Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri

Diego Valeri’s two goals, one assist leads Timbers to big win … and Western Conference crown


Portland finished with a flourish, gaining momentum for ahead of the team’s first MLS playoff appearance with a comprehensive 5-0 win late Saturday over Chivas USA.

With the win, the Timbers claimed the Major League Soccer’s regular season Western Conference crown – and the conference’s best chance to host MLS Cup.

Diego Valeri (pictured from Saturday), apparently healthy again after recent injury struggles, led the way with two goals and an assist. More impressively, all of his good work at the StubHub Center came before the break. Valeri figured into all three goals as the visitors, pressing high and aggressively against Chivas USA, took a 3-0 lead into the break.

Timbers manager Caleb Porter elected to subtract his playmaking midfielder at intermission, saving him for the Timbers conference semifinal playoff series, which will begin on the road Saturday or Sunday. Portland will host the second leg on the following weekend.

It seems unlikely that Valeri did enough to make a compelling league MVP case; a little breeze of chatter was growing before Valeri missed time down the stretch due to an adductor strain. If Chicago gets into the playoffs, Mike Magee is probably a shoe-in for the award. Plus, Robbie Keane, Marco Di Vaio and Camilo have good cases, too. But Valeri certainly put other playoff teams on notice.

As for the club’s showy turnaround: Portland improved by six wins and 23 total points over its 2012 finish, but the most meaningful turnabout was in regular season positioning. The Timbers finished eighth last year, three spots out of the playoffs. This year, the club from the Rose City finished atop the West.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.