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Portland 15 unbeaten, first in West after win over Colorado

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Had you stopped the match after 10 minutes, you would have never guessed Colorado would lose 3-0. They were clearly the better side, putting three shots toward Donovan Ricketts during a start that hinted the host’s 14-game unbeaten run was in serious jeopardy.

But as is so often the case in this sport, one moment changed everything. That moment came in the 12th minute when a Rodney Wallace cross was hammered home by Frédéric Piquionne. Eighty minutes later, after Will and Ryan Johnson goals, the Timbers had a 3-0 victory, the type of decisive result many would have predicted before the opening kickoff.

Winless in four, Colorado have started to fade after a May push cast them as dark horse playoff contenders. Yet the Rapids may be falling victim to the one thing that undoes so many upstarts: Respect. After catching some by surprise during their strong start, Colorado lost the ability to sneak up on anyone. The result’s been a fall to earth.

It’s a testament to Portland’s staying power that they’ve avoided the same fate. After all, the Timbers were one of two teams to finish below the Rapids in last year’s Western Conference standings. They’re just as susceptible to the surprise team paradox as Colorado.

Of course, Portland is a much changed team from last year, with the value of all so many of their new parts on display Sunday. Confident goalkeeping from Ricketts helped weather the early storm while enabling decisive play from newly acquired Pa-Modou Kah. Will Johnson’s role as a fulcrum in midfield was evident as the Timbers established themselves after Piquionne’s goal, while Diego Valeri’s skill continues to be crucial as a focal point linking the attack.

Then there are the holdovers – players who’ve almost across-the-board improved this season. Back playing fullback, Jack Jewsbury has been a needed insurance policy for a depleted central defense. Diego Chara has gone a long way to justifying his Designated Player spot, while Darlington Nagbe continues to tap into on his seemingly unlimited potential. All three continued their strong seasons on Sunday.

And of course, there’s Rodney Wallace. The Costa Rican became a topic of conversation recently when he failed to make MLS’s All-Star Ballot, a testament to the suddenly deep Portland squad. On Sunday, the left-sider provided his counter point, recording the first assist on all three Timbers goals.

The result leaves the Timbers even on points with Real Salt Lake at the top of the Western Conference. A proclivity for draws technically puts Portland in second place, but with only one loss, they’re also the most difficult team in the league to beat.

Now 107 days and 15 matches without a loss, Caleb Porter’s men have gone from answering questions to posing their inquiries of their own: Who will be the next team to beat the Portland Timbers?

 

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.

Qatari official says World Cup drunks will be treated “very gently”

In this photo taken during a government organized media tour, laborers work at the Al-Wakra Stadium that is under construction for the 2022 World Cup, in Doha, Qatar, Monday, May 4, 2015. Qatar’s top labor official told The Associated Press Monday that Qatar’s inability to ensure decent housing for its bulging migrant labor population was “a mistake” the government is working to fix as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, vowing his country would improve conditions for its vast foreign labor force. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo
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One of the biggest unanswered questions still hanging over the 2022 World Cup — at least for fans traveling to Qatar for the tournament — has to do with the rules and regulations placed upon their consumption of alcohol.

[ MORE: All of the latest FIFA news ]

On Monday, Hassan Al Thawadi, the head of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup committee, attempted to ease those fears when he said that not only will the consumption of alcohol be permitted during the tournament in six years’ time, but that in the event of public drunkenness, the visitors in question will be dealt with quickly and “very gently” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I know in South Africa there where specific courts established during the World Cup for this kind of thing, and that is something we were discussing with FIFA.”

“In relation to drunk fans it will be as it is anywhere else, anyone who is rowdy, anyone who breaches the law, will be very gently – depending on how they react – taken care of in a manner to make sure that people are not disrupting the public order. Everyone will be able to have fun and be exposed to Qatari culture.”

“We welcome everyone in the world. We’ve hosted many people, from many places and [drinking] was never an issue. This will be a fun World Cup. It will be one of the best cups out there.”

