What We Learned from Portland’s Thursday night win over Seattle

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  • Portland can still execute their Plan A

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Timbers’ performance in Seattle got so much attention for their change approach (one that actually happened two months ago), people may have forgotten: Portland’s still capable of playing that high-pressure, constantly moving brand of soccer that became associated with Caleb Porter as his name came to prominence. On Thursday, that style was Seattle’s undoing.

Initially, it looked like Portland was going to settle into Saturday’s approach, the match’s first 10 minutes seeing Seattle dominate possession. But then (and in hindsight, suddenly), Portland switched gears. Through the half’s final 30 minutes, Portland’s pressure created turnovers, breaks, and ultimately, goals. The passing and possession numbers were practically even at halftime, but Portland had monopolized the chances, with much of the game played in Seattle’s half.

Last month, Porter labeled his team’s reactive approach as Plan B – the one plan they used in Seattle. Tonight, the Timbers increased their lead to 5-1 because of Plan A. They’ve still got it in them.

  • Seattle’s attack just never gelled

Injuries and absences kept the Sounders’ big names from seeing much time together. Even tonight, the team only played 32 minutes with all of Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins, and Mauro Rosales on the field. Arguably the most talented team in the league, Seattle never had time to gel.

The extent to which the team should have adapted can be debated, but the effects were evident in this series. The team scored three goals in two games, but two came on long throws, and all of them came decidedly after Sigi Schmid’s kitchen sink had been thrown onto the field.

It’s fair to expect a team with this much talent to be better, hardships be damned. It’s also fair to note more time together’s likely to produce better results. If the band’s back together in February, they’ll be more effective.

But if you’re a Sounders fan, it must be disturbing to note the team were outscored by five during this series while Mauro Rosales was on the bench. With him in the game, Seattle was +3.

  • And their defense wasn’t any better

Through 47 minutes, the defense looked just as bad as they did on Oct. 5 against Colorado (5-1 loss) and Oct. 9 against Vancouver (4-1 defeat). Almost any time Portland hit their line with momentum, the Timbers created a good chance, the one notable exception being Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s last ditch tackle on Diego Chara in the 14th minute.

In years’ past, Seattle’s decent defensive talent had been protected by their midfield, saved by their goalkeeping. But the midfield shakeup necessitated by Clint Dempsey and Adam Moffat’s arrivals unsettled that protection, while Michael Gspurning’s dip in form meant more mistakes would result in goals.

  • You can’t overlook Jack Jewsbury

Quietly, Jack Jewsbury had a huge series. Though Portland’s right back was beaten on Eddie Johnson’s 76th minute goal (though really, who expects him to win an aerial duel with Eddie Johnson), Jewsbury had already played a part in four Timbers goals during the series:

    • Jewsbury assisted on Portland’s  opener on Saturday, beating Leo Gonzalez to get his cross in to Ryan Johnson.
    • On Portland’s second in Seattle, Jewsbury’s run up the right flank pulled Gonzalez wide, opening up space for Kalif Alhassan, who eventually found Darlington Nagbe.
    • On Thursday, Jewsbury drew the penalty that led to Will Johnson’s goal, his chip beyond Djimi Traoré tempting the Malian defender to raise his left arm to the ball.
    • And on Portland’s second goal, another run up the flank opened up space in Seattle’s defense, with Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace able to create the series-winning goal.

Some of these are just things right backs are supposed to do, but that’s the point. At the beginning of the season, Jewsbury was a central midfielder. When he moved to his new position, it was viewed as a way to get the former captain into the team. Now, the 32-year-old seems like an honest-to-goodness right back, even having an impact going forward.

  • Still some naivete left in these Timbers

If Caleb Porter needed something to keep his team grounded, conceding two goals in three minutes does the trick. That they were two eminently preventable goals will only add tension to the likely Friday film session.

The Sounders’ first came off the same type of long throw that produced the goal in Seattle. Surely the Timbers worked on that during the week? On the second goal, Michael Harrington gets beat by DeAndre Yedlin, the resulting cross seeing Eddie Johnson matched up on Jewsbury.

In both cases, it’s simple stuff, the exact type of mistakes you can point to and wonder if your team temporarily lost focus. In Seattle, it happened when the Timbers were up two. In Portland, they were up four.

Perhaps inexperience didn’t cost Portland against Seattle, but it was still evident in how they closed out the series’ two legs.

  • Sigi Schmid didn’t do himself any favors

Being down 3-0 would have felt too familiar to Sounders’ fans, who may have been asking themselves how many times the team has to be in this situation before they see change.  If Sigi Schmid had the benefit of the doubt before Thursday’s match, a resounding playoff loss to Seattle’s arch rivals (where Schmid elected to start Shalrie Joseph at forward) changed that. It’s going to be hard for the Sounders to justify retaining their coach.

