallas could do nothing to bring it back level, seeing their lead in the Western Conference sit at just one point.

Despite just the one goal, the match was entertaining to say the least, with goalkeeping at a world-class level and dangerous set-pieces dotting the landscape.

So what did this delightful two hours learn us?

1) Portland is peaking at the right time

It probably should have been more than just a one-goal gap between the teams as Diego Chara was stoned twice by Raul Fernandez and stuck a one-on-one chance wide, but the Timbers absolutely deserved the three points.

The new Western Conference leaders haven’t lost since March 9. It’s a real accomplishment that their unbeaten streak, which now sits at 13 matches, is still going strong – they’ve beaten the teams they should by scorelines they should (Portland 3-0 Chivas USA), salvaged gritty draws with tough opponents on the road (A surging Chicago 2-2 Portland), and picked up clutch wins against top teams when given the chance (Portland 1-0 FC Dallas, Kansas City 2-3 Portland).

With three straight away league matches before tonight, they picked up 5 points.  The home shutout streak is up to over 480 minutes now, and even the most potent offenses can’t find an answer to Donovan Ricketts and his gang in front of goal.

Portland are in the middle of a stretch where they have to face 4 playoff-position teams in 6 matches, and the other two are in 6th place, plus Chicago.  So that’s 6 top-6 clubs in 6 matches, plus Chicago. “They” always say peak at the end of the season, but by playing their best soccer yet during this stretch, it’s playing out perfectly for the Timbers.

2) Anyone is vulnerable when a team is missing players

Dallas’s “Big 3” at the top were missing, and it showed.  With Blas Perez on international duty with Panama and Kenny Cooper few home to take care of a family emergency, Eric Hassli only lasted 8 minutes before his back injury took its toll.  That left David Arturo Ferreira and Je-Vaughn Watson to roam the attacking third, and it didn’t work out so well.

Let’s not take away from what Donovan Ricketts did between the sticks, as he was a major part of Portland’s win, stopping what chances the replacements were able to muster.  But the Dallas buildup was seriously lacking at the front end, and it showed.

3) It’s the Western Conference’s season to lose

The top 3 clubs in the Western Conference this season have picked up 20 points from 13 matches against the East.  The top 3 clubs in the Eastern Conference have just 15 points in 11 matches.  That’s not a huge difference, but if it weren’t for Montreal, they’d have just 5 points in 7 matches.

The Western Conference has beaten up on each other, but this is their season to drop the ball.

Grateful and geared up: Nyarko, DC United take aim at MLS Cup

September 24 2016: Orlando City FC defender Kevin Alston (12) defends against D.C. United forward Patrick Nyarko (12) during a MLS match at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C.  DC United defeated Orlando City SC. 4-1. (Photo by Tony Quinn/IconSportswire)
Photo by Tony Quinn/IconSportswire
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On Thursday, Patrick Nyarko will hit the RFK Stadium pitch with DC United for just his second playoff game of this decade, and he’s going to make sure no member of the Black-and-Red takes the opportunity for granted.

“I walked into the locker room after we clinched a spot and the guys were like, ‘Whatever’. DC had been in the playoffs the last few years,” Nyarko said with a laugh in a Tuesday conversation with ProSoccerTalk.

“I was like, ‘Guys! I’m excited, man. I haven’t been here in a while. I’m overly ecstatic.’ Hopefully we can get it together, make a run, and create something special.”

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

The 30-year-old Ghanaian international with one cap was once one of those who took team success as a given. Nyarko walked off the College Cup pitch for Virginia Tech in 2007 and was picked 7th overall by the Chicago Fire. He promptly appeared in the MLS Cup semifinals in each of his first two seasons in Chicago.

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - SEPTEMBER 22: Patrick Nyarko #14 of the Chicago Fire advances the ball on the Columbus Crew during their MLS soccer match at Toyota Park on September 22, 2012 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire defeated the Crew 2-1. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)
(Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)

“I thought this was how things went. With the teams we had, I thought it was going to be an eternal thing and we would always enjoy these things,” Nyarko said.

