Real Salt Lake v Philadelphia Union

Portland vs. Real Salt Lake: Another Timbers boogeyman to kill

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Most of Caleb Porter’s post-match press conferences are pretty boring, and in that way, he’s no different than almost every coach in Major League Soccer (if not the entirety of professional sport). Occasionally you work with coaches that seem to love a microphone more than the training ground, but the Timbers’ boss isn’t one of them. He’s polite, confident, talkative and direct, but he’s not an entertainer. And he’s not somebody that’s going to reveal anything he doesn’t have to.

Yet in the wake of Portland’s Sunday win over the rival Seattle Sounders, Porter used a moment’s digression to reflect on the Timbers’ rise, recalling an anecdote from last year to highlight the change he seeks in the Timbers-Sounders dynamic.

From Sunday’s post-match press conference:

One of the things I realized today, prior to the game, is that a year and a week ago, I was sitting on the couch, (and) a couple months prior I had been named head coach. I was getting ready to watch the Timbers play Seattle at Seattle. Alexi Lalas texted me — and I hadn’t made any comments; I hadn’t been [presented as head coach] officially — and he said “Do you have anything to comment on about the game?”

I said one thing. I said “the Portland Timbers will no longer be inferior to the Seattle Sounders.” That was no disrespect to Seattle, and it really wasn’t about the game that day. It was about the future.

There’s no reason why we would be inferior. There’s no reason why we should be the little brother. We should a legitimate contender. We should be capable of beating the Sounder and [it not] being a miracle.

So it think it’s very satisfying a year later here we are, getting results and getting points against the Sounders. I think it says everything about how far we’ve come as a club.

It’s a great clip, and it speaks to the unique dynamic between the Pacific Northwest’s epicenter and its fiercely independent sibling to the south. But it also slightly mischaracterizes the dynamic between the teams. After all, Portland did go 1-1-1 against Seattle in 2012, the same record they have this year. That’s not exactly dark into light stuff, there. Portland won Cascadia Cup last season.

If there is a team the Timbers have particularly struggled with, it’s the one that’s visiting JELD-WEN on Saturday – the team that will fight Porter’s side for supremacy in the West (and potentially the Supporters’ Shield). Now with 53 points, the Timbers are one ahead of Real Salt Lake, a team they haven’t beaten since 2011:

  • That year, Portland’s first in Major League Soccer, they defeated RSL 1-0 on Apr. 20 at JELD-WEN Field, ending an 18-game regular season unbeaten streak Jason Keis’s team carried into that match. Kenny Cooper volleyed home a Kalif Alhassan cross to give the Timbers what’s become and outlying. Though the Timbers would get a 1-1 result to close the year in Utah, that spring victory remains Portland’s only win over RSL.
  • Last year, RSL’s March 31 win in Portland exacted some revenge, with late goals from Jonny Steele and Kyle Beckerman dramatically overcoming a Darlington Nagbe double to give the visitors a 3-2 win. RSL would go on to post 3-0 and 2-1 wins in Sandy to sweep the season series.
  • This year, Real Salt Lake’s dominance has persisted, albeit in a less-overwhelming fashion. During an August stretch that saw the teams play three times in 24 days, RSL won twice and drew once. They knocked the Timbers out of U.S. Open Cup and posting four goals in a game where injuries and suspensions saw Caleb Porter counter Kreis’s diamond midfield with a 3-6-1 midfield overload. Final aggregate score across those three games: 9-6, RSL.

Three years, eight games, and Portland’s won once. They’ve conceded 19 times with a -9 difference. If there’s any team that’s pushed the Timbers around, it’s RSL, not Seattle.

source: Getty Images
Caleb Porter has Portland at the top of the Western Confernece, but he still hasn’t solved the Timbers’ Real Salt Lake problem. The franchise is 1-4-3 against RSL since joining Major League Soccer in 2011. Porter has gone 0-2-1 against them this season. (Photo: Getty Images.)

