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

Pogba’s agent pumps brakes hard on imminent Manchester United move

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 10: Paul Pogba of France wins the ball from Joao Mario of Portugal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Final match between Portugal and France at Stade de France on July 10, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Super agent Mino Raiola has injected a ray of light into the hopes of both Juventus and Real Madrid fans when it comes to Paul Pogba.

The terrific midfielder has been widely reported as an imminent arrival at Manchester United, but Raiola has taken to Twitter to blast journalists who’ve reported the move and medical as done.

[ RANIERI: Mahrez will stay at LCFC ]

Pogba was photographed in Los Angeles amid claims he was undergoing a physical at United. Multiple reports have said he passed the medical and that Juventus has agreed to sell Pogba to United for a world record fee.

Raiola says different, though taken with the grain of salt that he’s set to make as much as $30 million on the deal and his job is to squeeze every possibly penny from suitors.

Ranieri says “intelligent man” Mahrez will stay at Leicester City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Claudio Ranieri Manager of Leicester City instructs Riyad Mahrez during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Claudio Ranieri seems to be genuine and honest in his evaluations, as we’ve seen in his dealings with Jamie Vardy and N'Golo Kante amongst others.

And the manager is making no bones about what he thinks is best for another Leicester City star in Riyad Mahrez.

[ MORE: Gameiro joins new club ]

Ranieri says the Algerian will face far more pressure at a new club then he will face still competing in the UEFA Champions League with the Foxes.

In other words, the 25-year-old should stick around. From Sky Sports:

“I speak often with him and say stay with us, it’s much better for your future, I think he is an intelligent man and he will stay,” Ranieri told Sky Sports News HQ.

“We support him very well, this is important, when you change teams maybe you don’t find team-mates who help you at the same level.

“He improves more if he stays with us for another year, maybe next year he can think about another solution. If he goes for a lot of money, everybody will be expecting something special. He can do something special, but with us.”

We tend to agree. Whereas N’Golo Kante was prepared to use Leicester as a stepping stone — and it seems Ranieri knew it — Mahrez has been with the Foxes since 2014 and seen his stature skyrocket.

Let’s see what happens, Riyad. Cool?

Atletico signs striker Kevin Gameiro from Sevilla

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - MAY 18:  Kevin Gameiro of Sevilla celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Final match between Liverpool and Sevilla at St. Jakob-Park on May 18, 2016 in Basel, Switzerland.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid says it has acquired French striker Kevin Gameiro from rival Spanish club Sevilla.

In exchange, Atletico has agreed to loan Argentine striker Luciano Vietto to Sevilla for one season.

Atletico says Gameiro will sign a four-year contract after undergoing a standard medical exam.

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The 29-year-old Gameiro scored 67 goals during three seasons with Sevilla, helping it win three Europa League titles.

Gameiro will join countryman Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres to form the attack of an Atletico side that reached the final of the Champions League last season.

Atletico did not reveal the financial details of Gameiro’s transfer.

Ex-Guatemalan soccer chief pleads guilty in FIFA bribe case

PRATO, ITALY - APRIL 13: General view during the FIFA Futsal playoff match between Italy and Hungary on April 13, 2016 in Prato, Italy.  (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) A former Guatemalan soccer federation president has pleaded guilty in New York to charges related to a sprawling corruption investigation of world soccer.

[ MORE: Christian Vieri ready for return, pursuing Chinese Super League ]

Brayan Jimenez pleaded guilty Friday to federal racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy charges, each carrying up to 20 years in prison. It’s unclear when he’ll be sentenced.

The 62-year-old Jimenez is among 40 people from around the world charged in a FIFA bribery scandal over lucrative broadcasting rights.

Prosecutors say Jimenez accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a Florida-based sports marketing company. They say in exchange for the money Jimenez awarded the company media marketing rights to the Guatemalan soccer team’s World Cup qualifying matches in 2018 and 2022.

Jimenez’s attorneys haven’t returned a message seeking comment on his guilty plea.