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

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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