Admiration Cup: Real Salt Lake’s U.S. Open Cup quest continues at Portland’s expense

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The prelude to Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal in Sandy focused on the styles Real Salt Lake and Portland would bring to the game. RSL has long been thought to play some of the most aesthetically pleasing soccer in MLS, while the philosophy Caleb Porter’s brought to the Timbers has made “Porterball” shorthand for attractive soccer. When, earlier this week, Porter espoused his admiration for RSL, discussed how he’d watch them before he moved to MLS, the mutual appreciation was palpable.

While the love fest played out in its predictably pleased fashion at Rio Tinto on Wednesday, the occasion reminded us that stakes really matter. Yeah, it was nice that two teams who like to keep it on the ground and move it quickly where going at each other, but this was a U.S. Open Cup semifinal. In an elimination game, only the final score mattered. There were no points for artistic merit.

If there were, Álvaro Saborio would have racked them up with his seventh minute, looping goal from the left of the box, his shot off a Kyle Beckerman cross arcing over Donovan Ricketts, against the far post, and in for the opening score.

RSL held that lead until the 78th minute when substitute Joao Plata, taking a lay-off from Saborio, doubled his team’s lead from 25 yards, seemingly putting the home side into the U.S. Open Cup final.

That assumption was almost proven wrong in stoppage time. Just after the clock struck 90:00, Diego Valeri headed home the rebound of his own shot, giving the Timbers new life.

That life, however, was extinguished four minutes later when full time was blown on the Timbers’ Cup run. With the 2-1 win, Real Salt Lake is into the final, set to host D.C. United on October 1 with a chance to win their first U.S. Open Cup.

The warm congratulations, celebrations between the teams after the game harkened back to the match’s prelude – the focus on style. It was clear the two teams, somewhat isolated in their philosophies in the pragmatic world of MLS, had an appreciation for each others’ games. Set to face off two more times this month, the teams will have more opportunities to reflect on each other’s quality. Perhaps a type of rival can be sparked from their mutual appreciation: The Admiration Cup.

Ultimately, it was the result that mattered, with RSL fans and Portland supporters little concerned with their aesthetics after final whistle. The Timbers were out of the competition, missing out on the opportunity to host the U.S. Open Cup final. RSL, on the other hand, gets a showcase in Sandy and the chance to claim the club’s second major trophy.

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Man City reportedly agrees $86m price for Laporte

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Sky Sports reporter Guillem Balague is reporting that Manchester City is set to seal an $86 million purchase of center back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao, and all that’s left is for City to agree to contract terms with the player.

[ MORE: MCFC into League Cup Final ]

The 23-year-old has been with the Basque outfit since 2012, making more than 200 appearances for Athletic. Balague issued a Tweet saying Man City opted for Laporte over $34 million Jonny Evans of West Brom.

Laporte is a smooth and technical passer at center back who shouldn’t have a problem with the physical nature of the Premier League either. He’s yet to break into the French national team, and is only the second French player to play for Bilbao.

Rumors have circulated for some time, though a Tuesday report was dismissed because Laporte was in advanced discussions with Man City during a previous transfer window when he changed his mind.

It’s more big money from City, a boon for Athletic Bilbao, and terrific competition for John Stones and any Man City center back not named Nicolas Otamendi (and Vincent Kompany when healthy).

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”

Guardiola happy to reach final, knows Man City to be judged by hardware

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Bristol City made its interesting late with a pair of goals, but Manchester City’s League Cup destiny was never in jeopardy in a 3-2 second leg win at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

[ RECAP: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

That sent the club into the Feb. 25 final with a 5-3 aggregate win, and it’s very difficult not to leap to the story line that is Pep Guardiola‘s chance at a first significant title in his reign at Man City.

The closest City came to hardware last season was being bounced by Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. This time, City is the favorite to win at least three of its four entered competitions: the Premier League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup.

But to hear Pep say it, for now the club is just happy to have earned one final berth. From the BBC:

“We are so happy to be there, to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lost control, these type of games never end until the end. This is a lesson for next weekend in Cardiff in the FA Cup and especially for the Champions League.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Manchester City, a club who are trying to reach another level. … I know that we will be judged by trophies we win but we are so happy. Nobody can take away what we have done, but Chelsea or Arsenal are strong teams.”

Guardiola was serious about not overlooking the Robins, as he rolled out a very similar lineup to the full-strength bunch that beat Newcastle United 3-1 at the weekend. That may have cost City late, but it had already built a 4-1 aggregate lead with two superior away goals.

Yes, Guardiola is a man who measures himself by the way his club plays but also by winning in that attractive fashion. Expect a determined club to stride into Wembley late next month.

Chelsea and Arsenal square off Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium for the right to match up with Man City, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2016. Even year dominance?