Diego Valeri's 44th minute goal proved the series-winner as Portland advanced to MLS's Western Conference finals. (Source: AP.)

Portland Timbers Man of the Match: Diego Valeri

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PORTLAND, Ore. — It didn’t take long for Diego Valeri to show he’d move on from Saturday. Then, the Portland playmaker was anonymous, his greatest influence being that of a decoy that drew Seattle’s attention. It wasn’t meant to be that way, but in his hour of action, Valeri failed to make an impact.

On Thursday, Valeri’s impact was almost immediate, the Portland Designated Player creating a chance for Rodney Wallace in the third minute. That shot went wide, and a 14th minute breakaway for Diego Chara that Valeri had a part in creating also failed to beat Michael Gspurning, but after a quarter hour, there was little doubt: Portland’s most creative player wouldn’t go unnoticed in their conference semifinal finale.

In the 44th minute, after Portland had gone up 1-0, Valeri made his mark. On an attack built down the right, Valeri burst through the defense and onto a short pass from Rodney Wallace, a ball he’d pushed behind the line and into the six-yard box. There he beat Adam Moffat and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, sliding onto a shot he’d put into the far side netting for what would prove to be the series-winning goal.

source: AP
Diego Valeri’s 44th minute goal proved the series-winner as Portland advanced to MLS’s Western Conference finals. (Source: AP.)

Seattle had done their best to stop him, their physicality giving his goal a tinge of justice. In the seventh minute, DeAndre Yedlin sent him to ground clutching his angle, with the rookie right back laying him out again a few moments later. After Valeri switched to the other side, Marc Burch lad a go at him, too, initially going hard through his back to draw a whistle. The left back’s second foul on Valeri briefly forced him off the field in the 41st minute, yet the night’s most fouled man (four times) had his redemption three minutes later, running through Burch’s side for his goal.

As with most games, there were a number of quality candidates. Goal-scorer Will Johnson had a strong night, particularly after the Timbers ceded twice and needed to settle down. Rodney Wallace played a part in each of Portland’s last two goals, his cross for Futty Danso leading to the Timbers’ third score of the night.

Yet there was something about the way that Valeri started Thursday’s match, apparently intent not to repeat Saturday’s performance. Like Graham Zusi last night, his numbers don’t reflect the influence he had as a focal point for his attack. But whether it was creating early chances for Wallace or doing his own scoring, Valeri’s influence was obvious. He is our Portland Timbers Man of the Match.

Sydney FC return to winning ways in A-League

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 24:  Goalkeeper Danny Vukovic of Sydney FC makes a save as Bruno Fornaroli of City competes for the ball during the round 21 A-League match between Melbourne City and Sydney FC at AAMI Park on February 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
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SYDNEY (AP) Bobo scored twice as Sydney FC rebounded from its first loss in the A-League to beat Melbourne City 3-1 and continue atop the table.

[ MORE: Schmeichel speaks about Ranieri sacking, state of Leicester ]

Sydney’s ambitious attempt to become the first team to end the regular season unbeaten came unstuck last week when it was beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers in a fractious local derby, repercussions of which continued through the week. Wanderers were fined $20,000 by Football Federation Australia after its fans unfurled an obscene banner targeting Sydney coach Graham Arnold.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton extend unbeaten run in Saturday’s PL play ]

Sydney raised itself above that controversy on Friday with a comprehensive win over Melbourne City which briefly took it 11 points clear in first place.

Melbourne Victory restored the gap to eight points when it beat defending champion Adelaide United 2-1, and Perth leapfrogged Melbourne City into third place when it dumped the Wanderers 2-0.

Bobo opened Sydney’s scoring with a penalty, but City canceled that out only a minute later.

Sydney went in front again after the break, and Bobo sealed the win, set up by a superb through ball by Milos Ninkovic which highlighted their developing combination.

Midfielder Brandon O’Neil said Sydney was determined to leave behind the contention of their derby loss.

“When it all came out, the FFA and Western Sydney had to deal with it and it did,” O’Neil said. “It brought us together and we spoke about a few things, and nothing changed for us. We want to be premier (champions).”

Melbourne Victory’s win over Adelaide kept it in touch with Sydney with seven regular season rounds remaining.

Wellington kept its faint playoff hopes alive, staying in seventh place with a 2-1 win over Brisbane.

Whitecaps acquire U.S. defender Brek Shea in deal with Orlando City

Toronto FC v Orlando City SC
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With almost a week to go until the Major League Soccer season kicks off, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Orlando City may have pulled off one of the biggest trades of offseason.

[ MORE: MLS negotiating to bring Chicharito to U.S. in 2018 ]

The clubs announced on Saturday that the Whitecaps have acquired U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder/defender Brek Shea in exchange for forward Giles Barnes, who is headed to Orlando City.

“We are excited to welcome Brek to our club and city,” said Whitecaps FC manager Carl Robinson. “Brek is a tall, physical, skilled player and will bring a different dimension to our attack. Brek will join the group in coming days and we anticipate he will be available for selection as early as this Thursday’s Champions League match against New York.”

Shea, 26, began his career in MLS with FC Dallas before heading to England for a brief stint with Stoke City. The U.S. defender made his way back to MLS ahead of Orlando City’s inaugural season in 2015 and started 39 matches in that span.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Meanwhile, Barnes has scored 33 goals since joining MLS in 2012. The 28-year-old forward played with the Houston Dynamo before spending last season with the Whitecaps.

Report: MLS negotiating to bring Chicharito to U.S. in 2018

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Bayer Leverkusen & Mexico
AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Major League Soccer has attracted some of the world’s biggest stars over recent years and now one of the Mexican national team’s top talents could be heading stateside very soon.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to ESPN FC, MLS is currently in negotiations with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in an attempt to lure Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to the U.S. in the summer of 2018.

Expansion side Los Angeles FC has been heavily linked with Hernandez, with the club making its entrance into MLS in 2018. Additionally, the Los Angeles Galaxy have also been said to have strong ties with Chicharito.

Hernandez, 28, is currently under contract until next summer, and MLS is reportedly seeking a move in 2018 to avoid paying a transfer fee for the El Tri forward.

ESPN FC is also reporting that Chicharito could make around $9 million annually if he does in fact join MLS.

In 2015, Orlando City and the Chicago Fire were both linked with acquiring Hernandez but the Leverkusen forward was insistent upon the fact that he play Champions League football.

PL Sunday: Spurs look to regain second against Stoke

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Although there’s only one match on Sunday’s Premier League docket, the fixture bears great weight for both clubs.

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Tottenham vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs have the chance to move back into second place at White Hart Lane as Mauricio Pochettino‘s side are firmly in a battle to finish runners’ up to Chelsea this season. Tottenham currently sit 13 points out of the top spot, however, five clubs are within four points of another in the battle for second. Danny Rose and Erik Lamela remain sidelined due to injuries but Spurs will remain the favorites in the fixture after having won their previous two league meetings.

Stoke enters Sunday having gone unbeaten in five of its last six PL matches and the Potters can enter the top 10 with a victory. Mark Hughes‘ side could be given a big lift with the potential return of Xherdan Shaqiri while Saido Berahino could be in line to earn his first start since joining Stoke. Both players could present massive upside for the Potters, who have struggled to find goals as of late. In their last four matches, Stoke have managed just three finishes, one of which came from an own goal.