In his first year in Portland, Will Johnson set career highs in goals and assists. The skipper is the Timbers' heartbeat.

Johnson, Valeri, Danso goals vault Portland Timbers into MLS’s Western Conference finals

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Vancouver Whitecaps may have won this year’s Cup, but after Thursday night at JELD-WEN Field, the Portland Timbers are the kings of Cascadia – and until two late, desperation goals, it wasn’t particularly close. After carrying a 2-1 lead out of Saturday’s first leg in Seattle, Portland saw goals from Will Johnson, Diego Valeri and Futty Danso give them a 5-1 lead by the 47th minute. Late Seattle goals from DeAndre Yedlin and Eddie Johnson closed the gap, but come full time, Portland had seen their Pacific Northwest rivals out of Major League Soccer’s playoffs, advancing to the Western Conference final with a 3-2 (5-3, aggregate) win.

There the Timbers will face Real Salt Lake, with Jason Kreis’s team eliminating the two-time defending champions Los Angeles Galaxy earlier Thursday evening. Goals from Sebastian Velazquez and Chris Schuler gave RSL a 2-0 win after extra time, setting up a conference final between the Western Conference’s top two seeds.

For Seattle, it is the third year in a row the team has suffered a road collapse in the playoffs. In 2011, the Sounders opened the conference semifinals with a 3-0 defeat at Real Salt Lake. Last year, the opening leg of their Western Conference final against Los Angeles also ended 3-0. Although this year’s final result looks better on the surface, at one point in the teams’ two-legged match, Seattle was down four goals, a fact that will not be easily forgotten by a fanbase growing wary of postseason disappointment.

source: AP
Left to right, Diego Valeri, Futty Danso, and Will Johnson were Portland’s goal scorers in the Timbers’ 3-2 win over Seattle. (Photo: AP.)

The start was an ominous one for Seattle, who gave up a an open chance to Rodney Wallace to in the third minute. The Costa Rican international, left open after work from Ryan Johnson and Diego Valeri collapsed the Sounder defense, put his shot into the side netting.

As the half continued, Portland was consistently able to find attackers running through Seattle’s defense, the Sounders play reminiscent of their 5-1 and 4-1 October losses to Colorado and Vancouver. In the 14th minute, Diego Chara was sent through on goal only to see Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s last ditch challenge prevent a chance, and in the 19th minute, a poor attempted clearance at the back allowed Wallace another crack from near the penalty spot. An aggressive move off his line allowed Michael Gspurning to block the try.

In the 28th minute, however, Portland broke through. Play off a throw-in deep on Seattle’s left saw Jack Jewsbury draw a penalty on Sounders’ left-center back Djimi Traoré. Running onto a ball laid off by Wallace at the edge of the penalty area, Jewsbury’s attempted chip behind the defense saw Traoré make contact with his left arm, leading to Will Johnson’s opener from the spot.

Fifteen minutes later, Portland broke through the left side of defense again, this time taking advantage of a turnover by Adam Moffat to eventually put Diego Valeri into the six-yard box. His sliding right-footer beat Gspurning into the left side netting, giving Portland a 2-0 (4-1) lead at halftime.

Lethargic coming out of halftime, Seattle gave up a third goal within 90 seconds of kickoff, with their slow reaction to a quick restart allowing Futty Danso to get in front of Traoré on a Wallace cross. The central defender’s header into the left of goal gave Gspurning no chance to prevent Portland going up four.

source: AP
Sigi Schmid saw his team give up three goals in 47 minutes on Thursday, the Sounders down 5-1 on aggregate shortly after halftime. (Photo: AP.)

After bringing Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales off the bench (surprise starter at forward Shalrie Joseph brought off before Adam Moffat), Seattle was able to cash in on their desperate pursuit. In the 74th minute, a long throw from the left by Brad Evans was flicked through the six-yard box to Yedlin, who slammed home Seattle’s first goal. Two minutes later, a cross from Yedlin found Eddie Johnson even was the far post, the U.S. international’s header bringing Seattle within two.

Ultimately, Johnson’s goal was a wake-up call, the Timbers’ intensity picking up after near-30 minutes of playing with a four-goal lead. Brought back into the match by Seattle’s late surge, Portland was able to kill off the game, recording their first playoff series win in franchise history.

The result allows their dream season to continue, the eighth-place finisher in last year’s Western Conference now one series away from an improbable MLS Cup final. It’s a level the rival Sounders have never attained, and a season that started with great expectations concluded with one win in 10, big changes may be in store.

Goals

Portland – 29′ Will Johnson, 44′ Diego Valeri, 47′ Futty Danso

Seattle – 74′ DeAndre Yedlin, 76′ Eddie Johnson

Lineups

Portland: Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso, Pa Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Diego Chara, Will Johnson; Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, Rodney Wallace

Seattle: Michael Gspurning; DeAndre Yedlin, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Djimi Traoré, Marc Burch; Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Adam Moffat, Clint Dempsey; Shalri Joseph, Eddie Johnson

Goal-line technology to be used at Copa America

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 07: The goalline technology is tested prior to the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Swansea City at the Boleyn Ground, May 7, 2016, London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Hawk-Eye will be installed for next month’s Copa America, marking the first use of goal-line technology by the soccer’s governing bodies for South America and for North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The 16-nation tournament will be played at 10 U.S. sites from June 3-26.

