Portland Timbers, New York Red Bulls learning to faithfully grind out results

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Playing with style in MLS gets you, well, “style points.”  That’s great and all, and there is plenty of value attached, although more in terms of fan and media acclaim and similarly intangible elements that probably don’t matter to the bottom-line biz of Ws and Ls.

On the other hand, regardless of the lesser aesthetic, the useful ability to faithfully grind out results is golden stuff at this time of year. Two prominent clubs are learning how to do so right now – and that’s code for “Watch out!”

Portland took MLS by storm earlier this year, earning acclaim for a stylized approach under first-year manager Caleb Porter. Indeed, the Timbers became a fun club to watch, forming an identity around the highly practical balance of tidy possession and precision counter attacking.

But the next step for Porter’s reconstruction project around Jeld-Wen was going to be tougher, this ability to instill a healthy dose of “find a way to win.” So when Portland outlasted Colorado a week back, claiming a 1-0 win over a Rapids club that out-played and out-passed the Timbers, evidence was mounting that Porter’s team had seen the light.

Sunday’s performance against the Galaxy in the Oregon rain and wind should remove any lingering doubt that “grind” is not just a rumor around Jeld-Wen. Yet another 1-0 victory against a quality Western Conference side says more good things yet about the team’s quick learning curve.

Will Johnson’s recent return to the field and even more recent return to form is such a big part of it. Go back and watch Sunday’s victory over Los Angeles; Johnson’s significant imprint is all over it. Johnson (pictured above) is winning balls in the midfield, drawing fouls, lobbying the referee, providing some snappy dead ball service. In short, he is getting involved in every way possible, willing the team toward results (no pun intended).

Teammates feed off that steely, unbending determination.

New York is another MLS club learning the ways of the grind. My favorite line of the MLS weekend came from ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas, who said the Red Bulls “have no idea” how they have gotten to this place where they may claim Supporters Shield, the Eastern Conference crown or both.

(MORE: New York tops this week’s ProSoccerTalk MLS rankings)

They may not – but it may not matter. Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Seattle checks the box on “big accomplishment” for a club missing its top attacker (Thierry Henry) and top defender (Jamison Olave). A week earlier, New York needed an own goal to get past Dallas in New Jersey. No, it’s not pretty, but the three points count the same in the standings.

We can keep tracking back through the Red Bulls schedule, continuing to pick apart the team’s string of shaky achievement (and I did last week). But at some point you have to say, “Well, it doesn’t matter how they are arriving at these convenient results; they are getting the points they need.”

Whereas Johnson is the emotional fulcrum and veteran shepherd for Portland, Tim Cahill fills the same role for New York.

Credit to manager Mike Petke, a grinder himself back in the longtime MLS defender’s playing days. He cannot teach what Henry does on the field; that’s just special talent at work. But Petke can guide in the ways of fortitude and resolve. Apparently, he’s making progress there.

Top Storylines for Premier League Week 6

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After a week of League Cup action domestically, the Premier League returns this weekend with a myriad of interesting matchups and storylines.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s top story’s to follow:


Can Manchester City continue its torrid form?

Manchester City has finally found its groove under manager Pep Guardiola.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The club has won five successive games, the last three coming on the road while scoring a combined 19 goals. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are a terrific 1-2 punch while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been stars in midfield, with De Bruyne pulling the strings for Man City all season.

There’s every likelihood that Man City will continue its impressive run on Saturday. The club hosts floundering Crystal Palace, which is still adjusting to new manager Roy Hodgson.

(more…)

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

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Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.