Jack Jewsbury, Clint Dempsey

Alhassan goal, ‘let them play’ officiating defines ugly Portland-Seattle derby (video)

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PORTLAND, Ore. — As a sports culture, we seem to be evolving away from a “let them play” attitude. Rules are rules, a foul in one game should be a foul in the next, and there shouldn’t be a separate rulebook for every match. Twenty years ago, this may have been anathema, but after years of fan conversation and media debate, we’re starting to realize: Letting officials decided when to use ‘big game’ rules is inconsistent, at best; potentially harmful, at worst.

That’s what makes tonight’s game in Portland so unfortunate. Hilario Grajeda, the referee in charge, abdicated his responsibility. As play intensified throughout the second half and the fouls (whistled or not) became harder and more frequent, the spectacle of what could have been an enticing match was ruined. Instead of witnessing what a talented Sounders team would do against Caleb Porter’s dogmatic approach, fans were subjected to a series of anarchic collisions; as if Grajeda had just seen Gravity and sought to replicate the calamity of a tidal wave of orbiting shrapnel. When that unfettered tension caused the game to be paused for near-five minutes in the second half, the match had reached its natural climax: Chaos.

Along the way, Kalif Alhassan had put the Timbers up shortly before halftime, blasting a ball from 16 yards out inside Marcus Hahnemann’s right post. Seattle had hit the crossbar, closed the first half on the back foot, but then resumed control coming out of halftime. And after going down a man after Ossie Alonso’s dismissal, they nearly stole a point when Steve Zakuani shook the woodwork. Portland won the game 1-0, went first in the West, and sent Seattle crashing to their third consecutive defeat.

[MORE: Oh, Osvaldo Alonso, what have you done?]

Footnotes, all of it. Within the context of an event that couldn’t end until its actors left the stage, the final act’s tension lingered. Instead of Portland players celebrating their triumph and fans immediately exploding at full-time, everybody paused for a beat and wondered: Would the conflicts that’d boiled over during the match erupt once the game had faded? Thankfully, they did not.

“Obviously in the second half, it got a little more physical, because we realized that they weren’t going to call stuff,” Sigi Schmid said after the match, the Seattle coach also noting no card was given to Portland midfielder Diego Chará on a play that dislocated Clint Dempsey’s shoulder in the first half (Dempsey would play on).

“We talked about it. We had to be a little more physical,” Schmid confessed, “which we did in the second half.”

source: AP
Osvaldo Alonso (right) was dismissed in the 76th minute of Sunday’s match after his left elbow struck the face of Portland’s Will Johnson (not pictured). (Photo: AP Photo.)

We hear about referees losing control of a match. On Sunday, we saw an example, the main illustration coming just after the 70th minute. A hard foul. Players go chest-to-chest. Playground pushing matches unfold, each man seeing baiting the other into a punch. Then a player throws an elbow, is sent off, and seen being pulled away from officials as the match becomes farce.

Five minutes have to be added at the end of the match because the men officiating the affair allowed players’ emotions to become insufferable. Were it not for a handful of Sounders restraining their teammate, Alonso would have done something truly stupid.

Not that the possibility of this type of event is shocking, given the nature of the Portland-Seattle rivalry. It’s the most intense in Major League Soccer, one where two huge sets of supporters fuel innate regional and cultural rivalry. Now, with the ascent of the 2013 Timbers, the rivalry’s taken on new, competitive implications.

That the winner of Sunday’s match would go first in the West was enough to make this a particularly charged match, something that both teams knew before the opening whistle.

“No, not surprised,” was Portland captain’s Will Johnson’s reaction when asked about the match’s physicality. “They’d lost two in a row. They got embarrassed twice in a row. They’re fighting for their lives. We know they were going to come in, try to fight us, try to turn it into a scrum from time to time. We were ready for that. We’d expect nothing less.”

“That was the most intense atmosphere I’ve ever played in,” Johnson later explained. “That leads to two teams competing really hard.”

