MLS Playoff Preview: Timbers look to finish off rival Sounders

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  • Portland won series opener in Seattle, 2-1
  • Timbers are unbeaten at home since March
  • Sounders expect injured Yedlin, Martins to be available

PORTLAND, Ore. — Maybe we’re over-thinking this. Seattle has been a consistent postseason participant and have an absolutely loaded squad, but they’ve also won one of their last nine games, and traveling to JELD-WEN Field on Thursday, they’re facing a Portland team with all the indicators in their favor: nine games unbeaten; two straight wins over Seattle; 15 games unbeaten at home; the league’s best goal difference; only five losses in 35 games. Between two teams tending in opposite directions, is there any reason to believe Seattle can knock off the Timbers on Thursday?

Of course there is. Seattle shouldn’t be considered favorites, but with weapons like Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey, they certainly have a puncher’s chance. A clicking Osvaldo Alonso is the best defensive midfielder in Major League Soccer, Brad Evans has gone from massively underrated to finally appreciated, and on Saturday, Mauro Rosales showed he can still influence a game. The Sounders have enough weapons to land a punch, especially if an inexperienced Timbers team proves willing to expose their chin.

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

There are, however, a few reasons to think Seattle will be better than Saturday and, by inference (they only lost by one), capable of getting a result in Portland:

  • Seattle should be significantly healthier. Right back DeAndre Yedlin, who turned his ankle in the Sounders’ first round game against Colorado, will almost certainly play, and the team is optimistic Obafemi Martins will return from a groin injury. Each could provide an upgrade on Thursday, be it as a starter (Yedlin’s most likely role) or off the bench (Martins, who could yet start).
  • The Sounders could switch formations, going away from the narrow diamond midfield that cost them on Saturday. A move back to their typical 4-4-2 could allow them to move Rosales into the starting lineup, moving Evans to the left and Clint Dempsey up top. With Lamar Neagle suspended (yellow card accumulation), the decision could come down to whether Martins is able to start.
  • Seattle will have also learned from Portland’s tactics, with people now starting to realize the possession-dependent Timbers that’d been adored throughout the season disappeared two months ago. Against a Timber team willing to cede possession, the Sounders must be willing to play the extra pass and try to create better chances. On Saturday, they should have chosen quality over quantity.

But whereas Seattle will institute some of those tweaks, Portland’s not hard to predict. The only lineup question ahead of Saturday’s game was who would start at striker. But with Ryan Johnson getting on the scoresheet in Seattle, the Jamaica international seems likely to get the call on Thursday, particularly given the Sounders are unlikely to make any changes in central defense.

[MORE: MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on the Seattle Sounders ahead of Thursday’s visit to Portland]

“We felt his strength in the air, his physicality, ability to hold the ball up, his athleticism, his pace and power was a good matchup against [Sounders defenders Jhon Kennedy] Hurtado and [Djimi] Traore,” Caleb Porter explained, asked for the reasons he selected Johnson Saturday night.

source:  Even if Portland stays with the same XI, one change is guaranteed: The crowd. The over-20,000 who’ll sellout JELD-WEN will strive to impress against their regional rivals, Seattle’s fans having had their chance to do the same on Saturday. Then, the Sounders’ Emerald City Supporters’ weekend tifo featured a large skull beneath a banner reading “WELCOME TO YOUR NIGHTMARE” (right). The Timbers Army will certainly try to outdo their rivals in support.

But beyond personnel and lineup choices, changing tactics or shifting venues, the implicit question people seem to be asking is whether Portland’s for real. Their final standing in the West says one thing, as do all the underlying numbers, but having never made it this far before (and having undergone such a steep and unexpected rise to get here), people are understandably incredulous. Not only has Portland never won before, but we’ve never really see a team like this — a collection of disparate parts assembled under a neophyte boss — succeed in MLS. Until that happens, people will compare them to the Los Angeleses, Real Salt Lakes, and Seattles of the world, teams they’re used to seeing in the postseason, and wonder whether they can get it done.

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

On Thursday, Portland will either continue all the trends or justify the doubts, but given those doubts have been proven wrong throughout the season, it might be best to acknowledge the data, see a team that’s lost only five times this year, and recognize Portland are probably much bigger favorites than we’re giving them credit for.

Fan protests spur Fiorentina owners to put club up for sale

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) The owners of two-time Serie A champion Fiorentina have announced they are putting the club up for sale due to fan protests.

A club statement says the ownership is accepting “serious offers only from those who really mean well for the Viola shirt.”

Shoe and leather entrepreneurs Diego and Andrea Della Valle have controlled Fiorentina since 2002, having restarted the club after the previous ownership ended in bankruptcy.

The Della Valles guided the club up from the fourth division back to the top flight but were never fully embraced by the squad’s fans.