Organizers also announced the match officials Wednesday. Three of the 18 referees are from the United States: Mark Geiger, Jair Marrufo and Armando Villarreal. Geiger officiated three games at the 2014 World Cup, including a second-round matchup between France and Nigeria in which he became the first American to referee a knockout stage match at soccer’s top tournament.

The other referees are Joel Aguilar (El Salvador), Jose Argote (Venezuela), Julio Bascunan (Chile), Enrique Caceres (Paraguay), Victor Carrillo (Peru), Andres Cunha (Uruguay), Roberto Garcia (Mexico), Heber Lopes (Brazil), Patricio Loustau (Argentina), Yadel Martinez (Cuba), Ricardo Montero (Costa Rica), John Pitti (Panama), Wilmer Rodan (Colombia), Gery Vargas (Bolivia) and Roddy Zambrano (Ecuador).

Aguilar officiated the 2013 Snow Classico World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Costa Rica in Commerce City, Colorado, a match played in a snow storm.

Sebastian Giovinco says he was “upset” about being left off Italy’s Euro roster

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Sebastian Giovinco #10 of Toronto FC comes close to a goal during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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When asked about leaving Toronto FC star Sebastian Giovinco off his Euro 2016 roster, Antonio Conte had some fightin’ words for Major League Soccer.

“When you make a certain choice and go to play in certain leagues, you do so taking it into account that they could pay the consequences from a footballing viewpoint,” Conte said.

Giovinco isn’t not just playing in MLS, he’s tearing up the league, winning the MLS MVP and Golden Boot last season and continuing that form this year. Naturally, the 29-year-old didn’t take kindly to Conte’s decision or his justification.

“I was upset. I need to keep improving so I can find my place back on the national team,” Giovinco said. “I’ve said before, the league is continuing to grow and it’s a beautiful league.”

However, Giovinco stopped short of criticizing the national team’s manager. “At the end of the day, you need to understand what the coach says when he chooses the team. It can be right and it can be wrong, but it’s not really my place to say. I think that he knows best, and I think it’s a good decision if he says so.”

Not all is lost, however. Toronto FC will keep its superstar through the Euro tournament, a positive for manager Greg Vanney. “Seba has done everything he can to show his worth,” Vanney told the Toronto FC official website following training on Tuesday. “I am sad for him, but at the same time, we have him here with us and we stand to benefit from this.”

His teammates shared the sentiment. “Obviously we feel for Sebastian, we wanted him to go and play for his national team,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson. “I don’t think playing in MLS in any way takes away from the player that he is.”

Bradley captain, Dempsey striker for USMNT vs Ecuador in final Copa America warmup stretch

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Michael Bradley #4 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Tonight begins the final stretch for the US National Team before the Copa America begins on June 3.

With the “transitional roster” from the Puerto Rico match gone and most of the regulars here, it’s time for the team to get things right with the South American powers coming to town. They take on Ecuador tonight in Frisco, TX with kickoff set for 8:00 p.m. ET.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT on Twitter ]

There are few surprises in this lineup. With Geoff Cameron nursing a slight injury, he was expected to rest before the tournament begins. In his place is Steve Birnbaum, with John Brooks expected to start throughout the Copa America. Fabian Johnson is one of the best wingers in the US pool, but with nobody else to take the left-back spot, Jurgen Klinsmann is forced to play him along the back line.

The midfield is as expected as well, with Kyle Beckerman sitting deep and Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones providing the link-up between the back and the front. Bradley has returned to the captaincy, with Alejandro Bedoya rested after holding the armband against Puerto Rico.

In the attack, it’s a bit surprising that Bobby Wood hasn’t started after looking good against Puerto Rico, as Clint Dempsey is alone up front. Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi provide support along the flanks, leaving some US fans disappointed that young sensation Christian Pulisic didn’t get a look on the flank.

Finally, US Soccer announced that William Yarbrough is on hand to replace Zack Steffan, as the latter suffered a hamstring injury.

LINEUP

United States: Guzan; Johnson, Brooks, Birnbaum, Yedlin; Bradley, Beckerman, Jones; Zardes, Dempsey, Zusi.

Ecuador: Domínguez; Paredes, Achiller, Erazo, Ramírez; Montero, Noboa, Gruezo, Mena; Bolaños, E. Valencia.

Jozy Altidore’s foundation funding Copa America watch parties in Haiti

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC looks on during the second half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Jozy Altidore has never shied away from his Hatian decent, and while the 26-year-old will miss the Copa America, but his second home certainly won’t.

Altidore’s charity organization the St. Luke Foundation has set up watch parties across Haiti so the island nation can watch all the United States and Haiti matches, as well as the semifinals and finals.

In a phone interview with Sports Illustrated, Altidore cited that Haiti had not been invited to a major international tournament since 1974, and that the country should be able to watch. According to SI, the watch parties will allow those in the country to watch who otherwise would be unable to do so.

“I thought this would be something cool knowing how much Haitian people love their national team” Altidore told SI, “to have thousands of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to see the matches broadcast the group games and see them perform.”

Haiti plays in Brazil’s Group B along with Peru and Ecuador, with group stage games on June 4, 8, and 12.

[ MORE: Copa America Group B preview | USA in Group A ]

Altidore will miss the tournament due to a hamstring injury which will take 6-8 weeks to recover from.

The New Jersey product has been very active with charity work in Haiti in the past, mostly through his foundation. Altidore’s parents were both born in Haiti. He said he hopes that the Haitian team “can surprise some people” in the upcoming tournament.