Ryan Johnson, Djimi Traore

Johnson, Nagbe goals allow Portland to take edge out of Seattle

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SEATTLE — It was Portland’s first win in Seattle, but in the context of the rivals’ 180-minute conference semifinal match, the victory only gets them to halftime. But thanks to goals from Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe, the Timbers reach intermission with a one-goal lead, with a late goal from Osvaldo Alonso bringing the Sounders within 2-1 ahead of Thursday’s leg in Portland.

The Timbers took the lead in the 15th minute when Johnson headed home a Jack Jewsbury cross from close range, giving Marcus Hahnemann no chance to stop the game’s opening goal. Just after the hour mark, Nagbe doubled Portland’s lead, turning on a ball in the right of the area to make it 2-0. Alonso’s 90th minute volley from near the penalty spot brought Seattle within one, limiting the damage on a night they failed to take advantage of their home leg.

Now Seattle heads to Portland, where they lost 1-0 in their only visit this year. There they will be without forward Lamar Neagle, who picked up his second yellow card of the postseason and will be suspended. They may also miss Zach Scott, the right back leaving in the second half after playing an hour in place of DeAndre Yedlin, who did not dress while hampered with an injured ankle.

Portland opened the scoring in the 15th minute through Johnson, whose run in front of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado allowed the Jamaican international to meet Jack Jewsbury’s cross inside the six-yard box. Though Seattle had controlled play for much of the first hour, a chance created deep along the Timbers’ right would give Portland their first ever lead at CenturyLink.

It was advantage that the visitors would take into halftime. Although the Sounders would earn eight corner kicks and three other restarts in Portland’s defensive third, they were only able to put two shots on Donovan Ricketts. In contrast, despite holding less of the ball, the Timbers were able to test Hahnemann three times, with occasional counter attacks sparked by Diego Chara helping their quality balance Seattle’s quality.

At the start of second half, that balance transferred onto the run of play, with the teams sharing the ball and a lack of chances. By the hour mark, however, the teams had made their first changes, with an injury forcing Scott off in favor of Mauro Rosales (62nd minute). Portland sent on Kalif Alhassan for an ineffective Diego Valeri (63rd).

Four minutes later, Portland’s change paid off, with Alhassan setting up Nagbe in the right of the penalty area for the Timbers’ second goal. On a play that started with Nagbe high on the left of his attacking third, Portland moved the ball through Will Johnson in the middle over to Alhassan on the right, who had space to move toward the penalty area. As he approached the box, Alhassan played a ball in to Nagbe, who, cutting in front Djimi Traoré 10 yards out, turned and blasted his right-footed shot past Hahnemann, giving Portland a 2-0 lead.

In the 90th minute, Osvaldo Alonso brought Seattle back into the tie. Off a long throw from Brad Evans, the Seattle destroyer ran onto a ball flicked toward the penalty spot by Shalrie Joseph, beating Alhassan to a shot that ended up in the back of Ricketts’ net. After a night as was one of Seattle’s few standouts, the 27-year-old midfielder bolstered the Sounders’ hopes ahead of Thursday’s second leg.

At the final whistle, Portland had completed their night of firsts. First win in Seattle. First lead at CenturyLink. TBut in the context of the playoffs, it’s only a one-goal lead. It’s advantage Timbers, but there are still 90 minutes to go.

Goals

Portland: 15′ Ryan Johnson, 67′ Darlington Nagbe

Seattle: 90′ Osvaldo Alonso

Lineups

SEATTLE: Marcus Hahnemann; Zach Scott (63′ Mauro Rosales), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Djimi Traoré, Leo González (84′ Marc Burch); Brad Evans, Osvaldo Alonso, Adam Moffat (77′ Shalrie Joseph); Clint Dempsey; Eddie Johnson, Lamar Neagle

Unsued Subs: Doug Hendrick, David Estrada, Patrick Ianni, Andy Rose

PORTLAND: Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso, Pa Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Will Johnson, Diego Chará; Darlingon Nagbe (73′ Ben Zemanski), Diego Valeri (62′ Kalif Alhassan), Rodney Wallace; Ryan Johnson (83′ Jose Valencia)

Unused Subs: Milos Kosic, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Sal Zizzo, Frederic Piquionne

Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must

Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea FC
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Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is used to big matches, whether at Stamford Bridge, with the Belgian national team or during his loan to Atletico Madrid.

[ SPORTSWORLD: Courtois “standing tall” at Chelsea ]

If he doesn’t get one or two of those contests by the end of this season, a bad season will become an utter failure.

Courtois says it’s a long way to the Top Four, but Chelsea hasn’t given up on that hope. Regardless, he’s targeting wins over Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, respectively.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“After that we play in the Champions League and FA Cup against two great sides and we have to try to win those games because the only way to save our season is to reach the final in one or both of them.”

