What We Learned from Portland’s first leg win at Seattle

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SEATTLE — The Sounders may have pulled one back late, but the Timbers will be happy with the result. After their 2-1 win Saturday at CenturyLink Field, the West’s top seed find themselves in the driver’s seat ahead of Thursday’s second leg in Portland.

Here’s what we learned after the match-up’s first 90 minutes.

  • 1. Seattle still has a first leg problem.

When the Sounders outplayed Real Salt Lake to open last year’s Western Conference semifinals, their first leg issues seemed to be solved. Though the game ended 0-0, Seattle had dominated, forcing Nick Rimando into one of the better goalkeeping performances in MLS history to keep the tie level. Even though Seattle still hadn’t scored in the opening leg of a playoff series, they’d now shown the ability to do.

But in last year’s Western Conference final, the Sounders were blitzed in Los Angeles, losing 3-0. On Saturday in Seattle, they were down 2-0 before Osvaldo Alonso pulled one back, bolstering what would have been faint hopes had they taken a two-goal deficit to JELD-WEN.

So maybe Seattle’s first leg syndrome’s still present? Portland’s a very good team, and against them, there’s no shame in being on the wrong side of a 2-1. But Seattle’s now faced Portland four times this season. They know what to expect. Only in the first leg of a playoff series did they fall behind by two goals.

  • 2. Inexperience? A non-issue for Portland.

We asked about it in the preview. For a team that had very few tested playoff performers, would inexperience be a factor? It seemed to affect Colorado on Wednesday. It seemed to affect Montréal on Thursday. In front of 38,507 in Seattle, would the Timbers’ be able to match Seattle’s intensity?

They did, but more so than merely bringing the right energy level, Portland brought the kind of poise that allowed them to be second-best for 15 minutes before scoring the opener. They brought the kind of focus that produced a second goal after halftime, a score that proved extremely valuable come the 90th minute.

The Timbers remain a relatively inexperienced side in terms of MLS’s playoffs, but on Saturday, that wasn’t a factor. They did not look like a team playing their first playoff game together.

  • 3. That diamond we heard so much about? It cost Seattle tonight.

If Seattle’s playing their normal, 4-4-2 — one that features traditional wide midfielders — they’re in a better position to prevent each goal. On the first score, Jack Jewsbury got too much time to create a chance down the right flank, with Adam Moffat unable to help Leo Gonzalez prevent the cross to Ryan Johnson. On the second, Portland wins a battle on the left, circulates a ball to the right, leaving Moffat little time to get out and contain Kalif Alhassen.

Post-game, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid hinted the formation may have been a factor in the goals. He also said Seattle may go back to their normal setup in Portland, one that’s a better fit for Mauro Rosales.

Of course, on JELD-WEN’s narrow field, the diamond may not be as much of an issue. (Author’s note: Whoops! See comments for factoid debunking this piece of speculation!)

  • 4. Portland’s shield proved stronger than Colorado’s.

Clint Dempsey had his best match of the season Wednesday against Colorado. On Saturday, however, the Seattle playmaker didn’t have as much influence. Although he continued to be a focal point in attack, he was almost always met by Diego Chara.

Whereas Seattle made life difficult for German Mera on Wednesday, Portland central defenders Pa Modou Kah and Mamadou Danso were far less tested. Seattle’s only goal came from a ball flicked on in front of a deep defensive line. Of the rest of Seattle’s threats, very few originated in the middle of the park.

  • 5. Attrition will be a factor for Seattle.

DeAndre Yedlin will almost certainly play on Thursday (Schmid hinting tonight’s decision to withhold his right back was one of caution). Obafemi Martins may also play a role. Elsewhere, however, Seattle continues to lose players.

Zach Scott, Yedlin’s replacement, left in the 62nd minute after picking up a rib injury in the first half. If he can’t go, Yedlin’s health becomes even more important. But if the 20-year-old doesn’t continue to improve (or maybe it’s raining on Portland’s turf the day of the game), Seattle could be forced to move Brad Evans out of midfield.

The team also has to compensate for Lamar Neagle’s absence, the starting forward having picked up a second yellow card. If Martins isn’t able to start, Schmid may be forced into moving Clint Dempsey back up top. That will almost certainly lead to a change in formation.

If all does well, the Sounders should be able to choose a strong XI for Thursday’s game. Their bench, however, may be as thin as Saturday’s, leaving them little room to adjust should they encounter new misfortune.

Report: Danny Rose to Chelsea for $64.3 million

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Just a week after Danny Rose gave an explosive newspaper interview, for which he later apologized, suggesting he will get paid what he’s worth be it at Tottenham Hotspur or elsewhere, it appears interest is rife in the England left back.

Who would have thought that would happen…

[ MORE: Wenger gives update on Sanchez ]

The Sun newspaper claim Rose will be the subject of a $64.3 million from Chelsea on Sunday following heir clash with Tottenham at Wembley (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a massive London derby.

Rose, 27, is still recovering from a knee injury and won’t be available until after the next international break in early September, but the man who has been named as the best left back in the Premier League over the past two seasons will have obviously upset the hierarchy at Spurs with his comments, even if many believe he was only airing the thoughts of most of Tottenham’s players.

He certainly opened up a can of worms with his comments (more on that here) as Spurs’ star names continue to be paid less than stars at Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and even Arsenal, and with Kyle Walker moving on to Man City earlier this summer and instantly doubling his salary, many can see where Rose is coming from. However, nobody told this Spurs players to sign new long-term deals. They all agreed to them.

Man United are also said to be interested in Rose who revealed in his self-proclaimed “ill-advised” comments that one day he would like a move back to the north of England to be closer to family.

Moving back to Chelsea’s pursuit of Rose, does it make sense?

Strengthening on the right-hand side of defense should probably take priority for the reigning champs with Marcos Alonso having a fine first season at Stamford Bridge and also adding an attacking threat down the left in the 3-4-3 system. Adding Rose could see Alonso pushed further forward but having two players for each position is crucial for Antonio Conte especially with UEFA Champions League action coming up, so looking for another left-wing back make sense. Rose’s pace and power make him the perfect fit for that position.

With Tottenham said to closing in a move for Ajax’s 21-year-old Colombian center back Davinson Sanchez, it appears Spurs are pushing ahead with exactly what Rose asked for last week: more big-name signings he didn’t have to Google to find out who they were.

It would be extremely tough to see Spurs willing to sell on another full back after letting Walker leave for Man City for $64.3 million earlier this summer, but if Chelsea wanted to pay that for Rose and with Ben Davies stepping in and developing into a solid, dependable left back over the past 12 months, should they take the cash and invest in other talented youngsters from across Europe?

Wenger gives update on Sanchez, Chamberlain, Wilshere

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Arsene Wenger has a lot to sort out in the coming months. And that’s just off the pitch.

Wenger, 67, has nine first-team players who are in the final years of their contracts at Arsenal and although Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have had much of the spotlight when it comes to their respective futures, there is plenty more to sort out.

But, for the sake of order, let’s start with Wenger’s comments on Sanchez’s future as the 28-year-old remains sideline with an abdominal injury and is in the final 12 months of his deal.

Wenger revealed that Sanchez won’t make the game at Stoke this weekend, but that he’ll likely return against Liverpool on Aug. 27.

Speaking to the media ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Stoke on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) the Frenchman revealed there has been no progress in talks over Sanchez staying at the Emirates Stadium.

“He is a player who goes into the final year of his contract. We have not progressed on that front,” Wenger said. “Let’s not be wrong, it’s not an ideal situation on the financial side and it demands some sacrifice. But first of all, it doesn’t mean the players who are in the final year of their contract will not extend their contract. You have still that possibility and we work on that as well.

“That (possibly allowing Sanchez to leave for free) is a consequence of what I say, yes, unfortunately. But we have to make a choice between efficiency on the field and financial interest and most of the time if you can find a good compromise, it’s better. But in this case, I think I prioritize the fact that he will be useful on the sporting side.”

So, that’s Sanchez. It appears Wenger is still willing to let Sanchez leave for nothing at the end of this season with the Chilean superstar, who scored 24 goals and added 10 assists in the Premier League for Arsenal last season, free to negotiate a free transfer with clubs outside of England from January onwards.

As for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, Wenger seems eager to keep both players but interest around the England internationals continue to swirl with both Chelsea and Manchester City said to be interested in the Ox and clubs such as West Ham, Newcastle and Sampdoria trying to sign Wilshere.

“We always wanted to keep Sanchez and we always hope, even now, that we can extend the contracts of Sanchez, Chamberlain, Ozil,” Wenger told beIN Sports. 

He expanded on those thoughts with the press on Wednesday, stating his appreciation for Chamberlain in particular.