So what’s the secret to RSL’s success? Since John Spencer’s no longer coaching Portland, we shouldn’t read too much into 2011 and 2012’s results. Those were limited, flawed, and mistake-prone teams (as most first and second-year squads are). Perhaps Real Salt Lake’s depth, strength in the middle, and adherence to a consistent approach leaves them particularly predisposed to exploiting those kinds of teams? They know how to execute when opportunities present themselves.

This year, however, it’s more likely the Timbers are on the wrong end of a like-for-like, part of the reason Porter may have been willing to try a six-man midfield in their last meeting. Though the teams’ set-ups are different, their stylistic approaches are similar, meaning if Portland’s well-drilled scheme plans to leverage possession, movement and pressure to gain an edge, they’ll in part have to beat a more-talented team at their own game.

The good news for Portland: They’ve generally been close enough to where a few breaks could turn these results. At least, this year they have. They’re also playing at home on Saturday, where they got their only point of the season against RSL. And while Portland’s squad may not grade out as well if we coming up with ratings for FIFA14, players like Will Johnson, Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso and Michael Harrington have been transcending that perception all season. If the Timbers play well, the talent gap could be irrelevant.

Still, RSL has become a boogeyman for Portland, one that’s gotten results out of JELD-WEN before. This Saturday, they’re not only looking for a result. They’re looking for the West’s top seed.

Juninho hoping Willian breaks his Champions League free-kick record

xxxx during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 3, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.
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Willian has scored six goals for Chelsea this season, with all six coming from free kicks.

Four of those have been scored in the Champions League, as the Brazilian has tied the record for the most free-kick goals in a single UCL campaign.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]

Willian is tied with his fellow Brazilian Juninho, known as one of the deadliest set-piece takers of all-time, who scored four times for Lyon during the 2005-06 campaign.

When asked about the possibility of his record being broken, Juninho was glad it would be by another Brazilian player, and said Willian will likely surpass him in the coming matches.

It’s good it’s a Brazilian, and from this new generation of good players we have.

It is very gratifying for me because when I scored these four goals, no one said anything.

I’m being remembered by what Willian has achieved, and I think he has everything to beat the record. The Champions League has barely reached half way and Chelsea still have a few more games to play.

Willian has converted 6 of 12 free kicks this season, scoring at an unheard-of 50-percent clip. All of his goals have come from almost the exact same spot on the pitch, about 20-25 yards out at the corner of the box to the keepers right.

[ WATCH: Jamie Vardy scores in record 11th straight Premier League match ]

Chelsea’s next Champions League match is on December 9 at Stamford Bridge against Porto. The Blues need a draw to advance into the knockout round.

West Brom’s Jonas Olsson backs Zlatan for Premier League move

SOLNA, SWEDEN - NOVEMBER 14: Sweden 10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic durring a European Qualifier Play-Off between Sweden and Denmark on November 14, 2015 in Solna, Sweden.  (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
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With his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring in the summer, where Zlatan will go next is one of the biggest mysteries in football.

Having already played in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and France, the Premier League would be a logical next step in Zlatan’s career.

[ MORE: Aguero injury update ]

However, at 34-years-old, Zlatan himself has said it is “too late” for him to play in England, adding more mystery to where he will end up.

Despite what Zlatan says, his teammate on the Sweden national team Jonas Olsson believes the PSG striker is more than capable of playing in the Premier League.

Olsson, who has made nearly 400 appearances for West Bromwich Albion over the past eight seasons, said Zlatan’s elite talent would be fit for England’s top flight.

He’s still at the top of his game. He is the strongest player I have faced. I really hope he comes.

Zlatan on his day is the most talented footballer in the game. He has played under Mourinho before and the only place where he’s not 100% appreciated is in the UK.

I think he can play for any team in this league – he is still that good.

Even at 34, Zlatan has proven he is still one of the best strikers in the world. He recently became Paris Saint-Germain’s all-time leading scorer, and has scored at least 30 goals in each of the past four seasons.

[ VIDEO: Jamie Vardy speaks after scoring in 11 straight Premier League matches ]

The Premier League certainly has the money to entice Zlatan, and it is the biggest league in the world that he hasn’t conquered yet. Expect his name to be linked with a move to every major club in Europe for the rest of the year, as we’ll just have to wait until June and see what he decides.

