MLS Preview: Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers

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• Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers have met twice in August so far, having not faced one another previously in 2013. RSL won the U.S. Open Cup semifinal 2-1 in Utah on Aug. 7, and the teams tied 3-3 on Aug. 21 in Portland.

• RSL head coach Jason Kreis and Timbers head coach Caleb Porter are two frontrunners for the Major League Soccer Coach of the Year award, thanks to RSL’s push for the Supporters’ Shield despite injuries and Portland’s turnaround from a poor 2012 season.

• Portland sits in fourth place in the Western Conference standings, although it has two games in hand on RSL, which is on top of both the conference and the league standings, having played the highest number of games in the league so far.

The Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake kick off this weekend’s MLS play (Friday, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN), renewing a familiarity cultivated twice this month already. Both the U.S. Open Cup semifinal and the league match at JELD-WEN Field were entertaining matches, and Friday’s encounter at Rio Tinto should be the same.

Both teams play attractive, free-flowing soccer, so it’s no coincidence that head coaches Jason Kreis and Caleb Porter (pictured) are two of the most popular choices for MLS Coach of the Year at this point. Despite losing multiple players to injury and international duty, both have sustained pushes toward the top of the table all season.

On Friday, RSL could be missing forward Alvaro Saborío, who is questionable with a calf strain (see Kreis’ quote below). On the other side of the field, the Timbers get Diego Chará back from suspension, but midfielders Jack Jewsbury, Will Johnson and Ben Zemanski are all listed as out on the injury report.

Salt Lake also comes off a week in which it played three matches (two on the road), losing to the Los Angeles Galaxy before tying Portland and defeating the Columbus Crew. The five days between matches will have provided somewhat of an opportunity to regroup — or at least more than the team got in the previous week.

Portland played three times in eight days during the same period, also winning, losing and tying one each: the Timbers defeated FC Dallas, tied RSL and lost to Seattle Sounders FC in a heated Cascadia Cup matchup.

What they’re saying

Timbers head coach Caleb Porter breaks down his team’s luck on set pieces: “I was just looking at the stats this morning because I’m always reflecting on how we can be better. We’ve given up 26 goals, which stacks us up pretty well. Fourteen of the 26 are restart situations. Four of the 14 are PKs, so you kind of wash those out, which means 10. Of those 10, two are free kicks over the wall, so obviously that’s not marking or anything. One is a long throw-in, which to some extent is box defending. And then we have two corners and five free kicks wide. So really, you’re looking at eight moments — eight situations — in 25 games where we’ve gotten beat with poor marking.”

RSL head coach Jason Kreis on striker Alvaro Saborío’s injury: “We were really hopeful it would be a short-term injury. We’re hopeful that he’ll be available for Friday. I think, right now, it’s 50-50 still.”

RSL defender Nat Borchers, in the locker room after 4-0 win over Columbus Crew, on the short turnaround in games: “I feel pretty good right now. I think that when you keep the ball like we did tonight, there’s less running for us in the back because there’s less opportunity for them to counter. Every time they counter, it’s an 80-yard sprint to goal. We didn’t have to do that much tonight.”

Prediction

The fact that these teams have two of the best coaches in the league should come out on Friday. Both teams will be tired from a long previous week, missing multiple players through injury (perhaps Portland more than RSL) and in need of points to keep pace at the top. It should be another thrilling encounter with multiple scoring opportunities at both ends. Another high-scoring draw is not out of question, but Real Salt Lake rarely does anything but win at home.

Sweden announces Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not return for World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s public flirtation and seeming committal to returning to the Swedish national team for the World Cup was a big tease.

Whether it’s his call or not is up for debate.

The Swedish Football Association reports that it’s spoken with Ibrahimovic and the 35-year-old LA Galaxy striker has declined the chance to return to the fold.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Sweden’s sporting director Lars Richt says Ibrahimovic has not changed his mind on international retirement despite his own words.

Sweden’s current team may have a role in that.

We imagine Richt and Sweden may be cushioning the blow for Ibrahimovic, especially if national team goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson is speaking on behalf of a team vibe when he speaks of Zlatan being “an individualist” who could ruin Sweden’s team-first concept.

Report: Fulham, NFL owner Khan agrees $700m price for Wembley

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Fulham owner Shad Khan also owns a National Football League team, and could have two top-flight teams from different nations playing in England soon.

For Fulham, the Cottagers are currently very much in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League and at the least will have a chance at qualifying through the playoffs.

[ MORE: TFC loses CCL Final in PKs ]

For the Jaguars, who have rarely needed all the seats in their stadium, it could mean a move to London if Khan goes through with what’s being reported as an accepted $700 million bid to buy Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium was also built with the design to host NFL games.