It also leads to increased pressure to keep the match under control.

It’s impossible to know what would have happened if Grajeda called Sunday’s game differently, but his lax officiating certainly played a part. Had he called the fouls we see in normal games, the second half’s carnage would have been avoided. And while that doesn’t guarantee Osvaldo Alonso keeps his cool, it almost certainly means we’d have a better game. Instead of something that resembled what Portland and Seattle are capable of, the referee left us with a game we could have seen 10 years ago.

In the sense, perhaps Grajeda let the occasion get to him. It’s one thing to say in big matches players should be allowed to play. It’s another to realize the potential consequences. Grajeda’s paid to know that difference.

Forty-five minutes of decent soccer gave way to a second half of blunt anarchy. Whatever you ultimately want to call that, Portland won, 1-0.

Wenger concerned Chinese wages become benchmark for players

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 15:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during an Arsenal press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Barcelona at Camp Nou on March 15, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is hoping the high quality of competition in Europe will keep players from leaving for the financial gain in China.

Wenger is facing regular questions about the future of both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and the big money on offer in the Chinese league can complicate negotiations.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Argentine striker Carlos Tevez joined Shanghai Shenhua last month in a deal worth $40 million over two years.

“The danger (is) that the Chinese offers become the benchmark for Europe,” Wenger said Thursday. “You cannot compete with that, but I still think that, when you’re a footballer, the first thing is that you want to play against the best players in the best teams.”

Wenger said players that want the best compensation for playing in the best quality league need not look to Asia.

“I think that combination is the best in England at the moment, so I don’t see why the players should leave the English Premier League,” Wenger said.

Wenger, whose team is fourth in the standings, has made only one signing in the January transfer window, picking up defender Cohen Bramall from non-league club Hednesford.

Arsenal has also decided to keep captain Per Mertesacker for another season. Wenger announced Thursday that the club has taken up a one-year option to extend the contract of the 32-year-old German, who has not played this season because of a knee injury sustained during a friendly in July.

Mertesacker faces a fight to get back into the team because Shkodran Mustafi, an offseason signing from Valencia, has built a strong partrnership with vice captain Laurent Koscielny at the heart of Wenger’s defense.

Top 5 Premier League Story Lines ahead of Matchday 22

FILE PHOTO (EDITORS NOTE: GRADIENT ADDED - COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image numbers (L) 624347276 and 629845764) In this composite image a comparision has been made between Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City (L) and Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur. Manchester City meet Tottenham Hotspur on January 21, 2017 in a Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium.   ***LEFT IMAGE*** LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City looks on during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Manchester City at Selhurst Park on November 19, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The Premier League gives us another battle of Top Four hopefuls, while other competitors will see a key chance to either gain or make up ground.

[ MORE: Man United back atop money table ]

Down in the relegation zone, however, is another story. Tough matches await the four lowest sides, with three sides on the road and a fourth hosting Everton.

All that and more, below.

Make or break at the Etihad Stadium?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

If 10 points back of Chelsea isn’t enough for Man City boss Pep Guardiola to concede the PL title — and it shouldn’t be — 13 could do the trick. And Spurs’ seven point gap would feel dire should it dip to 10.

With the Blues expected to handle Hull City at Stamford Bridge, both Spurs and City are facing extreme damage to their title hopes when the London club looks to complete a season sweep of Guardiola’s side.

Time has proven that electric talent doesn’t mandate instant success in the Premier League, but many eyes will be trained on Gabriel Jesus should he debut for City. The Brazilian wonderkid has already made an impact in the Olympics, World Cup qualifying, and the Brazilian top-flight. The PL is next on his list.

 

Relegation candidates sweating bullets

Liverpool vs. Swansea City — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Crystal Palace vs. Everton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC
West Brom vs. Sunderland — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League ExtraTime
Chelsea vs. Hull City — Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

It’s getting to be that time of year, when being more than three points above the drop zone feels like the freshest possible air.

