MLS Preview: Seattle Sounders at San Jose Earthquakes

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  • Osvaldo Alonso to return for Seattle
  • Earthquakes 2-3-0 since Frank Yallop’s departure
  • Seattle won last meeting, 4-0

The up-and-down season of the Seattle Sounders hit another trough last weekend in Vancouver, their 2-0 defeat at BC Place their first MLS loss to the Whitecaps. This week, however, the roller coaster looks set to climb once more, Sigi Schmid’s side in Santa Clara on Saturday to face an Earthquakes team they beat 4-0 at CenturyLink on May 11.

While the shift of venue should have San Jose hope (the Earthquakes are 4-1-4 at home), their results since the ouster of Frank Yallop shouldn’t. Though the Mark Watson era started with a win at Colorado, they played up a man for 72 minutes. In the four games that have followed, San Jose’s only points came from their remarkable comeback against the Galaxy at Stanford Stadium. Recently losses at Chicago and New England only reaffirm the notion that their coaching change has done little to curb the team’s struggles.

The Gold Cup isn’t helping matters. Chris Wondolowski is posting hat tricks for the United States. Marvin Chavez bagged a goal in Honduras’s opener. Nana Attakora’s living through Canada’s disappointment. Add Clarence Goodson to the list, and San Jose is tied with Real Salt Lake and Toronto for most absences for this year’s competition, even if Goodson has yet to suit up for the Earthquakes since moving back to Major League Soccer.

Seattle’s roster if Gold Cup-free, but with Obafemi Martins, Sharlie Joseph, and Steve Zakuani set to miss the game with injuries, starting a first choice team continues to be a problem for the Sounders. They’ll get their best player back, however, with Osvaldo Alonso expected to play for the first time since June 1. That will solve Seattle’s problems in central midfield, but with their top scoring threat (Martins) out, it’s worth wondering if the stars will ever align to keep a number of key, fragile parts healthy at the same time.

Were Seattle closer to the top of the conference, that would be less of an issue, as Schmid could manage his squad with the idea of preserving his veterans near the end of the season, cruising into the playoffs while recharging his core. Without the U.S. Open Cup or CONCACAF Champions League to worry about, Seattle’s deep quad should may still be able to do that, but unless that process involves a quicker climb from their seventh place hole, the Sounders will be pushing their players in important games through at least the end of October.

To put Seattle’s plight in perspective, for as many troubles as San Jose have had this season, the Earthquakes are only three points behind the Sounders. While Seattle has played four fewer games — a huge number — the thin gap between them and a team few are talking about for a playoff spot highlights the work that remains They have the games in hand to make up their five-point gap on fifth place Vancouver, yet Seattle are quickly descending to a place that makes those games vital.

Losing to San Jose — allowing the Earthquakes to become another competitor for a playoff spot — will only complicate life for the Sounders.

More: San Jose have allowed 19 shots on goal in their last two games … Seattle have scored twice in their last four road games, both goals coming at Chivas USA … Wondolowski is the only Earthquakes player who has scored against the Sounders this season (two games).

Zidane anxiously awaiting goals from Ronaldo

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MADRID (AP) For Zinedine Zidane, the Madrid derby on Saturday is just what Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema need to break their scoring slump.

The Real Madrid forwards have been struggling in the Spanish league, with just two goals between them.

Ronaldo, while striking six times in the Champions League, has tallied only one in seven Liga appearances.

Benzema is having an even tougher time, with just two in 12 matches across all competitions.

“It’s true that this is not normal, but they just need to keep training and keep trying as they have been doing,” Zidane says.

“You don’t need to tell Karim and Cristiano that they should train more, it’s something they do. They will go out on the pitch and score, I am sure of it.”

Over his career, Ronaldo has thrived against Real’s crosstown rival, Atletico. He holds the record for the Spanish capital derby with 21 goals.

Benzema’s performances, however, have not been as impressive, with three goals in his last 14 league matches against Atletico.

Zidane says Ronaldo and Benzema focused on recovering their scoring form last week during the international break, when they stayed at the club instead of joining their national sides.

“We have been working on it,” he said. “What I want is that my players, my forwards, play well, and tomorrow is a good match for them to keep trying.”

Their scoring droughts have contributed to Real’s irregular season.

Real is in third place and level on points with Atletico, which is fourth after having trouble winning at its new Wanda Metropolitan Stadium.

Both sides need a victory to keep pace with leader Barcelona, which visits Leganes hours earlier.

If Barcelona wins, Madrid and Atletico will be staring at an 11-point gap by kickoff.

