Considering the Will Johnson effect on the Portland Timbers’ streak-ender

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It takes so much, so many elements in synch, to assemble the kind of showy streak that we just saw end for Portland.

So while we cannot make too much of any single element, an obvious place to start is the absence of captain Will Johnson. He was away, performing for Canada, during Portland’s loss Sunday to Columbus in Ohio, a setback that snapped the team’s club record 15-game unbeaten streak.

Timbers manager Caleb Porter wanted – strike that, knew he needed – a leader like Johnson for his reconstruction project around Jeld-Wen Field. And Johnson’s presence has been no minor ingredient of the Timbers’ surprisingly quick success under their first-year MLS manager.

The captain had been available to the Timbers for every MLS match before Sunday’s, starting all and also starting the team’s toughest U.S. Open Cup contest. Johnson’s two-way contributions and all his leadership have initiated (some very reasonable) conversations about whether the Canadian international should be considered for league MVP?

Well, we are adding some fodder for that debate in looking at a lesser version of the Portland Timbers without his significant contributions. Because what I saw early Sunday was a team that needed some leadership on the field.

The thing about a leader like that, he helps keep people accountable, helps keep things wired tightly. And in doing so, he helps the Timbers avoid things like the marking collapse that saw Bernardo Anor completely unchallenged to score on an early corner kick for Columbus.

That was all a depleted Columbus team could manage – but it was enough to snap the streak. Portland eventually found its feet – but who could help but wonder if they looked a little rudderless early specifically because they were missing their captain.

By the way, I’m not the only one who noticed this early lack of balance. This from Stumptownfooty.com’s observations on the streak busting defeat.

From the first whistle Portland looked tentative and unsure of what to do with the ball when it was at their feet. Which lead to an early corner in the 5th minute of play. On the corner the marking was atrocious as multiple Columbus Crew players were left unmarked in the box. Bernado Anor, one of the aforementioned, said “thank you very much!” as he buried the ball into the back of the net.

“Usually when Portland gets scored on early in a game it wakes them up and they start to play their game. This time the poor passing and lackadaisical play continued. The team looked slow of feet and of mind. Kah in particular was having trouble.”

“Having trouble” was putting it mildly, as Kah left the team to play a man down for almost 80 minutes. The Timbers’ overall quality showed as the visitors were equal or better, even a man down and on the road, through the game’s final hour.

Ben Zemanski is a good, young player – but he’s no Will Johnson. Not in technical quality, not in midfield drive, not in experience and certainly not in leadership. But then again, there could be big moments where Johnson isn’t around.

Learning to get along, to start strong, to finish even stronger, to ride out tough moments, etc., without their clear leader will be another step in the learning curve for Porter’s group going forward.

Fabinho admits interest in Manchester United

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If even a fraction of this summer’s transfer interest is real, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has taken every precaution against his biggest 2017 enemy: scheduled congestion.

Mourinho was a regular critic of United’s schedule last season in the run-up to its UEFA Europa League title win over Ajax, and is building his roster up for the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Saief completes USMNT switch ]

The manager already had plenty of attacking options, and has added Victor Lindelof to his stable of defenders while reportedly flirting with PSG’s Marquinhos, too. Defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic is also a reported target (as are half of the world’s elite footballers).

And now, a wry smile from Monaco’s Fabinho hints that Mourinho may be making progress with another target.

‘‘It’s a tempting invitation. … I would first talk to my agent, Monaco too, to decide everything right. But it’s a great club, sure enough I would think well about it.”

Fabinho played mostly right back in 2014-15 before splitting time between that position and defensive midfielder the following year and seeing most of his time at CDM last season. Mourinho has lavished praise and given a contract extension to right back Antonio Valencia and has Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, and Paul Pogba at CDM (though the latter can certainly operate higher up the field).

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.