Landon Donovan

MLS Preview: Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy

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  • Portland on a 13-match unbeaten run
  • Galaxy have allowed eight goals in their last two games
  • LA took nine of nine points from Portland last season

Remember that one time Caleb Porter lost a Major League Soccer game? Unless you’re a Timbers or Montréal Impact fan, you might not, because that single loss came in the season’s second round, before narratives around the league’s two most surprising teams became entrenched. But now, three-and-a-half months into the season, that March meeting at JELD-WEN looks like one of the more important games of the young season. The East-leading Impact remain the only team to derail Portland, while the Timbers have a 13-match unbeaten run.

If Portland’s to catch FC Dallas’s record of 19 without a loss (set in 2010), they’ll have to navigate a six-match stretch that includes four road games and two meetings with the defending champion Galaxy. But for a team that’d only won two road games in their MLS history coming into the season, games away from JELD-WEN suddenly pose surprisingly few fewer concerns. The Timbers have MLS’s only unbeaten record away from home (2-0-6).

The Galaxy games, however, could reintroduce an element Portland hasn’t dealtwith since the beginning of their run: Doubt. Coming into the year, the Timbers needed to prove their new coach’s concepts would lead to results, something that became evident by the middle of April. Since then the team has pushed on, become a confident, efficient team that’s as capable of opportunistic wins as impressive results. Yet although the Timbers have proved themselves against conference leaders (FC Dallas), league stalwarts (Dom Kinnear’s Houston), and some of the league’s most talented squads (Sporting Kansas City), the one true benchmark remains.

There is something different about the Galaxy. Two-time league champions, managed by the league’s best coach of all time, possessing transcendant talents like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, Los Angeles is a unique challenge no matter the circumstances. The MLS embodiment of Atreyu’s mirror, LA engender doubts in anyone, not just the Timbers. Even without Omar Gonzalez, away on national team duty, the Galaxy are capable of presenting a greater challenge than any team in Major League Soccer. Even if they only sit fifth in the West, if LA decides tonight meeting in Carson’s a big game, recent history says they’re likely to win it.

Whether the Galaxy are capable of flipping the switch right now is a point of concern. Two weeks ago, the team was routed in New England, an embarrassing 5-0 loss that failed to serve as a wakeup call ahead of last week 3-1 defeat in Utah. Without Gonzalez, the team’s allowed eight goals in two games, terrible form to carry into a match against one of the league’s best attacks.

Unfortunately for the Timbers, their weaknesses play into LA’s greatest strength. Depleted by injuries at the back (having lost and Mikael Silvestre and David Horst while Futty Danso left Saturday’s win over Dallas), Portland will be particularly susceptible to a league best counter attack that’s buttressed back-to-back titles. Will Johnson and Diego Chara have done a great job protecting their center backs from other team’s counters, but other teams don’t have Donovan pulling the strings, Keane making the runs. Particularly away from the snug confines of JELD-WEN Field, Portland could see their vulnerabilities exposed.

There is, however the case to be made for Johnson and Chara. As well as the help they get from Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, the support they receive as an outlet from Michael Harrington, as well as the disaster insurance that is right back Jack Jewsbury. Look beyond the drawbacks of Pa Modou Kah and Andrew Jean Baptiste and you see a complete picture that explains why a defense that was seen as a preseason liability has yet to pose a significant problem. The pieces around the men in the middle are compensating for the issue.

And against an LA central midfield that’s failed to assert itself this year — one that will be without Marcelo Sarvas (suspended, yellow card accumulation) — Portland may be able to claim another result. Without his partner, Juninho will need to find the form he carried through the middle of last season. Given his talents, that only seems like a matter of time, but unless he can pick up his game against a Timbers system that sends numbers at opponents with each change of possession, the Galaxy will have a difficult time springing those nightmare-inducing counters.

Regardless of who wins, we’re like to learn something tonight at StubHub Center (10:30 p.m. EDT kickoff). If Portland wins and climbs to the top of the West, they’ll send another notice to the rest of the league, claiming as validating result against the league’s standard-bearers. And if LA derails a team that carries a 13-match unbeaten into Carson, it will be affirm their place as the league’s true litmus test, rendering any contenders’ progress irrelevant until they’re tested against the defending champions.