Why Caleb Porter isn’t the man for the USMNT

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The Portland Timbers are a cherry club in Major League Soccer.

Owner Merritt Paulson is as dedicated as any in the game and the supporters make 21,000-seat Providence Park one of the most intoxicating venues in the league.

So it’s a safe bet, much like the United States men’s national team, that the Timbers will be in fine shape when they find the replacement for their current departed combustible coach.

[ PST SURVEY: Who should be next USMNT coach? ]

In Portland’s case, it’s Caleb Porter. The former University of Akron mastermind left the club on Friday, fueling speculation that he must be in talks to be the next USMNT coach.

Please, no.

Porter’s name has been raised for some time as a successor to Jurgen Klinsmann or Bruce Arena and, at the risk of becoming a Cold Takes Exposed case, there are myriad reasons to dismiss him from consideration for the gig (which isn’t to say he shouldn’t be a risk-reward hire for another MLS side).

Porter has an MLS Cup Final win as Portland boss, though it should be noted it came in a season the Timbers had to rally to make the playoffs. He’s led the Timbers to two No. 1 seeds in the West, and won a national championship at Akron.

Those are all incredibly positive, but the reasons he’s a risk for a program in disarray are many.

  1. His previous experience with the U.S., leading the Olympic qualifying team, saw a fairly-loaded U-23 fail to escape the group stage of qualifying.
  2. For all their successes, the Timbers twice missed the MLS Cup Playoffs during his five seasons in charge.
  3. Despite it’s low profile prior to its national championship, Akron, was very good before he arrived under Ken Lolla, now with Louisville, and has been quite good since he left under Jared Embick.

This isn’t to say the 42-year-old Porter is not a good coach. That would be foolish, and it would be interesting to see how he’d fare leading an overseas club or other national team.

But his record simply isn’t strong enough to take the reins of the USMNT. As silly as this sounds, perhaps he could’ve been a name to consider should the Yanks have squeaked into the World Cup with Arena. But they didn’t, and risk is not the name of the game right now.

Let’s start with his Portland tenure.

Timbers under Porter
2013* – 1st place, West; 3rd overall; 6 clear of 6th
2014 – 6th place, West; 11th overall;
2015* – 3rd place, West; 5th overall; 6 clear of 7th, MLS Cup champions
2016 – 7th place, West; 12th overall
2017* – 1st place, West; 6th overall; 7 pts clear of 7th

The Timbers may still be alive this season had Diego Chara not been injured in this season’s playoffs, and that should be noted. It should also be mentioned that Portland did not fire Porter, according to all accounts.

Yet it’s difficult to look past that, and it’s not the only argument against the Porter risk.

Let’s not overlook the failure to qualify for the Olympics in 2012, when Porter led a massively talented U.S. roster to third place in Group A behind El Salvador and Canada.

After beating Cuba 6-0, the U.S. lost 2-0 to Canada before drawing El Salvador 3-3. For those wanting to argue it was a weak American cycle of players, the U.S. had the following in the squad: Bill Hamid, Juan Agudelo, Mix Diskerud, Brek Shea, Joe Corona, Perry Kitchen, Ike Opara, Joe Gyau, Terrence Boyd, Amobi Okugo, Teal Bunbury, and Jorge Villafana.

Then there’s Akron, where Porter barely lost and recruited a treasure trove of MLS SuperDraft picks en route to his national title. It’s the least point of the bunch, but to hang a hat on that acumen is to ignore that Akron’s been a relative national contender, given its size, for decades, and that Lolla has Louisville humming while Embick has not booting possession since taking over.

There’s a further point to be made regarding personality and Porter’s penchant for touchline drama. Goodness knows half the duty of a national team coach is massaging big egos, and Porter’s self-impression is significant in stature.

Now the U.S. may well hire Porter, and he may right the ship and lead them to a Confederations Cup-clinching Gold Cup win, a Copa America semifinal, and a 2022 World Cup quarterfinal under a potentially Golden Generation.

That’s great. I’ll be very happy to be wrong. But let’s hope the Yanks call upon any number of safer options with international experience or a safer and more tested domestic resume.

Premier League preview: Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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  • 194th edition of the north London derby
  • Spurs unbeaten in 6 vs. Arsenal: D-W-D-D-D-W
  • Spurs 3rd in the PL; Arsenal 6th

Has the balance of power shifted in north London? The 2016-17 season was the first in 22 years to see Tottenham Hotspur finish above Arsenal. While it’s clearly just one out of 23 seasons to finish with Tottenham on top, their respective trajectories have been moving in opposite directions considerably longer.

