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.

Premier League preview: Hull City vs. Chelsea

HULL, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  Eden Hazard of Chelsea (10) celebrates with Nemanja Matic (21) as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KC Stadium on March 22, 2015 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • Hull has only won four matches vs. Chelsea (4-10-30)
  • Tigers have allowed nine goals in previous two PL matches
  • Chelsea looking to rebound following Arsenal blowout
  • Costa remains tied for league lead with five goals

Both Hull City and Chelsea come into the weekend on a poor run of form, giving both clubs plenty of incentive to push for a result.

The Tigers play host to Chelsea at the KC Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE 

Following a pair of impressive victories to open the Premier League season, Hull has come back down to earth as of late, losing three of its last five matches in all competitions. With nine goals allowed in its last two PL matches (losses to Liverpool and Arsenal), Chelsea enters the fray with another dangerous attack that the Tigers will have to be wary of.

Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea have ironically enough seen their form dip at the hands of the Reds and Gunners, respectively, as well. Last Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium wasn’t ideal for a Blues side that expects to be amongst the top four at season’s end.

Meanwhile, Diego Costa will have to continue to find the back of the net for Chelsea on a regular basis, after netting five times in the club’s first six league matches. The Spaniard has accounted for half of the squad’s offensive output, making the 27-year-old vital up front along with the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian.

INJURIES: Hull — OUT: Alex Bruce (achilles), Allan McGregor (back), Moses Odubajo (knee), Michael Dawson (knee), Brian Lenihan (knee surgery) | Chelsea — OUT: John Terry (ankle), Kurt Zouma (fitness)

What they’re saying

Hull City manager Mike Phelan: “What needs to be resolved is the terms of the deal. It keeps changing. One minute I think I’ve got something and the club are happy with it and the next minute it changes. So it’s just a case of thinking about all these new changes that are on the table and making a decision.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte: “It’s important not to forget the past, because the past is very clear. We finished 10th last season and that means there were problems. We don’t have a magic wand to change the situation in a few months. We must work hard together and we are doing this. We must understand that only through hard work can we close the gap.”

Prediction

The Blues have struggled to play complete matches for much of the season, and this road fixture won’t make things easy for Conte and co. That said, Chelsea will surely be motivated to come out and give a strong performance following last week’s debacle against Arsenal. Hull 1-3 Chelsea

Watch: Lukaku gives Everton halftime lead after brilliant free kick

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Everton is finding its stride under Ronald Koeman, and goals like this one surely make it easy for the Dutchman to manage the club.

[ Watch Live: Everton taking on Crystal Palace on USA Network ]

With the match scoreless with a half hour gone, Phil Jagielka drew a questionable free kick outside the Crystal Palace penalty area.

From there, Romelu Lukaku did what he does best: score. Watch the video above as the Belgian striker curls his lovely set piece into the near post, giving goalkeeper Steve Mandanda no chance at making the save.

 

 

Premier League preview: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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  • Swansea victorious 3-1 in May 2015
  • Francesco Guidolin‘s job status unknown
  • Reds have managed 16 goals in six PL matches this season

With their manager’s managerial position up in the air, Swansea City will host Liverpool on Saturday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Swansea have picked up just four points in its opening six matches this season, leaving Francesco Guidolin and his side fighting to keep the Italian manager in charge. With Liverpool’s attack clicking to start the season and Swansea’s front group struggling, the Eagles will have to remain compact defensively to absorb the pressure.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE 

The Reds come into the weekend with the opportunity to move up to second place in the Premier League. Jurgen Klopp‘s side is firing on all cylinders in the attack, which has played a key role in Liverpool’s six-match unbeaten run in all competitions.

Liverpool’s depth at attack has surely become among the most dangerous groups in the PL, having scored 71 league goals since Klopp took off his role with the club in October 2015. Meanwhile, Daniel Sturridge has revitalized himself thus far in 2016, netting four goals and adding two assists for the Reds.

INJURIES: Swansea — OUT: Nathan Dyer (ankle) | Liverpool — OUT: Divock Origi (foot), Sheyi Ojo (back), Mamadou Sakho (fitness), Joe Gomez (achilles)

What they’re saying

Swansea City boss Francesco Guidolin: “It could happen. Maybe. But if we win on Saturday for the period of the international break you don’t speak any more about my position. But my position is not important, Swansea’s [league] position is important, and we must get a result.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp“We will be prepared for this game. We know about the quality of Swansea. We lost there last year after coming back from Villarreal. We had to make a lot of changes at Swansea last season. In that moment it was too much for us. Now we have no excuses. We have time to recover, time to prepare and time to analyse.”

Prediction: Liverpool simply comes into Saturday’s fixture as the hotter side. Unbeaten in its last six matches, Jurgen Klopp and co. only trail Manchester City this campaign for most finishes to this point (16). While Swansea’s slow start to the 2016/17 season hasn’t done them any favors, Liverpool’s current form certainly doesn’t make the challenge any easier.     Swansea 0-3 Liverpool

Watch Live: Everton vs. Crystal Palace (Lineups, Stream)

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17:  Romelu Lukaku of Everton celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Everton and Middlesbrough at Goodison Park on September 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Everton host Crystal Palace on Friday under the (3 p.m. ET live on USA and online via NBC Sports.com) with plenty of intriguing battles all over the pitch.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Ronald Koeman‘s Everton lost for the first time this season against Bournemouth last week, so he’ll be expecting a response from his Toffees. As for Alan Pardew, well, life is pretty good right now. Palace have won three-straight Premier League games and have a very good recent record at Everton, winning on two of their previous three visits.

Yannick Bolasie swapped Palace for Everton this summer and he could be key, as he has been in the past, to deciding this encounter.

In team news Everton’s star striker Romelu Lukaku is fit to start the game.

Palace start with Benteke up top an

Lineups

Everton: Stekelenburg, Oviedo, Williams, Jagielka, Coleman, Gueye, Barry, Cleverley, Barkley, Bolasie, Lukaku

Crystal Palace: Mandanda; Ward, Delaney, Tomkins, Kelly; Puncheon, Ledley, McArthur; Townsend, Bentered, Zaha