San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers - Portland Timbers Tournament

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Portland ahead of Saturday’s trip to Seattle

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Ahead of Saturdays’ first-leg of this conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about the Portland Timbers: (Saturday’s match kicks off at 10 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN):

  • Valeri and Nagbe: Different peas in the same pod

They’re playmakers of different types, though calling Darlington Nagbe that would be a stretch. In three Major League Soccer seasons, Portland’s attacking midfielder has eight assists, yet as somebody who can operate in a number 10’s space, he’s shockingly reliable with his passes. Eschewing risk for accuracy, Nagbe’s pass completion rate of 85.4 percent was the highest among Major League Soccer’s attackers in 2013.

Contrast that with Diego Valeri, who only completed 73.1 percent of his passes (ranking 185th among all players in Major League Soccer). Willing to take the chances Nagbe won’t, Valeri led the league in assists (13). In Opta’s key pass stat (passes that lead to chances), he averaged 2.3 per 90 minutes. Nagbe? 1.4.

Together, each provides something the other does not, but there’s one playmaker here, even if both can drop into that role. And as Portland fans found out throughout the last two months of the season, if there’s one player that’s more likely to decide a match, it’s Diego Valeri.

[WATCH: Sounders-Timbers will be available on NBC Sports Live Extra]

  • The four-headed monster

The Timbers starting lineup is utterly predictable with one exception: The team’s number nine. At the point of their attack, the team has four options, with Caleb Porter’s choice potentially telling us how he plans to approach Saturday’s game:

    • Maxi Urruti, the late-season acquisition from Toronto, has been battling a hamstring injury and is unlikely to play. If he’s chosen, Porter will be selecting the group’s best goal poacher, Urruti’s positioning able to exploit the hole Valeri and Nagbe create. His pressing is also seen as a virtue.
    • Jose Valencia has started the team’s last three games and would be the option Porter chooses if he wants to test Djimi Traoré and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado with pace. That pace can also be used wide, to take on fullbacks Leo González, DeAndre Yedlin or Brad Evans.
    • Frederic Piquionne is the direct option. If Portland wants to test Marcus Hahnemann’s willingness to come out and challenge balls sent into his area, the 34-year-old is their best option.
    • Then there’s Ryan Johnson, the one-time first choice whose minutes have dwindled as the season’s progressed. In addition to experience, he offers a little bit of every of everything, though his tenacity distinguishes him from the others. He might be Saturday’s ‘play it safe’ option.

Going four deep at striker can be seen as special of frightening. Either your the U.S. Women’s National Team and have an enviable army, or the lack of a stand-out contributes to your indecisiveness. Caleb Porter has talked up the virtues of having four solid options, but at striker, quality may be better than quantity. Particularly when you’re playing with only one up top.

  • What does playoff experience mean?

When you see how Colorado and Montréal performed mid-week, you can’t help but notice teams light on playoff experience being controlled by more tested squads. Perhaps that was coincidence, or maybe we’re biased toward seeing what we want, but Houston and Seattle seemed more intense than their regular season selves. For Colorado and Montréal, it might as well have been game 34.

Portland’s in the same boat. Donovan Ricketts and Will Johnson have won MLS Cups, and Jack Jewsbury has been here before, but the rest of Saturday’s potential starters have only smatterings of playoff experience (at most). If that experience is important, Portland’s at a huge disadvantage against Seattle.

  • The importance of Will Johnson

That’s where Portland’s captain comes into play. If you could only have two experienced players, you’d probably want them in goal (or, maybe central defense) and central midfield. And although Diego Valeri has been Portland’s best player in 2013, Will Johnson has been their heartbeat. It’s hard to overestimate the value his vitality has brought to the team, something that translated into his numbers (nine regular season goals) and the team’s success.