Chelsea’s next manager? Juve GM tells Allegri to “think twice” about it

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri waits for the start of a Serie A soccer match between Inter Milan and Juventus at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
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Chelsea fans, quickly think up a few qualities and characteristics you’d like your club’s next manager to possess. Got your list? OK, good. Massimiliano Allegri ticks just about every box you’d hope your next manager would do, which is why there are plenty of rumors flying around linking Juventus’ current boss to the Premier League’s highest profile vacancy.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

For staters, he’s young (48) and massively ambitious; he’s had plenty of success at his two most recent stops as a manager (2010-11 Serie A title with AC Milan; 2014-15 Serie A title, Coppa Italia triumph and UEFA Champions League runners-up with Juventus); and he boasts a successful enough playing career to command the respect of his players.

Juve aren’t going to let Allegri walk out the door without putting up a fight to keep their in-demand leader, though. The club’s general manager, Beppe Marotta, has warned Allegri that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side — quotes from the Guardian:

“In the space of one month we have to play in every competition: the league, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League. The next month will tell us a lot about how the whole season is going to play out.

“But we talk to Allegri about footballing matters, not about other matters. Beyond the contracts you have to sign there are the relationships you must build with people, and we’re happy with Allegri.

“All the conditions are right for us to continue with him as coach. Results are what count and Allegri has delivered plenty of those. Football is a business and the role of a coach is important when it comes to breeding continuity.

“Chelsea are a top club and it’s obvious that they’ll want to look at the best coaches. All I can say is that Allegri is already at a top club, so he’d do well to think twice before leaving Juventus.”

[ MORE: Van Gaal calls Mourinho speculation false, a bunch of “nonsense” ]

In the end, if Allegri wants to test himself at a higher level where league titles are anything but a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the season (Juventus are currently in pursuit of their fifth straight Serie A crown), Marotta and Juve stand little chance of changing his mind. Not even Bayern Munich could withstand the pull of the PL and keep hold of Pep Guardiola, just as Diego Simeone will one day join Jurgen Klopp and many others as foreign coaches who established themselves elsewhere and eventually ended up in England.

Checking in with the Championship’s Premier League promotion hopefuls

HULL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07: Jake Livermore of Hull City in action with Diego Fabbrini of Middlesbrough during the Sky Bet Championship match between Hull City and Middlesbrough at the KC Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Hull, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
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With roughly one-third of the schedule to play, there are four clubs within three points of automatic promotion to the Premier League and five more in or within shouting distance of the promotion playoffs.

So while we’re tracking the race to avoid PL relegation between Aston Villa, Sunderland, Norwich City and others, let’s take a look at who’s making bids to take their places.

[ MORE: Difficulty looms for in-form, relegation-scrapping Villa ]

Only one of last season’s relegated teams is far removed from the race to rejoin the Premier League, and that’s Queens Park Rangers. The R’s are 11 points back of sixth place, the final PL playoff spot.

Top dogs

Steve Bruce has Hull City in line for an instant return to the Premier League, but it’s far from sewn up. The Tigers have the Championship’s best goal differential (26), but are tied with Middlesbrough on points and just a point ahead of Sean Dyche‘s Burnley.

Also within a win of the Top Two is Brighton and Hove Albion, led by ex-Norwich City and Newcastle United manager Chris Hughton. He guided the Magpies to promotion, and also got Birmingham City to the playoff in 2012.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01:  Jonathan Spector of Birmingham City during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Birmingham City and Leicester City at St Andrews (stadium) on August 1, 2015 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Also in the running

Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday would be headed to the playoffs if the regular season ended today, but either could drop out of the six within a single game weekend.

Ipswich Town is in 7th with 48 points, while Birmingham is a point back. And remember Vincent Tan? Cardif City’s 45 points have them in the discussion for a PL return.

Of those teams, only one carries an American player. That’s USMNT defender Jonathan Spector (right), the former Manchester United and West Ham United man.