Other notes: Omar Gonzalez will miss tonight’s match while on international duty. José Villarreal is also gone, with the U.S. U-20s, while Portland will be without Rodney Wallace, returning from international duty with Coast Rica … Los Angeles took all nine points from Portland last year, scoring five times in the team’s last meeting … Portland have never earned a point in Carson … Brian Rowe got the start last week in Utah. Few Galaxy fans would be upset if he keeps the struggling Carlo Cudicini on the bench … Todd Dunivant returned to full training this week. He could start only his third game in nine … Portland’s unbeaten run is the 10th-longest in MLS history … The run leaves Porter tied with Tom Soehn for the longest streak for a first-year head coach. Soehn did the same with D.C. United in 2008.

VIDEO: Previewing all 10 Premier League games

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Jose Fonte of Southampton and Sergio Aguero of Manchester City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Southampton at the Etihad Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
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A busy midweek for Premier League teams in Europe sees some high-profile match-ups when league play resumes this weekend.

Chelsea is hosting former manager Jose Mourinho, Arsenal looks to keep up its red-hot play, and Manchester City is hoping an extra day’s rest on Southampton makes a difference to its recent dry spell.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on  NBC Sports 

Below you will find video previews of all 10 games coming up this weekend in the PL.

Manchester City vs. Southampton — Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Burnley vs. Everton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Liverpool vs. West Bromwich Albion — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Swansea City vs. Watford — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Bournemouth vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Hull City vs. Stoke City — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Chelsea vs. Manchester United — Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

West Ham United vs. Sunderland — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

PST EXTRA: Will Mourinho go ultra defensive vs Chelsea? (video)

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After Thursday’s thumping of Fenerbahce, Manchester United’s focus turns to Chelsea.

You can bet Jose Mourinho has been daydreaming of this day from the moment he started jockeying for a new Premier League job; leading a team onto the Stamford Bridge pitch to face his former club.

[ MORE: Mourinho says Pogba needs time ]

Two years ago, Mourinho was leading Chelsea to the Premier League title. He didn’t last the next season, as a run of shocking results motivated Chelsea to cut ties with its “Special One”.

Joe Prince-Wright is here with another PST Extra, breaking down Sunday’s big match between Mourinho’s Red Devils and Antonio Conte‘s Blues at 11 a.m. ET.

Manchester United: Pogba explains why he took PK over Rooney

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United runs with the ball during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between Manchester United FC and Fenerbahce SK at Old Trafford on October 20, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba scored a pair of goals in Thursday’s big Europa League win over Fenerbahce, but the first was up for discussion.

Wayne Rooney started the game and has handled plenty of penalty kicks in his day, but the captain bowed to Pogba’s request to break the deadlock.

[ WATCH: Pogba’s fantastic goal ]

Pogba would later score a much better looking goal, but many debated the PK duties for much of the game (ad nauseam). Anthony Martial converted United’s second penalty of the night in a 4-1 win, but it was Pogba’s that was at the center of discussion.

From the BBC:

“I told Wayne (Rooney) I wanted to take the penalty and he let me. I am very happy to score that penalty and from a player like him to let me it is big respect so I am very glad.

“I feel comfortable with all of the team. It is just at the start of the season and there is still a long way to go and we want to go up and do our best and be top of the league.”

Pogba certainly knows the right way to turn a phrase, proffering plenty of praise for Rooney. Pogba had a very good game aside from a few early misplaced passes, and this performance could put his form in a fine place for Sunday’s match against Chelsea.

Mourinho says Pogba needs time to adjust to Premier League intensity

Manchester United's Paul Pogba, centre, celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the Europa League Group A soccer match between Manchester United and Fenerbahce at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Paul Pogba had a very good match for Manchester United in the Europa League on Thursday, but manager Jose Mourinho still wants supporters to pump the brakes as the French midfielder continues adjusting to life in the Premier League.

Pogba, 23, has been under the microscope since returning to Old Trafford after a tremendous stint with Juventus. That scrutiny tends to come with a world record transfer fee.

[ MORE: UEFA Europa League roundup ]

On Thursday, he scored a pair of goals in United’s 4-1 defeat of Fenerbahce, a win that boosted the Red Devils back atop their Europa League group.

Mourinho was obviously asked about his midfielder’s starring performance.

“Paul Pogba needs time. I was in Italy, I know Italian football. To be in Italy for four or five years and come back I was not expecting it to be a click of the fingers for intensity. He needs time.”