Injuries finally catching up to Portland as Timbers fall in Salt Lake (Video)

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pPua2w-SRo]

Mikeal Silvestre and David Horst are slowly working their way back, but for most of the season, Portland has been without their two best central defenders. Futty Danso, next in line, has been out for the better part of a month, leaving Andrew Jean-Baptiste and Pa-Modou Kah to hold down Caleb Porter’s defense. One is a hyper-athletic, promising, but inconsistent player in his second professional season. The other is an experienced stop-gap whose mistakes are adding up. It’s not the ideal duo for a team that found itself competing for silverware, especially when Will Johnson, the team’s linchpin in central midfield, can’t get back on the field, either.

Factor in Jack Jewsbury’s absence and the suspension of Kah (yellow card accumulation) and you can see why Porter went to a three-man defense Friday night at Real Salt Lake. Unfortunately for the him, it only took Jason Kreis’s team nine minutes to exploit the experimental set up, with left-center back Michael Harrington vacating his position, allowing Luis Gil to get in behind midfielder Rodney Wallace for the opening goal.

Six minutes later, Joao Plata, beating Baptiste before a surgical finish from left of goal, doubled RSL’s lead, and although Darlington Nagbe cut that lead in half near the half-hour mark, Portland spent the rest of the night chasing the game. Diego Valeri left early with an injury, Alvas Powell’s introduction switching Portland back to a four-man defense. Ben Zemanski saw straight red just before half time, reducing the visitors to 10. By the time Javi Morales scored with a bicycle kick in the 55th minute, Portland’s formation looked more frenzy than function. Just keep going, play hard, and hope to get the goals back seemed to be the approach, but at that point, desperate times called for desperate measures.

Unfortunately, they were playing the best team in the league. Eventually winning 4-2, RSL extended their lead in the West to eight points (although second place LA have three games in hand). Their 52 goals are 11 more than the league’s next most-prolific attack, already claiming a franchise record with six games to play. And with two wins and a draw from their three August meetings with Portland, RSL won the Admiration Cup the two clubs seemed to create with their effusive praise of each others’ approaches. Be it on results, goals, or style points, RSL is proving themselves the team to beat.

They may not have been the best team for Caleb Porter to try a 3-6-1 against — Salt Lake seemingly blinking only once before pulling the defense apart — but given the Timbers’ fitness, Porter may have felt he had no other choice. With Kah suspended, former RSL defender Rauwshan McKenzie was pressed into his Timbers debut. There was no Will Johnson or Jack Jewsbury, leaving Portland with limited options to protect their defense and match RSL’s midfield. Why not try an approach that overloads in the middle with the hope (albeit slim hope) that you can strangle the game from your hosts?

Of course, that didn’t happen, the result being Portland’s worst performance of the season, one that gives Porter his first two-game losing “streak” since jumping to MLS. Depending on results in Columbus and Vancouver, the Timbers could find themselves in sixth by the end of the weekend, left wondering if their injury woes will cost them the postseason spot many assumed they’d claim.

Before Portland hosts Toronto next Saturday, things should improve. Johnson, Jewsbury, and Frederic Piquionne aren’t that far away. Bright Dike, the linebacker-esque striker out all year recovering from an ACL tear, dressed for the first time on Friday. Danso and Horst’s returns can be charted in weeks, not months.

Every team seems to hit a rough patch, and between injuries, suspensions, and schedule, this is Portland’s. It’s the first rough spell of the Caleb Porter era, one that’s cost them shots at the U.S. Open Cup and (likely) the Supporters’ Shield. But for Portland, the goal this season should have always been making the playoffs, so while more grandiose achievements were briefly in view, if the injury bug leaves in time for the Timbers to claim a top-five spot, the season can still be seen as a successful one.

VIDEO: Hamburg’s Muller out seven months after goal celebration

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Nicolai Mueller has gone full Gramatica, in doing so putting extra pressure on American teammate Bobby Wood.

Muller scored the lone goal in Hamburg’s season-opening win over Augsburg, but his celebration recalled memories of an injury to former Arizona Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica.

