Correlation or causation? Will Johnson’s near a lot of recent trouble

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Fans were talking about it after Sunday’s Osvaldo Alonso incident, so it’s probably worth a few words here: Where Will Johnson goes, trouble seems to follow. The question is whether the Portland Timbers’ captain is doing anything to bring out the worst in people. And if so, what?

If we narrow the scope to the 12 months, our trio of incidents starts last November, back when the Canadian international was still playing for Real Salt Lake.  That’s when he was the target of a homophobic slur from Seattle defender Marc Burch, who was subsequently suspended by Major League Soccer.

Earlier this season at JELD-WEN, Johnson was the target of that same slur from San Jose Earthquakes’ forward Alan Gordon, in response to which Johnson held up three fingers. Having been through this before, the veteran midfielder knew how many games Gordon would get when punishment came down from the league office.

On Sunday, video shows Johnson saying something to Osvaldo Alonso before the Seattle destroyer threw the elbow that saw him dismissed, though Johnson couldn’t remember what.

“I don’t know,” Johnson said, when asked about what he said to Alonso to draw the red card-worthy elbow. “We were just going at it. Both guys just saying things. Then it happened.”

That “it” saw Alonso dismissed in the 76th minute, but only after a brief period of chaos in Portland. We’re still waiting for final word from New York, but odds are Alonso will miss more than the obligatory game.

Asked for his thoughts after the match, Sigi Schmid didn’t forgive Alonso’s lack of control. (“He’s a veteran player. He needs to do better.”) He also didn’t hesitate to point the finger.

“All I can tell you is whenever things happen, Will Johnson always seems to be at the other end of things,” Schmid told the assembled media after Sunday’s game. “I don’t know what he says, what he does to instigate things, but obviously Ossie has to control his behavior.”

Before we can undertake any discussion of Johnson, that last part needs to be reiterated. Alonso, Gordon, and Burch were all in the wrong. In all likelihood, Johnson is doing something to get under their skin, but as professional athletes, they owe it to themselves and their teams not to get baited into such things. They can’t make it so easy for an opponent to do this.

But it’s becoming less and less likely that Johnson’s just some innocent party here. If Schmid’s intimation is correct, he may actually be an accessory – a Bill Laimbeer-esque presence, willing to do what it takes to draw the worst out of his opponent.

This isn’t quite Steven Lenhart land, but there is something strange going on. But since none of Burch, Gordon, or Alonso have provided details, it’s impossible to tell. Perhaps Johnson’s provocations have been so innocent that details would make the offenders’ actions even less explicable. Or, maybe Johnson’s benefitting from a type of “what happens on the field” agreement others don’t feel like violating. Or, maybe Johnson is perfectly innocent and this is just coincidence. We should keep that option open.

Regardless, after Sunday’s incident, Johnson was given a chance to provide his view. What, I asked, does he say to people who look at the Burch, Gordon, and Alonso incidents and want to see a pattern?

“I’ve got an army behind me,” Johnson said, referring to the Timbers’ fans. “I don’t need to say anything.”

Perhaps not, but that won’t answer any questions as to what’s drawing these responses out of Johnson’s opponents.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.