Chelsea’s star has fallen this year, but this is still largely the team that won the Premier League last season. Courtois’ goals are not unreasonable.

LIVE – West Ham vs. Liverpool in FA Cup 4th round replay

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 30:  Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool is watched by Dimitri Payet of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on January 30, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Two Premier League teams clash in the FA Cup on Tuesday with a place in the last 16 on the line.

West Ham United welcome Liverpool to Upton Park (Follow live, 2:45 p.m. ET) following the 0-0 draw between the teams at Anfield 10 days ago.

[ LIVE: Follow West Ham-Liverpool here

Slaven Bilic‘s side will fancy their chances of getting past an injury-hit Liverpool squad and creating another famous FA Cup memory in their final season at the Boleyn Ground. With Dimitri Payet in contract negotiations about extending his stay at the Hammers, can the French playmaker lead them to a big win?

After missing Liverpool’s late collapse on Saturday during the 2-2 draw with Sunderland due to a bout of suspected appendicitis, manager Jurgen Klopp will return to the dugout. The German coach has already guided the Reds to one Wembley final during his debut season in charge as they face Manchester City in the League Cup final in less than three weeks time.

The winner of this clash will travel to second-tier Blackburn Rovers and they’ll be heavy favorites to reach the FA Cup quarterfinals.

Click on the link above to follow the game live, plus we will have a recap, reaction and analysis following the encounter in east London.

State of the USMNT: What is Klinsmann’s best XI for World Cup qualifiers?

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With the U.S. men’s national team ending their January camp with two narrow friendly wins over Iceland and Canada, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff will now be sitting back and thinking: “What did we learn? Who impressed? Who struggled?”

Or something like that.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

Each year the January camp provides domestic based players — mostly from Major League Soccer but a sprinkling of other guys too — with the chance to impress Klinsmann and his staff in close quarters for multiple weeks in California. Many current U.S. regulars earned their stripes in January’s gone by and have established themselves ever since.

This January was no different as the experienced core of players — Michael Bradley, Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore among them — showed their class and several promising players worked hard to get minutes in the friendlies.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

However, despite some glimmers of hope from youngsters such as Jordan Morris and Jerome Kiesewetter, what we learned about the USMNT heading into the two CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifiers in March is that the established players remain the best hope for success. Sure, the likes of John Brooks is impressing in the Bundesliga, Matt Miazga sealed a move to Chelsea and Lee Nguyen took his chance in January camp, but the old guard should remain in place through this next batch of World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala home and away on Mar. 25 and 29 and the Copa America Centenario this summer.

Question marks remain regarding some veterans, which could keep the situation a little more fluid than it should be.

One of those is Tim Howard with speculation of him moving away from Everton mounting plus a straight-up battle between Howard and Brad Guzan for the starting spot, while Clint Dempsey‘s status with the national team still seems to be somewhat clouded. Overall, though, the settled core of players who played together at the World Cup — plus or minus a few who have performed consistently over the last 18 months — should be kept together by Klinsmann. During last summer’s Gold Cup disappointment there was plenty of experimenting, especially in defense, but now is the time to settle things down and realize the following guys are the players you should count on going forward.

Below is my selection — feel free to select your own in the comments section — for the best XI available to Klinsmann, plus seven subs, assuming everyone is fit and available.

USMNT’s Best XI as of Feb. 9, 2016

—– Howard —–

— F. Johnson — Cameron — Besler — Ream —

—- Bradley —- Williams —-

—- Bedoya —- Dempsey —- Zardes —-

—– Altidore —–

Subs: Guzan, Brooks, Jones, Yedlin, Nagbe, Morris, Johannsson

Ahead of huge title clash, influential Leicester scout transfers to Arsenal

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Ben Wrigglesworth might not be a man you’ve heard a lot about, but he has been influential in helping Leicester City’s unlikely charge to the top of the Premier League.

Now, he’s been poached by Leicester’s main title rivals: Arsenal.

[ MORE: Spurs, Arsenal to battle for title?

Ahead of the monster clash between the Foxes and Gunners at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) the man who unearthed the likes of Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante has transferred to Arsenal and is now their First Team Video Scout.

Wrigglesworth, Leicester’s former Head of Technical Scouting, announced he would be leaving the Foxes via his Twitter page (see below) and he has now accepted a new role as part of Steve Rowley’s team at Arsenal.

It is believed he will not only help with the scouting of players but will also analyze Arsenal’s first team and the opposition.

[ MORE: Recapping Week 25 in the PL ]

Arsenal will unveil a new player performance center at their training HQ this summer and have recently purchased a soccer data company based in America, statDNA, to help them with scouting and player analysis.

With several Premier League teams now having huge player databases monitored by a team of talented individuals — often, like Wrigglesworth, with no pro playing experience — scouring the globe for the next bargain, the Moneyball vibe is strong.