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

CONCACAF Champions League gets reboot; MLS benefits

Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, right, clears the ball away from Club America midfielder Rubens Sambueza (14) during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer quarterfinal, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Changes to the CONCACAF Champions League will benefit Major League Soccer in a big way.

Long requested by MLS, the North American league will only have to send its clubs to the CCL for the final four rounds, which will be home-and-away affairs.

Previously, clubs competed in a group stage from August to October, then joined the knockout rounds in February.

[ MORE: Transfer window names to watch ]

While MLS sides may still be just starting their seasons and have to contend with clubs who have been playing meaningful games, they will also be less likely to draw successful Liga MX sides in the Round of 16.

All of the details are here, but here’s a simplified takeaway:

— The 16 teams that qualify for the CCL, which will begin in February, will include four U.S. teams, one Canadian team, and four Mexican teams.

— The next six sides will be the Caribbean Club Championship winner and the champions of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama.

— The remaining side will win its spot via a new tournament which includes 13 Central American teams and three from the Caribbean.

For those of us hoping to see an MLS side in the Club World Cup, the odds will become better come the 2018 CCL. As for this year, MLS will again have to deal with the split season.

Ten names to watch in Premier League transfer window

BERGAMO, ITALY - DECEMBER 11:  Franck Kessie of Atalanta BC in action during the Serie A match between Atalanta BC and Udinese Calcio at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia on December 11, 2016 in Bergamo, Italy.  (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)
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National team veterans from France, England, and Spain are in a 10-man mix of players we think could have big impacts on the fortunes of teams in the Premier League this January transfer window.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

10) Lassana Diarra, Marseille — Twice in London, the French-born midfielder is said to be interesting Manchester United and Valencia amongst others.

9) Leonardo Ulloa, Leicester City — The pressure doesn’t get to the Foxes’ 30-year-old striker, who has scored plenty of big goals for Leicester City. Might he be the perfect bench piece to push a team into the second half of the season? Spanish side Alaves have reportedly had a $2 million bid rejected by Leicester.

8) Phil Jagielka, Everton — Older, yes, but the English national team veteran could be just what the doctor-ordered for relegation candidates and lower-half sides looking for a PL-experienced CB.

7) Victor Lindelof, Benfica — His arrival at Old Trafford went from Tomorrowland to Lost in recent weeks, but Jose Mourinho could still act to bring in the center back before the summer.

6) Scott Hogan, Brentford — The Championship striker isn’t quite as prominent in the rumor mill as Jordan Rhodes was last season, but the 24-year-old could be a promising buy for a PL side. West Ham is said to have the inside track.

5) Goncalo Guedes, Benfica — As for Lindelof’s teammate, Guedes was tipped to join Manchester United with his center back. Will another side jump into the fray before Guedes joins Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford? Paris Saint-Germain is said to be interested.

4) Franck Kessie, Atalanta — The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals for his Serie A side, and has been the major reason for Atalanta’s run into the top half.

3) Robert Snodgrass, Hull City — The Scottish wizard has been a big part of what little success has come the Tigers way this season, but West Ham and several other Premier League sides are tempting Hull.

2) Alvaro Morata, Real Madrid — He starred for Juventus last season and triggered a Real Madrid return. Slowed by an Achilles injury for much of this season, he’s been tipped for a summer move to Chelsea. If it can happen then… why not now? The Blues could order the title confetti if they landed the Spanish striker.

1) Dimitri Payet, West Ham United — Yes, we’re tired of his act — and reading about it — but Payet is a game-changer who could inject excitement into any offense in the world. If Marseille wants him, it had better pay up.

Transfer rumor roundup: Man City after two backs; Zelalem to Holland?

NAPLES, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 17: Napolis player Faouzi Ghoulam vies with Bologna FC player Simone Verdi during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Bologna FC at Stadio San Paolo on September 17, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)
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Here are your transfer rumor headlines on a day when Gerard Deulofeu moves to AC Milan and Lazar Markovic heads to Hull City on loan.

[ MORE: Three players leave USMNT camp ]

Two Premier Leaguers could be heading down to help the Championship leaders. Newcastle United is said to be close to bringing Andros Townsend back from Crystal Palace after just a half-season, while Swansea City’s Mo Barrow is also on Rafa Benitez‘s radar.

An Arsenal blog says USMNT prospect Gedion Zelalem may have found his loan destination. The 19-year-old could be leaving the Emirates Stadium for a loan stint at VVV Venlo, with the Dutch side sitting first in the second tier and in a promotion push.

The Manchester Evening News brings reports of two backs on the radar of Manchester City. Rai Sport is the source for Man City’s interest in Napoli left back Faouzi Ghoulam, who has six assists in 21 appearances for Partenopei between Serie A and the UEFA Champions League. Pep Guardiola may also want to be reunited with Juan Bernat, though that story comes from the wild swings of The Daily Mirror.

Sunderland is going to lose one of its two brightest lights in a dark, dismal season. The Black Cats have taken a lot of calls on Jermain Defoe, but it’s Patrick Van Aanholt who is on the move to rejoin Sam Allardyce at Crystal Palace. The Dutch standout is said to be purchased for $15 million, and would be the equivalent of a transfer six-pointer in the Premier League’s relegation race.

Report: West Ham turns down another Payet bid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14:  The Dimitri Payet of West Ham United sign is seen outside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between West Ham United and Crystal Palace at London Stadium on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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West Ham United has rejected a third bid for wantaway midfielder Dimitri Payet, according to Sky Sports.

Marseille upped the ante to $28 million when it comes to the French midfielder, who has said he wants to go back to the club for “family reasons“.

[ MORE: Three players leave USMNT camp ]

Payet was given a $1.2 million loyalty bonus from West Ham earlier this season, but has continually tempted the rumor mill. He’s also winked at Arsenal.

He has 15 goals in parts of two seasons with the Irons, the same figure he boasted in two full years with Marseille. Payet has also played Lille, Saint-Etienne, Nantes, and AS Excelsior.

It’s been a rocky month for Payet, who could be doomed to purgatory at West Ham. Will any Premier League suitors come calling at the Irons’ $38 million asking price.