It turns out postseason success isn’t as simple as that. Aside from a 2012 knockout round loss to Houston, the longtime Fire man didn’t see playoff action.

So Thursday, yeah, you can bet it’s special. After 222 regular season MLS games and 23 goals — all but 26 of them with Chicago — Nyarko is back for just his fourth playoff campaign.

“It makes the decision to move on from Chicago kinda worth it,” Nyarko said. “Being in Chicago for that long, through the good through the bad, I finally decided to leave. If it had not resulted in a successful year and the playoffs, it would’ve been for nothing. I couldn’t have justified that.”

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Now DC is a sneaky, if not chic, pick to surprise in the East. The Black-and-Red have lost just once in their last seven games, and that was a Decision Day loss in which head coach Ben Olsen sat the vast majority of his starters in order to rest for Thursday. In the past six weeks, the No. 4 seed earned results against the trio of teams ahead of it in the Eastern Conference standings.

In other words, no one wants to see DC on their schedule right now. PST made the case for each team’s championship chances on Monday, and Nyarko is convinced that DC can make a long, long run to the final.

“We are high in confidence right now, and the way we’ve closed out the season we discovered our identity,” Nyarko said. “Everyone works for each other, covers each other, we attack together, and we keep up that intensity.”


Nyarko’s traditional stats aren’t going to jump out at you; His four goals match his career-high, and his eight assists are second to Luciano Acosta, but Nyarko brings a different level of savvy to the squad.

On a team with United States men’s national team center back Steve Birnbaum, you could argue that midfielder Nyarko is the team’s best defensive asset. He does the dirty things and is fouled more than anyone else on the team, but has also completed the second-most key passes on the team (to Acosta).

And the advanced stats say he’s getting the job done, too. Squawka has him in pretty good company as a Top Five midfielder when it comes to defensive performance score per game.

Nyarko DC MLS

“It’s unfortunate how the stats are usually what’s preached out to the fans,” Nyarko said. “I look for people who can make their team better. I’m ecstatic when the teams wins, and shattered when the team loses. I won’t necessarily be the last person to touch the ball before someone scores, but before that, the double teams, the division, that’s what I pride myself on. I know what I bring to a team.”

Which isn’t to say he wasn’t scratching his head when DC started the season winless through five matches, especially when he was the new guy.

[ MORE: Three MLS sides advance to Champions League knockout rounds ]

April 23 2016: D.C. United forward Patrick Nyarko (12) makes a long pass during a MLS match at RFK Stadium, in Washington D.C. DC United defeated the New England Revolution 3-0. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Iconsportswire)
(Photo by Tony Quinn/Iconsportswire)

“This year, making the change was the hardest, not knowing what to expect, getting into a new team that had been in the playoffs the last few years,” Nyarko said. “When things weren’t going well, especially early in the year when I was inconsistent, I took a lot of the blame. Am I messing up the chemistry? I knew I was playing well, but you can’t help but think that.”

The midfielder credits Olsen and the veteran locker room for bringing the team together this season, calling Olsen the “ultimate player’s coach”. Nyarko only needs two fingers to count the times Olsen has lost his cool this season, and learned that his coach was a different breed when he approached him early in the season to talk about the offense.

“Usually I try not to get into coaches, but we weren’t scoring as many goals,” Nyarko said. “He wasn’t worried about it. He made a comment like, ‘I’m not gonna get on you guys, the chances are there, it’s just not going in. I’m not going to yell. It’s not like you’re deciding not to finish.’ I was like, ‘Woah, this guy thinks like a player’. The freedom he gives you, he knows everyone’s ability, and he doesn’t restrict you. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.”

Nyarko also points to a player as an emblem of DC’s success, and that’s Lamar Neagle. The ex-Seattle Sounders man has been in on 15 goals but hasn’t complained that he’s been used off the bench in his 10 of his 31 appearances.