After four straight years of finishing in the top five of Serie A, an eighth-place result last month was difficult to accept by the supporters.

Former Fiorentina captain Stefano Pioli was recently appointed to coach the club.

De Boer an exciting hire for “club that can grow further and further”

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Frank De Boer said all the right things in his first interview as Crystal Palace boss, and Eagles fans should puff out their chests at the club’s most impressive hire in a long time.

On the heels of blustery Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew, and to a much lesser extent Tony Pulis, De Boer is no shrinking violet.

Yet the Dutchman has set the standards high for his London debut. There’s no talk of “just surviving” or whimpering at the might of the league’s top clubs. De Boer’s ready to do well.

[ MORE: Ranking expectations for PL bosses ]

Appointed Monday, De Boer will take charge of his third club following stints at Ajax and Inter Milan. He won four titles in five season at the Dutch club, but spent just 85 days in that tumultuous seat.

From CPFC.co.uk:

“It’s a club that can grow further and further because English clubs in the Premier League can spend a lot of money, and we can do something well with that. There is the prospect to be a solid Premier League club and this is the most important thing for me right now, not struggle for relegation. If we can do more that would be nice, but we want to be a stable club.”

Palace chairman Steve Parish has taken a solid step in the hiring of De Boer, who becomes just the second Palace boss from outside the British Isles. He’ll have an array of attacking options, but will probably need to look past his current batch of defenders to find players who fit his style.

That said, he’s said he’ll look at his current group first. He’ll love Patrick Van Aanholt and perhaps Jeff Schlupp, but De Boer needs some help at the back. Still, like Mauricio Pellegrino at Saints, this seems like another hire that was worth the wait for a PL fan base.

Still, Palace views itself as a club that can excite, and Allardyce was not the man to set Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend up to succeed. In fact, the Eagles have probably been blessed by Allardyce’s retirement, and Parish did not drop the ball when given the opportunity.

Chicharito injury update ahead of Confed Cup semifinals

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KAZAN, Russia (AP) Mexico star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez trained separately from his teammates on Monday because of muscle fatigue, the latest concern for a Mexican team that has been struck by injuries at the Confederations Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Confed Cup news

Defender Diego Reyes also didn’t practice with the team in its final training session before traveling to Sochi for Thursday’s semifinal against Germany.

Mexico had already lost defender Carlos Salcedo because of a shoulder injury, while defender Hector Moreno has been a concern with a muscle ailment.

Coach Juan Carlos Osorio is already certain to be without midfielder Andres Guardado because of a yellow card suspension.

Chicharito warmed up with the rest of the group in Monday’s practice session in Kazan but left the field after the players met for a few minutes with coach Juan Carlos Osorio.

When one of Osorio’s assistants asked Chicharito about his condition, the player said he was “fine, not a problem.”

The Bayer Leverkusen forward ran a few laps around the field accompanied by the team’s physical trainer, then underwent a few stretching exercises on the sidelines. He watched the rest of the training session from the bench.

The team said Chicharito’s absence was a precaution.

“He said that he was leaving because he was still a bit tired after the match,” midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos said. “He’s played a lot of matches, a lot of minutes, a lot of practices. He just needs to rest a bit, nothing important.”

Chicharito played the entire game when Mexico came from behind to defeat host Russia 2-1 on Saturday to guarantee its spot in the semifinals of the eight-nation World Cup warm-up event.

He was rested in the 2-1 win over New Zealand, when Osorio rotated his squad because of a concern over injuries. Salcedo sustained his shoulder injury during that game and was forced to be removed from the squad. Reyes was hurt in the game against Russia and remains doubtful for the semifinal. He stayed at the team’s hotel on Monday, undergoing rehab for his muscle injury.

Chicharito scored his only goal of the tournament in the 2-2 opening draw against Portugal last week.

Guardado was shown his second yellow against Russia.

“He is a crucial player for us, very important for the team, one of our captains,” Dos Santos said about Guardado. “But we have other players who can make up for his absence.”

Mexico is trying to win the Confederations Cup for the second time. It won the World Cup warm-up event in 1999.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

VIDEO: Fans of Mexican teams brawl in “friendly game”

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This was clearly not a friendly game.

And that was just in the stands.

A game to benefit the United Soccer Talents Foundation was abandoned at half time as fans took to the pitch and brawled in Santa Ana, California.

The “friendly” game was played between former members of rival clubs Club America and Pumas at Eddie West Field as fans of the Mexico City clubs converged.

At half time those fans fought in the stands and then ran onto the pitch to exchange punches as the widespread brawl lasted for 30 minutes, with local law enforcement then arriving to control the situation.

According to NBC LA, five people have been arrested on suspicion of assault and assault with a deadly weapon.

Click play on the video above to see the ugly scenes play out.