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap ]

Muller’s “helicopter” goal celebration, a staple for the midfielder, saw him tear his ACL upon landing near the corner flag. He’s set to miss seven months.

That means even more of the scoring burden will fall on Wood, whose nine goals last season led the team in its race to avoid relegation. Muller’s five goals were tied for second with Austrian forward Michael Gregoritsch.

Here’s the Hamburg hierarchy, from Bundesliga.com:

“The diagnosis comes as a huge shock to us, it’s a big blow at the start of the season and obviously is really tough on Nicolai,” said Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt. “We wish him all the best for his recovery and, of course, will support him as best we can.”

“It’s bad news,” added HSV head coach Markus Gisdol. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Muller has thrice scored eight or more Bundesliga goals, and is a huge loss for Hamburg. Though it’s tempting to chasten a player who’s hurt while celebrating a goal, there’s always a part of us that wants to point out that the ligament probably wasn’t in the finest shape if it earned a tear on such a non-explosive landing.

New Zealand star striker Wood to leave Leeds for Burnley

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Chris Wood is undergoing a medical at Burnley ahead of a proposed $19.2 million move from Leeds United.

Wood, 25, has played briefly for two Premier League clubs, West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City, but saw his stock explode thanks to a 27-goal campaign in the Championship this season.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

Burnley hopes the 6-foot-3 Wood can help replace Andre Gray, who left for Watford. The Clarets beat Chelsea on Opening Weekend and were unlucky to lose against West Brom on Saturday.

He’s also scored in his lone Championship appearance this season, and has thrice earned promotion; Wood helped West Brom and Leicester to the Premier League, and Brighton and Hove Albion to League One.

Wood has for some time been a star on the New Zealand national team, scoring 20 goals in 52 caps since 2009. He’s a perfect fit for Sean Dyche‘s playing style. The only question is whether he can bring his prowess to the Premier League level.

Stream Live: Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United

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Huddersfield Town looks to stay perfect in the Premier League when it hosts Newcastle United at the John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Town handled Crystal Palace 3-0 in its first match since earning promotion from the Championship, powered by a brace from 22-year-old ex-Montpellier striker Steve Mounie.

USMNT midfielder Danny Williams is on the bench for Town, which is managed by ex-USMNT player David Wagner.

[ STREAM: Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United ]

Newcastle United, meanwhile, fell 2-0 to Tottenham Hotspur. The clubs were scoreless through 50 minutes when Jonjo Shelvey stamped on Dele Alli and earned a red card.

He sits Sunday, and will be replaced by Borussia Dortmund loanee Mikel Merino.

LINEUPS

Huddersfield Town: Lossl, Smith, Billing, Schindler, Zanka, Lowe, Mooy, Van La Parra, Kachunga, Ince, Mounie. Subs: Coleman, Malone, Lolley, Williams, Quaner, Hefele, Palmer.

Newcastle United: Elliot, Manquillo, Lascelles, Mbemba, Clark; Ritchie, Merino, Hayden, Atsu; Perez, Gayle. Subs: Darlow, Saivet, Aarons, Diame, Murphy, Joselu, Mitrovic.

MLS Snapshot: Chicago Fire 1-3 Toronto FC (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): Greg Vanney and Toronto keep on doing their thing, and the Canadian side is yet another step closer to achieving MLS glory. TFC picked up its 50th point of the season on Saturday night after comfortably handling the Chicago Fire, who have cooled off significantly as of late in the Eastern Conference. The Fire are now nine points behind the East leaders and are losers of four of their last five matches.

Three moments that mattered

54′ — Accam, Fire level it up — Toronto really does manage to get contributions from everybody…

64′ — Hasler nets first MLS goal — Toronto really does manage to get contributions from all of their players…

90′ — Giovinco says goodnight to Chicago — That’s 12 goals on the season for Sebastian Giovinco and the TFC striker continues to help his side push towards the top seed in the East and MLS.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Marco Delgado (14′), David Accam (54′), Nick Hasler (63′), Sebastian Giovinco (90′)