Will Johnson, Ryan Johnson, Frederic Piquionne, Donovan Ricketts

Portland Timbers will play 100th game Sunday, first place on the line

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It doesn’t get much bigger than Sunday’s game for the Portland Timbers. With a win over their biggest rival, Seattle Sounders FC, the team will take sole control of first place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference.

The match is also Portland’s 100th in its MLS existence, and while it took the better part of three seasons to reach this point, head coach Caleb Porter’s revolution has turned it into a dangerous team. Many point to a league-high 14 draws in disdain, but the Timbers have failed to earn at least a point in just five of 18 games on the road in 2013. Only four of those ties have come at home.

That makes the Timbers a good bet for success in the playoffs, when games on the road become the bane of many good home teams. Just up the road in Seattle, the Sounders have made a habit of creating major deficits in the first leg away from home, losing 3-0 to Real Salt Lake in 2011 and the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2012.

Helped along by some stunning goalkeeping from Donovan Ricketts, Darlington Nagbe’s timely attacking prowess and Will Johnson’s leadership with the captain’s armband, the Timbers are in good shape heading into the last month of the season. Designated Player Diego Valeri has also proven his worth throughout the season.

After being tied for first place in June, injuries to key players took their toll for a while. Johnson, Valeri and Diego Chará all went down with various ailments. Now, with nearly everybody back to 100 percent, Portland can put that rough patch behind it.

Or at least, it looked that way, until Nagbe went down on Wednesday against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Porter has been cagey about his star youngster’s injury, but it seems a little more serious than it initially looked. Nagbe, whose nine goals make him the single-season leading scorer for the Timbers, will be a vital part of any playoff run Portland makes.

The club can exorcise another demon on Sunday, when Seattle comes to town. This season, the teams have tied once, with the Sounders narrowly winning their second meeting. Not only can Porter get his first win over Seattle, but his team can ensure the Sounders won’t win the Cascadia Cup — not to mention taking first place.

VIDEO: 70-yard volley from Chile is nearly impossible to believe

Alejandro Camargo, Universidad de Concepcion
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His name is Alejandro Camargo, and he scored what might just go down as the best goal of 2016 on Sunday: an impossibly perfect volley from well beyond the halfway line.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

Miguel Pinto is the opposing goalkeeper whose long-range clearance, which covered about 50 yards during the final seconds of Universidad de Concepcion’s clash with O’Higgins in the Chilean first division, was taken off the fly, first-time, by the Argentine midfielder to seal a 3-1 victory for the home side.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

“The coach told us Pinto was always playing in advance of his goal, so I closed my eyes and hit it,” Camargo said after the game.

“Hit it and hope” has never looked so good.

Roma fans stay away from derby to protest new security barriers

A view of a huge section of empty seats as Roma fans desert derby in protest over security barriers, during a Serie A soccer match between Lazio and Roma, at the Rome Olympic stadium Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
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ROME (AP) Roma’s most ardent supporters stayed away from the derby match against Lazio in protest at barriers introduced at the start of last season in their area.

Normally filled with supporters waving huge banners, lighting flares and singing, half of the “curva sud” — southern end — of the Stadio Olimpico was left empty for Sunday’s match.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

Three of Roma’s locally born standouts held a meeting with the “ultra” fans during the week. Captain Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi asked the supporters to return, and the club itself has also tried to resolve the matter.

But the appeals had no effect.

In contrast, Lazio fans filled the northern end of the stadium as usual.

The plexiglass barriers were put in place by city officials for security reasons.

VIDEO: “Behind The Badge: Watford FC” — Episode 2

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In Episode 2 of Behind the Badge: Watford FC, watch the players’ recovery after a win against Leicester, a look at the club’s one-of-a-kind internship program and a flashback to a memorable moment in Watford’s history.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

To watch past episodes of Behind The Badge, including last season’s edition featuring a look inside Crystal Palace, head over to the full archive by clicking here.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Above video
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Pardew saves his job, says Palace owners “don’t know a lot about football”

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Alan Pardew, Manager of Crystal Palace thumbs up prior to the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Southampton at Selhurst Park on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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While some may advise that keeping a low profile would best suit Alan Pardew right now, Crystal Palace’s embattled manager is of a totally different mindset.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Following Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Southampton, in which Pardew’s side saved his job (for the time being), the 55-year-old Eagles boss and former player chose the first bright moment, Palace’s first Premier League win since Sept. 24, to hit out at the club’s new American owners with a scathing assessment of the footballing prowess, or perhaps lack thereof — quotes from the Guardian:

“The chairman got a bit edgy this week, as you’d expect. We have a lot of serious investors at the club who perhaps don’t know a lot about football so the chairman has been defending me.

“I always think as a manager at any level, particularly in the modern era, expect the sack. Just expect it; it’s coming at some stage, so just do your job as best you can. Every week, that’s what I try to do.

“Sometimes it’s hard to dress up six defeats when you’re the owner of the club and you have investors. Obviously there are things he’s got no control over but he’s tried to offer me all the assistance that he could. He’s been brilliant for me and I just want to say thank you to him really.”

With various reports linking Sam Allardyce and Roberto Mancini to a job which he still holds, it’s understandable that Pardew would be slightly on edge, quick to thump his chest and restake his claim as the right man for the job, but perhaps alienating and borderline embarrassing the new investors, who are now responsible for signing your paychecks, wouldn’t have been my go-to move.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

On the other hand, as Pardew rightly stated in the above quotes, his day of reckoning will eventually arrive, so what’s he really got to lose?