Here’s how ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith puts a bow on it (on one of the biggest days of the NFL calendar, nonetheless):

So it’s possible that there could soon be two iconic soccer stadiums in London with strong NFL ties, one which was built with NFL games in mind, and another that is owned by an NFL owner. The league is pouring serious resources into London.

It seems unlikely Khan would move Fulham from Craven Cottage, but there are other repercussions of this move for soccer in England.

There’s the potential for the England national team to no longer utlizie a permanent home, and the FA Cup and League Cup both potentially requiring new or rotating venues for their final rounds.

A lot to monitor here, and we’ll surely have all the details as they emerge from Khan’s crew.

TFC on CCL loss: “Feels the heart has been ripped from the chest”

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Michael Bradley went 90 minutes at center back, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco scored, and Toronto FC nearly, oh-so-nearly, became the first Major League Soccer side to win a continental title in the CONCACAF Champions League era.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

“We wanted to be the first (MLS side) to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono, according to MLSSoccer.com. “We failed in that goal; that’s massively disappointing. … This is the way the game goes, it’s unjust; it feels the heart has been ripped from the chest sometimes.”

Bono made some big saves in regulation as TFC flipped its 2-1 first leg loss on its ear over 90 minutes, but Chivas Guadalajara scored all four of their penalty kick attempts as Jonathan Osorio hit the bar and Bradley set his effort on a path to the moon.

That part was possibly academic, as Chivas could’ve sealed it with their fifth penalty, but Marky Delgado’s miss of a perfect Sebastian Giovinco stoppage time cross is what sent the match into kicks.

Here’s how The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson framed his post-match interview with Delgado, described as one of the few players not to walk past the media after the loss:

“That’s football sometimes,” Delgado searched for words. “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it goes in. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s heartbreaking.”

It felt cruel to keep him standing there any longer.

“Wherever we are, we want to win,” the soft-spoken American said. “Unfortunately today we didn’t, but we know we dominated the game.”

And Bradley, in the season after Toronto won a trouble but also 18 months removed from missing a PK in the MLS Cup Final — not to mention marshaling the USMNT midfield in its monumental failure to qualify for the World Cup was mostly good in playing out-of-position.

“In the biggest moments, we threw caution to the wind and played with balls, bravery, and pride in ourselves, in each other, in our club and our city,” Bradley said on Canadian television outlet TSN.

They did, and now they must hope to win the Canadian Championship, MLS Supporters’ Shield, or MLS Cup to get another shot at qualifying for the Club World Cup.

Toronto loses CONCACAF Champions League in PKs

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Chivas Guadalajara scored on all of its penalty kicks to clinch a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, breaking the hearts of Toronto FC in Mexico on Wednesday and earning a berth in the 2018 Club World Cup.

Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore scored in regulation as Toronto FC picked up a 2-1 win to reverse their first leg loss and push it to kicks.

Orbelin Pineda scored Chivas’ goal.

Hometown kid Jonathan Osorio hit the cross bar on Toronto’s second PK and Michael Bradley sent the fifth offering into outer space.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

Toronto flew out of the gates, and Rodolfo Cota came flying off his line to deny Altidore a 10th minute chance.

Alex Bono collected a header off a Chivas corner kick earned by a counterattack.

Pineda then made Toronto’s task even harder with a 19th minute goal, cooking Auro’s mark to reach a through ball and dancing around Bono for 1-0.

But Altidore was somehow unmarked for Nic Hasler’s pass despite five Chivas defenders and Cota inside the six-yard box, and TFC leveled the second leg at 1.

And TFC got the next goal through Giovinco, slipped through by Marky Delgado and taking advantage of a yard of space and a second to shoot with his fourth goal of the CCL knockout rounds.

The Reds kept coming in the second half, with Delgado winning a big 50-50 ball deep in Chivas territory and Victor Vasquez ripping a shot that Cota dove to smother.

Chivas found its footing in 58th minute, sending a shot over the bar before Jesus Godinez hit the post in the 61st (though his dive seemingly had the near post covered). Bono the next knocked a free kick over the bar from a similar position as the ball that beat him in the first leg.

Javier Lopez curled a vicious attempt just over the goal in the 72nd. He’d have the next best chances moments after Altidore subbed off with an apparent hamstring injury, but dribbled onto Bono’s lap and fired off the keeper.

Giovinco worked a 1-2 with Osorio and cruised a shot just wide of the far post in the 87th minute. Delgado then mailed a sitter over the bar in the first minute of stoppage time.