Seattle may see Johnson in a different light. In last year’s playoffs, he was the subject of a homophobic slur from Marc Burch that saw the Seattle defender subsequently suspended. In this year’s last regular season meeting between the clubs, Johnson drew an elbow from Osvaldo Alonso that saw the Sounders’ midfielder ejected from the game. As Sigi Schmid put it after that game, “whenever things happen, Will Johnson always seems to be at the other end of things.”

Unless the unexpected happens again, Johnson’s most important role should bea  less controversial one: That of helping Diego Chará protect a vulnerable central defense. That two-man shield has helped Portland survive the season with their third and fourth choice central defenders (Futty Danso, Pa Modou Kah). Protecting that Gambia duo by cutting off access to opposing forwards is more crucial in Portland games than most.

Three things we learned from Tottenham vs. Chelsea

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LONDON — Chelsea and Tottenham played out an entertaining 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho set their teams up to be difficult to beat and although Harry Kane and Eden Hazard went close, a draw was a fair result in the London derby.

Here’s three things we learned from the Lane on Sunday.


With Diego Costa dropped to the bench, those rumors of Jose Mourinho searching for an alternative striker to arrive in January where further fueled on Sunday. In his place Eden Hazard started up front with Pedro, Oscar and Willian in a false nine formation. To a degree, especially in the first half, it worked a treat as Hazard made diagonal runs in-behind Spurs’ defense and searching balls from Willian and Cesc Fabregas found him on multiple occasions.

The formation made Chelsea unpredictable and more stable as a defensive unit. Mourinho hasn’t used this ploy in the PL since April 25 2015, when his side went to Arsenal and ground out a 0-0 win with both Costa and Loic Remy out injured. On that occasion Oscar played in the higher role but Hazard wandered around up top on occasions. On Sunday, Hazard stretched Spurs’ backline and didn’t allow their defenders a moments peace. As for Costa, he cut a frustrated figure as he warmed up late in the second half alongside two teenagers, Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Both of those players came off the bench but Costa did not as his angry reaction at being given instructions by Mourinho (plus him appearing to throw his substitute bib at Mourinho on Sunday) during Chelsea’s midweek UEFA Champions League win against Maccabi Tel-Aviv seems to have cost him his starting spot.


Starting up front on his own on, Hazard was given a tough task against Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld but he put in one of his best displays of the season, if not his best. He battled in the air and won his fair share against two, often three, defenders. Hazard chased back, made intelligent runs into the space behind the defense and had chances to score. In the first half he bent a beautiful ball out wide with the outside of his right foot and then timed his run into the box to perfection, sending his header just over.

In the second half he met a looping cross with a beautifully cushioned left-footed volley across goal which Hugo Lloris saved superbly. He was pulling off flicks and tricks with ease and on this showing the reigning PFA Player of the Year from the 2014-15 campaign was relishing his role in leading Chelsea’s fluid, energetic offensive quartet. Hazard isn’t quite back to his best but he’s getting there and was the best player on the pitch on Sunday.


Both dressed in smartly tailored coats with their hands in their pockets standing on the edge of the technical, Pochettino and Mourinho’s similarities were not only visible in their pitch-side demeanor but in the way their teams played on the pitch on Sunday. When Pochettino was pondering a move to Southampton in the Premier League back in January 2013, it was Mourinho who not only recommended him but was the man who gave Tottenham’s boss advice on coaching in England. The duo have different playing philosophies they preach to their players with Pochettino’s high-pressing style a sub-product of Marcelo Bielsa but on Sunday it was difficult to tell the two teams apart — Kane’s early chance set the tone for this encounter with him clattering into Asmir Begovic after Danny Rose‘ teasing cross — as both sets of players flew into challenges and tried to force the issue with quick counters.

Perhaps that is a bigger compliment to Pochettino than Mourinho, as the 43-year-old Argentine coach has turned Spurs into genuine top four contenders this season, while Mourinho’s Chelsea dug deep but lacked composure in the final third. Almost 10 years younger, it’s not hard to imagine that Pochettino could one day replace Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. Given their jovial attitude towards one another on the sidelines in a heated London derby, Pochettino would get Mourinho’s approval as his mission to turn Spurs into a top four team continues to move in a positive direction.

Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 Chelsea: Chances without reward at White Hart Lane

during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.
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Sunday’s early morning London Derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane saw a lack of finish, as the Blues and Spurs drew 0-0.

Spurs stay fifth, with 25 points, while Chelsea moves up a spot to 14th with 15 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Starting up top for Diego Costa, Pedro made a razor-thin run through the Spurs back line, but the through ball’s timing was off.

Asmir Begovic knocked down a tricky, low, bouncing shot from Harry Kane as the game hit 18 minutes.

Eden Hazard leapt above Jan Vertonghen to head a looping cross from Oscar just over the goal. And Pedro had a chance deflected over goal moments later.

It was Spurs’ chance to score off a cross in the 27th minute, but Son Heung-min’s header of a Harry Kane pass was well-parried by Begovic. Then Mousa Dembele forced the Chelsea keeper into a stretching horizontal save for a corner.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

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The second half’s opening stages left plenty to be desired, with little happening aside from some questionable challenges. An injury to Ryan Mason brought Erik Lamela on for Spurs.

A 1-2 saw Lamela spring Son for a 64th minute chance, but Begovic was again there for Chelsea.

Eden Hazard smashed a volley on goal in the 67th minute. The superb cross came from Branislav Ivanovic, but Hugo Lloris was positioned to slap Hazard’s shot wide.

Costa did not enter the game, and comically tossed his warm-up bib over his head in the direction of Jose Mourinho. Like the chances in this match, it missed its mark,

Watch Live: West Ham vs. West Brom (Lineups, Live Stream)

during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United at The Hawthorns on February 14, 2015 in West Bromwich, England.
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West Brom looks to build on its win over Arsenal as it continues a tough run of games with a visit to the Boleyn Ground to face West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

The Baggies have faced Leicester City, Manchester United and the Gunners in their last three matches, and start with Saido Berahino and Rickie Lambert on the bench.

It’s Diafra Sakho up top for the Hammers, as West Ham would like to get back on track after picking up just one point in its last three.



West Ham United: Adrian, Jenkinson, Reid (c), Ogbonna, Cresswell, Obiang, Kouyate, Zarate, Lanzini, Moses, Sakho. Subs: Spiegel (GK), Tomkins, Song, Cullen, Antonio, Carroll, Jelavic.

West Bromwich Albion: Myhill, Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Evans, Morrison, Fletcher (c), Yacob, McClean, Sessegnon, Rondon. Subs: Lindegaard; Gardner, McManaman, Lambert, Anichebe, Berahino, Chester.

Watch Live: Tottenham vs. Chelsea (Lineups, Live Stream)

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Barclays Premier League
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Tottenham Hotspur welcome Chelsea to White Hart Lane on Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) with Jose Mourinho’s side looking for a big win.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s Spurs are unbeaten in 12 games heading into this London derby but only traveled back from Europa League action in Azerbaijan on Thursday night.


Chelsea are looking to secure back-to-back PL wins for the first time this season with Mourinho’s side languishing

In teams news Spurs bring in Ryan Mason for the suspended Dele Alli. Chelsea start with Kurt Zouma and Gary Cahill in central defense as John Terry couldn’t recover from an ankle injury. Diego Costa has been dropped with Eden Hazard playing up front in a false nine.


Tottenham: Lloris; Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Dier, Mason; Eriksen, Son, Dembele; Kane. Subs: Vorm, Trippier, Wimmer, Carroll, Lamela, Onomah, Clinton

Chelsea: Begovic; Ivanovic, Zouma, Cahill, Azpilicueta; Fabregas, Matic; Willian, Oscar, Pedro; Hazard. Subs: Amelia, Djilobodji, Baba Rahman, Mikel, Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Diego Costa