No one in this batch of four knows that feeling well at all.

Crystal Palace and Hull City are level with 16 points, one ahead of Sunderland and Swansea City. Only the Black Cats will truly fancy their chances at a win this weekend.

That said, Hull supporters will feel confidence anew after a couple of transfer buys and a healthy Abel Hernandez joined new manager Marco Silva at the KC. A win over Bournemouth will buoy their confidence, but a trip to Chelsea is a tall task.

Right about now Palace fans are putting their hopes in goal differential and weak fellow relegation candidates rather than “never been dropped” Sam Allardyce. Their goal-leaking side welcomes an Everton side that hung four on Man City.

Sunderland simply needs to find a way to break down Tony Pulis‘ Baggies at the Hawthorns. Given the chance to put heat on the three other candidates, a win would serve much more than a few moments outside the drop zone.

Gunners need to avoid pitfall

Arsenal vs. Burnley — Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The first of two home matches against middle or lower table sides, Arsenal needs all three points against Sean Dyche‘s cagey and well-oiled Clarets. They sit in the top half of the table, and would relish added a big-name to its list of defeated PL sides.

Simply put, Arsenal’s title hopes rest as much on the points it needs to claim as massive encounters like Feb. 4’s trip to Chelsea.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Mesut Ozil of Arsenal (C) battles for possession with Burnley duo Stephen Ward of Burnley (L) and Ben Mee of Burnley (R) during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on October 2, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Mourinho’s Red Devils go for 17

Stoke City vs. Manchester United— Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

It’s been 16 matches since Jose Mourinho has tasted defeat as Manchester United boss, and Stoke’s recent dates against top sides haven’t gone well. All three were on the road, but the Potters have fallen to Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal by a combined score of 11-4. Does this make it fait accompli? No, but like Arsenal vs. Burnley, you like to think a true title fighter finds a way to three points.

Merseyside encounter holds significant weight

Southampton vs. Leicester City — Sunday, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Perhaps Saints and Leicester supporters figured their sides might struggle to repeat last season’s heroics, with European competition on the docket and key pieces leaving this offseason from either the dugout or the playing field. But 13th and 15th? Unlikely. Leicester can take another step toward righting the ship by heaping misery on the home side, who sits three points clear of the Foxes and eight ahead of the drop zone.

Premier League previews: News, predictions, analysis – Week 22

Manchester City's Yaya Toure, left, runs with the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur's at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, Sunday Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Week 22 of the Premier League is here and it is all getting rather tense at both ends of the table.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

A massive clash between Manchester City and Tottenham headlines, while there are plenty of potential banana skins for the big boys against relegation candidates. This should be very, very interesting.

Below you will find team news, analysis and score predictions on all 10 games this weekend.

Enjoy.


Bournemouth vs. Watford

West Bromwich Albion vs. Sunderland

Crystal Palace vs. Everton

Chelsea vs. Hull City

Liverpool vs. Swansea City

Arsenal vs. Burnley

Stoke City vs. Manchester United

Manchester City vs. Tottenham

Southampton vs. Leicester City

Middlesbrough vs. West Ham United

Bundesliga will be ready to use video review next season

Referee Felix Zwayer shows the red card to Leipzig's Emil Forsberg during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig at the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) The Bundesliga says it will be ready to use video review next season.

[ MORE: Fonte’s strange situation ]

FIFA’s rules making panel, known as IFAB, is working with leagues to introduce Video Assistant Referees (VARs) ahead of likely approval for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

FIFA wants video review only for potential “clear errors” in four situations: Goals being scored, penalties being awarded, players being sent off, and cases of mistaken identity.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news

IFAB should decide early next year on using VARs at the World Cup.

Germany’s top league kicks off next season in August.

A Bundesliga statement says it opted for a system “where all VARs will be assembled at a single location on the day of play,” as the NBA and MLB use.

In Russia, FIFA could opt for VARs working at the stadium as part of each referee’s support team.