Three questions ahead of Sunday’s MLS Conference Finals

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Goal keeper Adam Kwarasey #12 of Portland Timbers slides in on Michael Barrios #21 of FC Dallas during the second half of the match at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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There are only two matches remaining before MLS Cup, with both conference’s top seeds in need of a big result.

FC Dallas lost to the Portland Timbers 3-1 in the first leg out West, while the New York Red Bulls fell 2-0 to Columbus Crew SC in the East.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Leg 2 of the Conference Finals will both be played on Sunday, as we will know the MLS Cup finalists by the end of the night.

WEST: FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET
EAST: New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC — 7:30 p.m. ET

With each home-side needing to overcome a two-goal deficit, here’s what to look out for in the Conference Finals.

Will FC Dallas capitalize on home-field advantage?

Despite being down 3-1 on aggregate, FC Dallas will be looking forward to Sunday’s second leg. Dallas finished the season 13-2-2 at Toyota Stadium, the best home record in MLS. After scoring a crucial away goal in Portland, a 2-0 win for Dallas will see the side advance to the final. Their 33 goals scored at home was the second-best mark in the Western Conference, as Oscar Pareja’s men will feel confident despite the aggregate.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Fabian Johnson scores twice for Monchengladbach ]

Is Norberto Paparatto ready to replace Liam Ridgewell?

Norberto Paparatto has played just six matches for Portland this season, but it looks like he’ll be starting on Sunday. Liam Ridgewell, who started all 32 matches at center-back, injured his calf in the first leg and manager Caleb Porter said Paparatto will “most likely” be starting, as Ridgewell was seen warming up separately from the rest of the team in training. With FC Dallas in need of goals, Paparatto will have his hands full on defense, especially with the likes of Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz bombing forward.

Can Luis Robles keep a clean sheet for RBNY?

The Red Bulls’ Luis Robles was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year this season, and he’s going to need to play like that on Sunday. After losing 2-0 in the first leg without scoring an away goal, New York needs a 2-0 win themselves just to force extra-time. If Columbus scores at Red Bull Arena, New York needs to score four goals to advance. While it will have to be a collective team effort to keep the Crew off the scoresheet, Robles will have to make some big saves in goal to keep his side in it.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona win big in another dominant performance

<> at Camp Nou on November 28, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
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Catch up on all of Saturday’s La Liga action, as the trio of Messi-Suarez-Neymar continues to terrorize defenses.

Barcelona 4-0 Real Sociedad

In case you haven’t heard, Barcelona is scary good. Coming off of brilliant 4-0 and 6-1 wins over Real Madrid and Roma respectively, the Catalans trounced Real Sociedad at Camp Nou. It was the usual suspects once again, as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar (x2) scored the goals in another masterful performance. The M-S-N trio has accounted for 30 of Barcelona’s 33 goals in La Liga this season.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

While the boys from Barcelona may be getting all the headlines, Antoine Griezmann has been having a great season for Atletico Madrid. The French international scored the game-winner in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Espanyol, his tenth in all competitions this season. The good news is that Atleti sit second on the table with a five-point lead over Real Madrid in third, while the bad news is that midfielder Tiago broke his leg in the match.

[ WATCH: Everton, Bournemouth trade late goals in stoppage-time thriller ]

Malaga 2-2 Granada

In a battle of teams fighting for La Liga survival, Granada came from behind to steal a draw at Malaga. The home-side was leading 2-0 until Granada tallied twice in the final ten minutes to take a huge point for the club. Malaga remains glued to the bottom of the table, while Granada is currently out of the drop zone on goal differential.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 0-1 Real Betis
Las Palmas 0-2 Deportivo
Celta Vigo 2-1 Sporting Gijon
Getafe vs. Villarreal (Sunday, 6 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Real Madrid (Sunday, 10 a.m. ET)
Rayo vs. Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 12:15 p.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Valencia (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET)