Portland Timbers Vs. Real St. Lake with playoff poistioning on line

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on the Portland Timbers ahead of their visit from Seattle

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  • All things trending Timbers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Yesterday, I was asked a couple of times: “Who do you have on Thursday? Timbers? Or Sounders?” I generally said the Timbers are up 2-1, so they’re most likely to win, but the Sounders have a better change than most people think.

But once I sat down to write my preview and looked at the bigger picture — a picture my narrow-minded, try to balance all aspects of Cascadia focus seemed to be missing — things looked horrible for Seattle.

Consider:

    • The Timbers carry a nine-match unbeaten run into tonight’s second leg. Two of those games were wins over Seattle.
    • In 38 all-competiton games (regular season, U.S. Open Cup, playoffs), the Timbers have only lost only six times. Every other MLS team has at least 11 all-competition losses.
    • At home, the Timbers have only lost once all season: all the way back on March 9 to the good version of Montréal.
    • The Timbers have the league’s best goal difference and the league’s second-best difference at home (Seattle was -14 this year away from CenturyLink).
    • In four games against Seattle, Portland’s lost once: a 1-0 at CenturyLink on August 25.
    • Portland has no new injuries, no new suspensions. The team that build all these trends will be on the field tonight.

The one qualm about Portland’s 2013: 15 ties. But draw tonight, and the Timbers are in the conference finals.

[MORE: MLS Playoff Preview: Seattle Sounders at Portland Timbers]

  • You know what you’re going to get

With no absences, Portland’s lineup’s easy to predict – a rarity in the 2013 postseason. With the exception of the Dynamo, every team has tweaked (or is expected to tweak) their teams between games. Even the now-eliminated Supporters’ Shield winners (New York) made significant changes after their draw in Houston.

But with Portland, there’s no reason to change. Donovan Ricketts will be protected by Jack Jewsbury, Fatty Danso, Pa Modou Kah and Michael Harrington, a defensive foursome who will be shielded by Will Johnson and Diego Chara. Rodney Wallace will man the left wing, with Diego Chara and Darlington Nagbe providing the connections in the middle.

The only question headed into game one was at striker, where Caleb Porter has four players (three healthy) who’ve started this season. But Ryan Johnson was always the most-likely choice, and while Porter was coy before kickoff, he went back to the Jamaican international in Seattle. Having espoused his virtues against Seattle’s central defenders (Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Djimi Traoré), Porter’s likely to stick with his most-prolific forward, Johnson now up to 10 goals on the season.

[WATCH  the game tonight at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN or watch it on NBC Sports Live Extra]

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Diego Valeri led Major League Soccer in assists this season but was pulled after 60 minutes in Seattle on Saturday.
  • Do they need the real Diego Valeri to step up?

Saturday was one of Diego Valeri’s least influential performances since coming to Portland, and shortly after he was brought off in favor of Kalif Alhassan, the Timbers scored, the Ghanaian midfielder setting up Darlington Nagbe on the game-winning goal. For somebody who garnered fringe MVP consideration this season, Valeri was a relative non-factor on Saturday.

Relative is the key term. The attention he demands still influences the game. As Diego Chara found early room to burst forward and Darlington Nagbe had more space to choose from, you couldn’t help but wonder how much Osvaldo Alonso, Adam Moffat, and Brad Evans were prioritizing the Argentine creator. Even though he was quiet, Valeri’s team still scored two goals on the road.

So no, Portland doesn’t need the real Diego Valeri to step up. Still possibly slowed by a groin injury, the real Diego Valeri may not be back until next season. But as we saw on Saturday, this version of the Portland’s maestro can still influence games, if subtly so.

[MORE: MLS Playoff Preview: Seattle Sounders at Portland Timbers]

  • Playing with fire on set pieces

Caleb Porter may have been happy with how Saturday’s game went, but giving up so many set pieces to Seattle, Portland is playing with fire. The Timbers have been better defending restarts since the Kah-Danso partnership took hold, but they gave up 11 corners on Saturday (earning one). Of the 21 fouls they committed, 15 were in their own half. Even if you are the better team on set pieces (and on most of the Saturday’s, Portland was in control), you’re going to give up chances. Eddie Johnson had one early, heading wide of the right post. Clint Dempsey had one late, redirecting a corner kick off the cross bar.

The easy answer here is fewer fouls, right? Of course, but that’s easier said than done. You give up possession, you play in your own half, you’re going to commit more fouls. You’re going to give up more corners. You’re going to increase the chances that a missed assignment, a whistle that doesn’t go your way, or just penalty area randomness bites you.

Perhaps this is the lesser of evils for Caleb Porter, but it is a consequence of his shift in approach. The possession-based, play-in-their half style that’d he advocated earlier in the year? They’re now allowing their opponents to bring it to them. These are the drawbacks.

[MORE: Portland Timbers thriving after unexpected death of ‘Porterball’]

  • If inexperience will be an issue in this series, it’s now or never

It wasn’t a factor on Saturday. Portland made all the right decisions, never wavering while letting Seattle dictated the match. They turned 15 minutes of Sounder control into an early, 1-0 lead, and their poise on the second goal betrayed the fact most of their team has no meaningful postseason experience. If CenturyLink is supposed to be one of MLS’s biggest challenges, it didn’t show on Saturday. If anything, Seattle’s failure to take their chances could be seen as home crowd expectations getting to them.

But that’s not what happened. If anything, the crowd was a non-factor, both teams so used to playing in that atmosphere. But that doesn’t mean the same will hold true on Thursday. It’s an elimination game, JELD-WEN is not CenturyLink, and again, these Timbers have never been here before. Potentially 90 minutes from the end of their season, how will they handle these heightened expectations?

Last year, the West’s first place team (San Jose) won on the road, returned home, and lost in front of their own fans. Whether history repeats itself will come down to Portland’s ability to play as they have the last eight months. If they let the occasion get to them, Seattle’s capable of going what they did last year in Salt Lake: Advancing on the road.

Lionel Messi picks up hamstring injury, will travel with Argentina anyways

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 20: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at Camp Nou on August 20, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi’s “return” to the Argentinian national team may have to wait.

Barcelona has revealed their superstar picked up a left hamstring injury at an unspecified time, and discovered them during tests earlier on Monday. The statement said he would still travel to Argentina to link up with the national team for the international break, and will have more tests there.

Argentina, sitting in the third spot in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying and just two points above elimination, have vital matches against Uruguay and Venezuela over the next week. “His presence in those matches will depend on how the injury develops,” the statement from Barcelona read.

It is unclear when Messi developed this injury. He has played the full 90 minutes in all four of Barcelona’s matches this season, including the 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, the first of the four matches in which he did not score or assist a goal.

This also could be a bit of gamesmanship from Barcelona. Obviously, it benefits clubs for their players to rest during international breaks instead of play international matches, and for them to suddenly announce an injury to Lionel Messi would put pressure on Argentina to consider sitting their superstar. Of course, in attempts to dispel this idea, Barcelona included in their statement that the injury report was “approved by the FC Barcelona Medical Services and the Argentinian Football Association.”

A legitimate injury to Messi would be a devastating blow to Argentina considering Sergio Aguero has already withdrawn from the squad following an injury picked up against West Ham this weekend. Aguero was substituted in the 88th minute of Manchester City’s 3-1 win over the Hammers.

Messi was expected to make his first appearance to the national team setup after his brief “retirement” following the loss in the Copa America finals.

VIDEO: What will Southampton’s new star Boufal provide?

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Sofiane Boufal is a name many will be familiar with.

After his $21 million move to Southampton on Monday for a club-record fee, plenty of people are getting excited about seeing Boufal in the Premier League.

The Moroccan international is the type of player who has already become a cult figure due to the “Football Manager” video game, as his potential to become a star of European soccer has been well documented with huge teams interested in signing him over the past six months.

[ MORE: Fabregas wants Chelsea stay ]

That’s because Boufal, 22, shone for Lille last season, scoring 12 goals and his trickery, pace, set pieces and direct running saw him named as the best African player in Ligue 1.

He chose Southampton and it seems like a very wise choice after they helped turn the likes of Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw, plus many more, into top international players.

So, what have Southampton got in Boufal?

Take a look at the video above which gives a great overview of Boufal from his time at Lille after making the step up from Angers in Ligue 2 in January 2015.

That’s right, those comparisons with Riyad Mahrez seem pretty legit.

Late show? Chelsea linked with transfer deals for James Rodriguez, Alonso

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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Chelsea may be set to do some late business in the summer transfer window.

According to Marca in Spain they will sign Fiorentina defender Marcos Alonso for $27 million.

[ MORE: Boufal signs for Saints ]

Alonso, 25, previously played for Bolton and Sunderland in the Premier League but the Real Madrid product moved to Serie A in 2013 and has flourished for Fiorentina. He is able to operate as a left back and in midfield and could provide Antonio Conte with another option in defense so he can switch Cesar Azpilicueta to right back and potentially Branislav Ivanovic to center back.

Another player who could be on his way to Chelsea is Real Madrid’s forward is James Rodriguez. This is one we’ve heard before, many times.

The Colombian national team captain, 25, was subject of a $80 million bid from Chelsea but according to the Daily Mirror the bid was turned down by Real Madrid.

[ MORE: McCourt to buy Marseille ]

James has found himself a bit-part player at the Santiago Bernabeu with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema around. However he has a huge release clause in his contract and Chelsea would have to pay close to $100 million for his services. Is he really worth that? When you have Oscar, Pedro, Willian, Eden Hazard, Victor Moses and others already in your squad, probably not.

In terms of outgoings at Stamford Bridge, Kurt Zouma has been linked with a move to Schalke in the Bundesliga as the French central defender continues his long comeback from a horrendous knee injury he suffered against Manchester United in February last season. Zouma, 21, is said to be close to joining Schalke on a season-long loan deal wit a view to a permanent move.

Nacer Chadli signs for West Brom

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 30:  Nacer Chadli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Colchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Weston Homes Community Stadium on January 30, 2016 in Colchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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West Bromwich Albion have signed Nacer Chadli from Tottenham Hotspur in a deal said to be worth $17 million.

[ MORE: Boufal signs for Saints ]

Chadli, 27, has spent the past three seasons with Spurs after arriving from FC Twente in 2013 for $9.1 million.

The Belgian international fell down the pecking order at Tottenham last season under Mauricio Pochettino and has now moved on to secure regular minutes in the Premier League.

Speaking to West Brom’s website about his move to the Hawthorns, Chadli was delighted to be on board with Tony Pulis‘ side.

“I feel very good to be here. It came very quickly but I spoke to the Club and they have a good team, a good manager and I am very pleased to be here,” Chadli said. “My ambitions? I just want to help the team win as many games as possible.”

Chadli can operate in central midfield, out wide, in a No. 10 role or even up front and he is very good on the ball and has an eye for goal with 25 goals in 119 appearances in all competitions for Tottenham.

With Spurs possessing Dele Alli, Victor Wanyama, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son in the central and attacking midfield areas, Chadli wasn’t guaranteed minutes at White Hart Lane.

West Brom have picked up a player who can create chances and is a powerful presence in midfield. With his creativity Chadli should slot in nicely in front of Darren Fletcher in the Baggies’ midfield and Pulis will be hoping he can lay chances on for Salomon Rondon up top.

This seems like a really shrewd piece of business by West Brom, while Spurs are also looking to offload Ryan Mason and Son according to multiple reports. Is Pochettino lining up some last-minute business in the transfer window?

Could West Brom’s Saido Berahino be heading for Spurs with Chadli the sweetener in the deal? Let’s see what the next 48 hours or so brings before the transfer window slams shut at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday.