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.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone

VIDEO: Reus scores stunning winner for Dortmund

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BERLIN (AP) Marco Reus scored his first Bundesliga goal of the season to give Borussia Dortmund a 1-0 win at his former team Borussia Moenchengladbach on Sunday.

Reus, Andre Schuerrle and Mario Goetze started for the first time together for Dortmund, and the three Germany teammates were all involved in the 32nd-minute goal.

Goetze played the ball to Schuerrle, who crossed for Reus on the right. Reus looked up and lifted the ball over ‘Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer to score off the underside of the crossbar.

“It was a good goal. I think he wanted to do that,” Sommer said.

Reus, who returned from a serious knee injury last weekend against Hamburger SV, said he wanted to play the ball further to the left “but the important thing is it went in.”

Goalkeeper Roman Buerki was man of the match for producing a string of saves to deny the home side what would have been a deserved equalizer.

Dortmund moved second, 19 points behind Bayern Munich, while ‘Gladbach stayed 10th after its fourth consecutive defeat without scoring.

Dortmund forward Michy Batshuayi failed to score for the first time in four games since his deadline-day switch from Chelsea, though he wasn’t helped by the poor condition of the pitch. Some players lost their footing as the grass gave way.

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.