The latest installment of one of the Premier League’s fiercest, and suddenly most consequential, rivalries kicks off a full weekend of action on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), following the final international break of 2017.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Given Manchester City’s blistering start, the current season already seems a serious long shot that either side will mount a serious title challenge — Spurs currently sit third (eight points back of Man City) ahead of their trip to the Emirates Stadium, home of the sixth-place Gunners (12 back). The Emirates has been a tough place for Spurs to pull off the upset, having failed to win their last six times away to Arsenal, though draws in three straight will certainly have Mauricio Pochettino‘s side believing they’re now equals — if not superiors — and the time is now.

The international break couldn’t have come at a better time for either side: Arsenal, having been thoroughly beaten by City their last time out; Spurs, having suffered a handful of short- and medium-term injuries to a number of key figures — Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Harry Winks all skipped England duty to achieve full fitness ahead of Saturday, while Toby Aldeweireld is out an additional month and Hugo Lloris could miss another week.

As for the managers, Pochettino has been extremely complimentary of Wenger — as he’s always done since arriving at Spurs in the summer of 2014 — while his counterpart isn’t at all ready to concede Arsenal’s place at the north London summit.

What they’re saying

Arsene Wenger, on the rivalry: “Today, people always take one situation and it is permanent. The judgement is definite, permanent and forever. … It is down to us to change the opinions of people with our performances, I cannot say much more. If they have a perception like that they have a perception like that but how can you respond? Not by me talking here, we need to show on Saturday that it’s not true.”

Mauricio Pochettino, on Wenger: “In football history he is one of the great managers, the same level as Sir Alex Ferguson. He will always be a special manager. … To keep motivation more than three years is difficult. Five years, you must be very good, very good if you are 10 years. When you talk about 20 years it is amazing. Everyone who talks about him needs to show respect. … Arsene Wenger is my enemy because he is Arsenal manager but he is my colleague too. What he is doing at Arsenal and as a manager – I would like to be like him one day, 20 years at Tottenham.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Olivier Giroud (thigh), Rob Holding (thigh), Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Danny Welbeck (hamstring), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh) | Tottenham — OUT: Toby Aldeweireld (hamstring), Victor Wanyama (knee), Erik Lamela (hip); QUESTIONABLE: Hugo Lloris (groin); RETURNING: Dele Alli (hamstring), Harry Winks (ankle)

Prediction

A draw featuring (multiple) goals for both sides seems completely inevitable and unavoidable. Spurs have closed the gap to the point they’ll actually expect to win at the Emirates, but the quality of Arsenal’s squad, coupled with their desperation to challenge for a top-four place, is more than enough to put the two sides back on level footing and result in a thrilling, end-to-end deadlock which leaves neither side particularly pleased in the end.

Report: Caleb Porter out as Timbers head coach

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) A person familiar with the decision confirmed that head coach Caleb Porter has parted ways with the Portland Timbers.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because an official announcement had not been made by the team. The surprise move was first reported Thursday night by FourFourTwo.com.

The 42-year-old Porter has been coach of the Timbers for the past five seasons, compiling a 60-50-52 record and guiding the team to the MLS Cup Championship in 2015. He was named the MLS Coach of the Year after his first season with the team in 2013.

He signed a long-term contract extension with the team in January, 2016.

Porter tied the Major League Soccer record league record for fewest losses through his first 100 games with just 25. This season he coached his 150th game in the league.

The Timbers qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League twice during his time with the team. The Timbers also reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup in 2013, his first season with the team

The Timbers finished this season as the top seed in the Western Conference, but fell in the conference semifinals 2-1 on aggregate to the Houston Dynamo. The Timbers were decimated by injuries in the semis, including midfielder Diego Chara, who broke a bone in his foot.

“This is one that hurts for sure. We fell short. We felt we could move on, but we didn’t,” Porter said after the game. “When the dust settles I think we will look back and realize it was a good season, but it’s also a season where you think to yourself `what if?’ `What if we were at full strength?'”

Porter came to the Timbers from the University of Akron, where he was head coach of the Zips from 2006-12. He went to the NCAA College Cup championship game twice during his tenure, winning the title in 2010.

After that loss to Houston to end the season, Porter praised his players.

“One to 25 they were all good guys and there was a great spirit in that locker room. That’s really what made us the team that we were this year. It’s the team and the locker room and the guys’ character,” he said. “So I really enjoyed spending a lot of time in the trenches with these guys. Like I said in a couple days we will realize it was a good season. We made a lot of steps forward this year. We still need to make more steps, but we had a good bounce back from last year.”