“This guy’s leading us in goals and he doesn’t start and he’s mentally strong enough to want to help our team,” Nyarko said. “This is an exciting team that came along at the last part of the season and we hope to continue our push toward MLS Cup.”


Pep don’t play: Man City boss still waiting on Yaya agent apology

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27:  Yaya Toure of Manchester City looks on during a training session on the eve of their UEFA Champions League Group C match against Celtic at the City Football Academy on September 27, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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Pep Guardiola is interested in using malcontent Yaya Toure for Manchester City, even for Wednesday’s EFL Cup derby tie with Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Here’s the problem: Pep’s still waiting for Yaya’s agent, Dimitri Seluk, to apologize for scathing comments aimed at the City boss earlier this season.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Weds. preview ]

On Tuesday, Guardiola was again asked about the possibility of playing Toure. With City winless in its last five matches across all competitions, now would be a time for guy like Toure to get a look.

But Guardiola had made it clear that he won’t use Toure until Seluk apologizes to the manager. So, Toure continues to sit.

“I would like to take Yaya (with the team), believe me, I would like, but you know the situation,” Guardiola said to the BBC.

Come on, Seluk. Just say you’re sorry. Call Pep’s bluff.

VIDEO: Bobby Wood strikes twice in Hamburg’s cup win

Moenchengladbach's Christoph Kramer, left, and Hamburg's Bobby Wood challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Moenchengladbach and Hamburger SV in Moenchengladbach, Germany, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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It was Cup time in Germany as well on Tuesday, and several Americans took the time to shine.

Fabian Johnson and Andrew Wooten both scored on the day, but it was Bobby Wood who stole the show in a day filled with USMNT prospects and players in Germany.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. roundup ]

The Hamburger SV man broke his slump in a big way, scoring a brace for his first goals since Sept. 10 in a 4-0 win over Hallescher FC.

The first goal was just indicative of a gulf in class, and it looked nice, but the second really does the trick for the Hawaii-born 23-year-old.

John Brooks and Hertha knocked out FC St. Pauli with a 2-0 defeat, and Fafa Picault subbed into the match for the hosts.

Timmy Chandler subbed into Eintracht Frankfurt’s match with Alfredo Morales’ Ingolstadt in the 90th minute, and Eintracht advanced in penalty kicks.

EFL Cup preview: Manchester, London Derbies on Weds.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City and Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United look on during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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While Tuesday’s EFL Cup Round of 16 matches saw a pair of second-tier teams clinch berths in the quarters, Wednesday’s games are all-PL ties.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s EFL Cup roundup ]

The headlines will be gained by the second iteration of Pep vs. Mou in a Manchester Derby, but all three matches have something for the neutral.

West Ham United vs. Chelsea — 2:45 p.m. ET

Both London clubs have issued statements begging their fans to leave the intensity to the players on the field, as the Hammers and Blues’ always percolating rivalry heads for the boiler.

Chelsea knocked off West Ham at Stamford Bridge back in August, but the hosts looked very good despite underwhelming finishing in this weekend’s 1-0 win over Sunderland. That said, Chelsea had no problem finishing at all when it clobbered Manchester United on Sunday.

This sets up to be a beauty.

Southampton vs. Sunderland  — 2:45 p.m. ET

The St. Mary’s set sure would like to clinch another season of European football, and is four wins away from getting that done via the EFL Cup route.

As for Sunderland, it will take any momentum it can muster from Wednesday’s match. The Black Cats have been very poor, with just two points from its first nine Premier League matches, but handled QPR and Shrewsbury Town to reach the Round of 16.

Manchester United vs. Manchester City  — 3 p.m. ET

The “primetime” match — by 15 whole minutes — gives Manchester United a chance to right several ships by taking down Pep Guardiola‘s clipper.

Neither side is in tremendous shape right now, though City remains atop the Premier League table. The tactics will be interesting as neither manager will have any interest in blowing off this EFL Cup Round of 16 tie.

City has won two of the last three Cups, while United hasn’t been to this tournament’s final since its last win in 2010.