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.

Everton agree deal to buy land for new stadium

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Everton have moved a step closer to a new home on Liverpool’s waterfront.

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The Guardian is reporting that the Premier League have “agreed a deal to purchase land at Bramley Moore dock” which is where a new stadium is proposed for the Toffees.

Per the report, a deal has been agreed in principle with the landowners Peel Holdings and now Everton, led by new billionaire majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, will try to kick their new stadium project on. It is widely expected that the club will announce more details later on Thursday, with Liverpool City Council set to be heavily involved in the huge regeneration project.

Moshiri now has to acquire funding for the stadium and also get planning permissions from the council but things appear to be moving in the right direction.

Back in November 2016, Moshiri said having a stadium which “rewards the fans” was his “key aim” at Everton.

Everton’s search to find a new home after 125 years at Goodison Park has been exhaustive and frustrating. They’ve had three separate sites turned down since 2000 but with Moshiri’s arrival last February there is renewed optimism that building a new luxurious home in Liverpool’s docks is possible.

With Manchester City expanding the Etihad Stadium in recent seasons, Liverpool drastically improving Anfield, West Ham moving into the London Stadium, Chelsea closing in on securing a deal for a $600 million revamp of Stamford Bridge, plus Tottenham Hotspur moving into a new 61,000 home for the 2018-19 season, the rest of the Premier League is kicking on in terms of stadium expansion.

Moshiri has lofty heights for Everton and with Ronald Koeman as manager and plenty of funds promised to improve their exciting squad, the final major hurdle to overcome is the construction of a new home.

VOTE: Select Premier League Goal of the Month – March

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The 2 Robbies have selected their contenders for the Premier League Goal of the Month for March.

[ VOTE: Select your GOTM here ]

Now it’s your job to select the winner by clicking on the link above.

Watch the contenders in the video above and then vote for your favorite.

Enjoy.

At 0-2, Americans understand stakes in World Cup qualifying

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Michael Bradley sees no reason to keep harping on that 4-0 loss at Costa Rica four months ago.

Yes, it’s still fresh in the Americans’ minds, a night every mistake snowballed into another.

“There is zero point in continuing to look back on that at the moment,” Bradley said. “We are where we are. Now it’s about on Friday night beginning this process of moving ourselves back up the table and stepping on the field from the first minute and playing a really aggressive way that ultimately leaves no doubt as to who’s stepping off the field, win or lose.”

Bruce Arena’s U.S. squad gets a fresh start in World Cup qualifying Friday against Honduras, and the pressure is on following the home country’s first 0-2 start in the North and Central American and Caribbean region’s final round.

“We understand the position we’re in,” Bradley said. “There’s no need for anybody on the outside to put any more pressure on us than we’ve already put on ourselves, because we didn’t start the hex in the right way. We put ourselves behind the eight ball. We’re honest and real enough with ourselves to understand that. Friday night is the beginning of our chance to put things right and get ourselves back in a good position. … We need guys to step on the field and understand the moment, not be fazed by it, go for it in a fearless way and have a big group of guys play really well.”

Forward Jordan Morris’ status for Friday appears in question after he missed a third straight day of practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury sustained Sunday with the Seattle Sounders. Morris rehabbed in the gym, the U.S. Soccer Federation said.

“Have you followed our team at all the last month? You think that’s going to be something that’s going to bother me?” Arena said at the start of the week when asked about health concerns. “We’re fine. We’re going to have 11 good players on the field on Friday.”

For those who do play, Bradley said it is paramount everybody brings his best game. Same goes for the Americans’ next match in Panama on Tuesday.

While the man in charge has changed – Arena replaced the fired Jurgen Klinsmann in November for a second stint as U.S. coach – and more Major League Soccer players were called upon this time than in November, Bradley insists the approach remains simple: Find a way to win.

“We stepped on the field in Costa Rica wanting to win. That desire to win is obviously still there, so in terms of the basic idea of stepping on the field and trying to play well and go for it in the right way and come away with a positive result, that part’s still the same obviously,” the longtime captain said. “There’s no two ways about it, we let ourselves down in Costa Rica. We didn’t play well enough. Mistakes turned into bigger mistakes, which turned into bigger mistakes, and so it all comes together in a way that you can lose a game in a bad way.”

And, there are many faces who have been on the big stage – Bradley, included.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard started the past two World Cups. Howard, four-time World Cup participant defender DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey played for Arena leading into the coach’s last World Cup qualifying, in 2005. Jozy Altidore brings experience up front.

“It’s a huge game for us,” Howard said. “It’s helpful that we have guys who have been through the hex before, who understand what that takes and the pressures that are on us. Yeah, it’s a big game.”

Bradley isn’t getting fancy when it comes to what the U.S. group must do.

“Winning. Three points,” Bradley said. “That’s it.”

“For us the reality is simple: We let ourselves down in the first two games,” he said. “It means that our margin for error is very, very small, but nothing’s changed in that we still feel good about the team that we have, the group that we are. I think that Bruce has come in and done an excellent job in terms of re-establishing certain things, getting at a few things. The mentality, the spirit in training and around the group both in January and now this week has been excellent, so we’re getting a little excited about the chance to step on the field in a big-time qualifier.”

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

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As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.