Front office changes left Portland, not Toronto, with offer too good to refuse

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source: AP
In August, then-Toronto president/general manager Kevin Payne announced two years of following Max Urruti had culminated with the 22-year-old’s capture. One month later, the former Newell’s Old Boys striker is a Portland Timber, traded for a 26-year-old with 1060 career minutes played.

As Joe noted earlier, Bright Dike is a handful. His lack of playing time (1060 career minutes) keeps a broader audience from knowing: He’s the most physically challenging player in the league. At 6’1″, 220 pounds of speed and muscle, the Nigerian international is a linebacker in a soccer kit. Particularly in an approach like Ryan Nelsen’s, Dike could have some serious value, provided his recovering ACL can log meaningful time soon.

But Dike’s zero minutes played since returning from surgery last year tells you almost all you need to know about today’s trade. Toronto wanted to get rid of Max Urruti – a 22-year-old who, despite the players’ four-year age difference, has scored twice as many professional goals as Dike (12 in Argentina to Dike’s six in MLS). You don’t trade a just-signed prospect you for somebody coming off knee surgery unless you just want him off the books.

“We received an offer from Portland that we could simply not pass on,” Nelsen said, somewhat bizarrely, in a statement sent out by Toronto. Perhaps the could not pass part was receiving an offer at all?

Everything indicates Toronto’s hitting eject on Urruti. Everything indicates it’s Portland, not Toronto, that were given an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Dike is cheap, he has some potential, and Portland (particularly general manager Gavin Wilkinson) likes him a lot. Having significantly invested in him — playing time; a knee surgery; and Achilles’ tendon recovery — they wouldn’t give him away for nothing. Still, there was no vision for the Timbers’ future were he was more than a third-choice striker in Caleb Porter’s system. If what Urruti showed in Argentina is any indication, he could develop into a potential starter.

“Maximiliano is a player we know well, one we feel will be a great fit in our system and scouted extensively prior to him signing with Toronto,” Porter said via a team-distributed statement. “Urruti will complement the depth we have in the striker position, and once he is acclimated and match fit, will bring a dimension to the number nine role that we’ve been looking for.”

And with that, Portland become the latest beneficiary of Toronto FC’s continued chaos. In the wake of Kevin Payne’s dismissal, TFC comes off as too eager to eject one of their former boss’s most notable signings. That they got a decent player making just over $60,000 per season is a bonus.

source: Getty Images
Bright Dike established himself as a Major league Soccer-caliber player last season in Portland, scoring five times in 896 minutes. His physical style will be a strong fit for how Ryan Nelsen likes to play in Toronto.

Their goal here seems to be to cut bait with a player who, in less than a month, has gone from key acquisition to expendable. Perhaps they learned all they need to know about Urruti from 37 MLS minutes and a month’s worth of training sessions, but given Portland were eager to add the 22-year-old Argentine to a crowded roster, Urruti appears to have maintained some fans outside the Toronto organization.

Rather than anything he showed on the field, the more likely explanation is Urruti is the latest, bizarre departure from a chronically aimless team. The direction Toronto had 10 months ago is different from the direction they had last week, which is different from the direction they have today, and will be different from the direction they’ll have under Payne’s successor. The Timbers benefit from the consequences of Toronto’s managerial turnover.

That turnover means players like Luis Silva get lost. Stars like Dwayne De Rosario, in whom so much time and energy are invested, become easy to cast off. And pursued prospects like Max Urruti are left behind when the nameplates change on the door.

As a result, a player who was playing for Newell’s Old Boys as a 20-year-old has been cut loose. Does that mean he’s bound for Major League Soccer success? Or that Toronto’s even made a bad move? Not necessarily. They may truly believe that Dike will be the better player, or he will be good enough to justify the presumed offset in salary. They may think taking on Urruti allowed them to get a cheap, distinct talent, one that was worth the sacrifice of a player they liked so much a month ago.

The fact that this vision is so much different from last month’s is the real story. And given the two players’ history, there’s every reason to think this isn’t about how much TFC likes Dike; rather, it’s a confused organization cutting another a player lose.

As it concerns Urruti, Portland seems more than willing to bet Payne was right.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.