“I rate him  highly,” Wenger said. “I want him to stay here for a long time and I’m convinced he will be the English player in the next two or three years that everybody will look at.”

Wenger’s comments earlier in the summer about Arsenal being in a strong position with several first-team stars in the final year of their respective contracts seemed like a bizarre one. With these situations rumbling on and no end in sight to the speculation and uncertainty, his comments now seems even more peculiar.

The legend of Wright-Phillips grows with latest Red Bulls triumph

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For the better part of five years, Bradley Wright-Phillips has been the engine that never ceases to churn for the New York Red Bulls attack.

[ MORE: Red Bulls storm back to knock off Cincinnati in Open Cup semis ]

The Englishman that wears kit number 99 continued to cement his legacy with the MLS side on Tuesday night as Wright-Phillips added another two goals to his growing tally, which now stands at 94 in all competitions.

BWP — as Red Bulls faithful know him — recorded a brace after the 75th minute to help the Red Bulls reach the U.S. Open Cup final in Cincinnati, including once in extra time.

While Wright-Phillips certainly played a key role in the comeback, the striker emphasized his side’s “character” after they went down 1-0.

“It felt massive,” said Wright-Phillips. “When we went two goals down it was going take something special but if there’s one team that can do it. It’s not me being biased, it’s us. We have a lot of character, we’re a fit team and situations like that seem to suit us. As soon as we go a goal down, I don’t like it but sometimes we just turn into a different animal. Today, it was no different.”

Manager Jesse Marsch and the Red Bulls have come under scrutiny in the past for not showing up in big matches, particularly when the MLS Cup playoffs roll around.

The Red Bulls have finished atop the Eastern Conference in back-to-back seasons leading into 2017 under Marsch, however, the club has come up empty in the postseason.

Tuesday night’s comeback win over Cincinnati is a positive step for the club in terms of how the Red Bulls handle adversity in the biggest of matches.

“I think it’s been a very long time and I read things all the time about New York Red Bulls don’t win trophies or even some of their fans were saying we were going to choke into the semifinals,” Wright-Phillips said. “So it’s just good to get over this hurdle here and prove to people that we are a team that we’re learning and we’re getting better.”

Marsch and Co. trailed 2-0 with under half an hour remaining at Nippert Stadium, but a gutsy performance from Wright-Phillips and the rest of the Red Bulls crew ensured the team that they’d play in the their second Open Cup final in club history (first occurred in 2003 when Red Bulls were previously the MetroStars).

[ MORE: Fourth MLS firing in ’17 — Mastroeni sacked by Rapids ]

The Red Bulls will move on to the tournament’s finale next month when they take on Sporting KC at Children’s Mercy Park.

Red Bulls storm back against FC Cincinnati to reach Open Cup final

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FC Cincinnati looked to be on the verge of another historic victory at Nippert Stadium, but that was before Bradley Wright-Phillips had his say in the matter.

[ MORE: Rapids fire Pablo Mastroeni in fourth MLS coach dismissal in 2017 ]

The New York Red Bulls notched an impressive comeback on Tuesday night to knock off Cincinnati, 3-2, in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

The Red Bulls will now move on to face Sporting KC in the Open Cup final on September 20 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

The 33,250 supporters in the crowd on Tuesday marked the second-highest attended match in the Open Cup’s history, according to TheCup.us.

Wright-Phillips grew his legend with the Red Bulls after recording a brace for the MLS club (his 93rd and 94th goals). Alan Koch’s side managed to stifle the veteran Englishman for most of the night, but Wright-Phillips kept on doing what he does best when it matters most.

The 32-year-old goalscorer tallied his second goal of the night in the 101st minute to help the Red Bulls complete their comeback, after having previously trailed by two goals inside the final 20 minutes.

Cincinnati was certainly on the back foot in terms of chances created throughout the night, but Austen Berry made no mistake with his opportunity in the 62nd minute, which gave the home side a 2-0 advantage.

The 28-year-old defender broke free on a corner kick from Kenney Walker, and Berry’s aerial effort left Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara with absolutely no chance.

This came after Corben Bone had sent Cincy out in front near the half-hour mark.

Just as the team looked dead in the water, goals from Gonzalo Veron and Wright-Phillips broke the hearts of Cincinnati inside the final 15 minutes of regulation.

For Cincinnati, Veron’s finish marked the first time the club has conceded in this year’s competition.