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.

Preview: New-look teams collide as Man City host Everton

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Manchester City welcome Everton to the Etihad Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with two Barcelona legends colliding on the sidelines.

[ LIVE: Stream Man City-Everton

Both Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman have spent big this summer to rebuild their respective teams and both Man City and Everton secured shutout wins on opening weekend.

For City it has been all about strengthening their defense with Kyle Walker, Ederson, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo all arriving this summer. Everton have added Gylfi Sigurdssson, Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez to share around the goalscoring responsibility after Romelu Lukaku‘s departure.

In team news Man City have both Ilkay Gundogan and Mendy fit, while Everton will be without Ross Barkley who is recovering from a groin injury ahead of his expected departure from the Toffees in the next 10 days. New club-record signing Sigurdsson will play at Man City, Koeman confirmed.

What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola

Ronald Koeman

Prediction

Expect an open, entertaining game with City doing most of the pressing. Everton will take a while to click in attack, while City have no problem in that department. 2-0 to Man City.

Neymar slams Barcelona; Mbappe kicked out of Monaco training

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It is all happening in Ligue 1.

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Fresh from dazzling on his home debut for Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday Neymar — he scored twice, had two assists and generally pulled of some ridiculous skill, especially for his second goal — has launched a scathing attack on those in charge of Barcelona.

Speaking to reporters after the game the Brazilian superstar, who joined PSG from Barca in a world-record $262 million 10 days ago, revealed that many of his former teammates are not happy with the way the Catalan club is being run.

“I spent four beautiful years there and parted happy But with them [the board], no. For me, they are not the people who should be there, for the direction of Barca. Barca deserve much better,” Neymar said. “I cannot speak now I am in another team. I don’t know what’s going on there, but I see my old team-mates sad, and it’s that which makes me sad because I have a lot of friends there. I hope that things will improve for Barca and that they will become a team that can rival others.”

Intriguing from Neymar, especially with reports Lionel Messi’s representatives are set to meet with Manchester City as the 30-year-old has yet to officially sign a new contract.


Down at Monaco 18-year-old star Kylian Mbappe is in a bit of trouble.

Mbappe, rumored to be heading to Real Madrid or PSG in a huge $210 million deal, was kicked off the training field after clashing with teammate Andrea Raggi in training last week.

The French international striker was sent home from training and did not feature in their victory over Metz last Friday.

Mbappe has yet to play in Ligue 1 with his future with the French champions in jeopardy and although Real Madrid remain interested, PSG are the frontrunners to sign Mbappe.

It seems like incidents such as this could speed up any potential move with the teenager set to become the second-most expensive player in history.

Report: Barcelona give up on Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho

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Some of the latest reports from Spain suggest Barcelona have given up hope of signing Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool in the summer transfer window.

[ MORE: Liverpool beat Palace

Spanish outlet Marca claims that Barca offered an ultimatum when it came to their latest bid of $145 million (reports claim it was rejected) for Coutinho and have yet to hear back from Liverpool.

Per the report Barca have turned their attentions to Nice midfielder Jean Michael Seri who can slot in alongside new signing Paulinho in central midfield and is more likely to cost around $35 million.

With Coutinho, 25, handing in a transfer request he has yet to appear for Liverpool this season in the Premier League or UEFA Champions League. The Brazilian playmaker is said to be suffering from a back injury and is therefore unavailable for selection, but given the fact he’s still at Anfield 10 days before the window, a change in his situation seems imminent.

Of course, a lot can happen in 10 days and this could purely be a pressure tactic from Barcelona to force through the move.

Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), issued a statement on the eve of the new Premier League season saying he would not be sold in this window and Jurgen Klopp has repeatedly said the same.

However, with Coutinho wanting out, this is a tricky situation for Liverpool, like many other PL clubs, to handle.

Look around the PL at Virgil Van Dijk, Alexis Sanchez, Ross Barkley and the summer-long saga involving Gylfi Sigurdsson. Most clubs know they will earn plenty of cash for selling their star players but most are digging their heels in and would rather keep an unhappy player around than sell.

It seems like Liverpool fall into this category when it comes to Coutinho. Does Klopp keep an unhappy player around and turn down a hugely inflated fee due to Barcelona selling Neymar for $262 million? Or does he cash in and bring in two to three new stars?

Whatever happens it appears the end-game is approaching fast and with 10 days to go until the window closes, Liverpool will not want to lose Coutinho right at the end of the window with no time to bring in replacements.

Dempsey’s last-second PK lifts Sounders past Minnesota

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SEATTLE (AP) Clint Dempsey converted a penalty kick in the final seconds of stoppage time on Sunday night, lifting the Seattle Sounders to a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United.

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A corner kick by Seattle’s Joevin Jones floated into the penalty area, and Minnesota’s Jermaine Taylor was called for a hand ball in a scrum of players battling for possession. Dempsey stepped up and drilled his kick to the right side past Loons goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth in the fourth minute of stoppage.

Dempsey’s goal was his 11th of the year.

Referee Ismail Elfath blew the final whistle as soon as Minnesota kicked off.

Chad Marshall also scored for the Sounders (11-7-7), who tied a club record by extending their unbeaten streak to nine games (6-0-3). The team had an identical 6-0-3 mark from May 28-July 16, 2011.

Seattle was forced to rally after its club-record shutout streak ended at 421 minutes on a goal by Minnesota’s Ethan Finlay in the 21st minute.

The Loons (6-14-4, 22 points) are still looking for their first road win of the season. They are 0-8-2 away from Minneapolis.