‘Nothing is impossible’: Bonucci brings hope to AC Milan

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MILAN (AP) Nothing is impossible. That’s AC Milan’s new unofficial slogan following Leonardo Bonucci’s surprise transfer from defending six-time Serie A champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Neymar reportedly tells Barca teammates he’s off to PSG ]

Presenting fans to Bonucci via Weibo on Friday, Milan CEO Marco Fassone recounted how Italy’s top defender moved to a rival club.

“It started by chance and it seemed impossible but Leo interrupted me right away and said, `Nothing is impossible. When there’s desire to do things you can get them done.”‘

Milan has been on a spending spree following the club’s sale to a Chinese-led consortium for $800 million in April, and Bonucci is the top acquisition, so far.

“Leo doesn’t require introductions,” Fassone said. “It’s an extraordinary reinforcement for us. … He completes a mosaic sought after by (Milan chief sport officer Massimiliano) Mirabelli – a mix of younger players and experienced leaders who will make the road ahead easier.”

Other recent signings by Milan included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Bonucci thanked Kessie for letting him wear his preferred No. 19 shirt, and pointed to Milan’s seven European Cups and Champions League titles as a reference point for a club that did not even qualify for continental play the last three years and hasn’t won Serie A since 2011.

“Milan deserves to be among the elite again in Italy and Europe,” Bonucci said. “When you are united you win. The strength has to be that of the squad whereas singular players alone can do nothing. We can get back to the top and that’s what this club deserves.”

Bonucci’s transfer fee reportedly topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Meanwhile, Juventus is reportedly near to signing prized winger Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($45 million). The Gazzetta dello Sport reported Juventus will sign the 23-year-old Bernardeschi to five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

Vertonghen: “We need to level up” like rest of PL contenders

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Tottenham put up a heck of a title fight in 2016/17 as the club attempted to chase down Premier League champions Chelsea, but Spurs have been inactive this summer as Mauricio Pochettino‘s group gears up for next month.

[ MORE: Striker Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

The London side finished second in the PL a season ago — a record-high for the club during the modern Premier League Era.

[ VIDEO: History of the North London Derby ]

However, Pochettino and Co. have made no moves in the transfer market this summer, while its competitors — Chelsea, Manchester United, etc. — have all made significant roster additions to bolster their lineups.

Defender Jan Vertonghen says that Spurs must compete with the rest of the PL’s elite in the transfer market if the club is to finally realize its goal of finishing atop England’s top flight.

“The way our rivals are strengthening this season, we need to be aware of that and we need to level up as well,” Vertonghen told ESPN FC.

“I’m not saying with new players, but we need to take our levels up and I think we can. I’m the oldest outfield player in the team and I feel very fit. The younger guys can improve even more. It can definitely be our year and we want it to be our year.

“Luckily we almost kept everyone from this year. Obviously the window is not closed yet but if we can keep these guys, we can do the same thing again. It’ll be a bit harder because we play at Wembley! [The pitch] is a lot bigger but the training pitches have already been adapted.

While Spurs certainly benefit from having one of the strongest young groups of players in England, the club’s lack of spending is a bit concerning, especially after its recent loss of Kyle Walker — who joined Manchester City for a record fee.

Zouma signs new Chelsea contract, is immediately loaned to Stoke City

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Kurt Zouma‘s long-term future is secure at Chelsea, but his short-term future will be away from Stamford Bridge.

The France international centerback signed a new six-year contract with Chelsea and was promptly sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. Zouma made just three starts and nine total appearances last season as he came back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2016.

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“It is fantastic Kurt has chosen to commit his future to Chelsea,” Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said in a statement. “He has shown his talent since joining us three years ago, and has returned from a serious injury with a fantastic attitude.

“Now he has the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and we will be monitoring his progress closely while he is at Stoke.”

The move to Stoke will give Zouma a new experience, playing for a mid-table side in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in at centerback, battling with American Geoff Cameron and Englishman Ryan Shawcross.

Even with John Terry leaving the club, Zouma was likely to be second-choice in the back three for Chelsea and if he wants to make France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, he’ll have to play regularly.

Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea

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Chelsea FC will have another Spanish international leading the front line, with Diego Costa likely on his way out of town.

The club announced that Alvaro Morata has completed a transfer from Real Madrid, signing a five-year contract at Stamford Bridge. The BBC reports the transfer fee at nearly $78 million.

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“I am so happy to be here,” Morata said in a statement. “It’s an incredible emotion to be part of this big club. I am looking to work hard, score as many goals as I can and to win as many trophies as possible.”

Morata emerged as an option to replace Costa after Romelu Lukaku decided on joining Manchester United over his former club Chelsea. Morata, who was a Manchester United target at first, then turned his sights on London after becoming disillusioned in Madrid, playing second-fiddle to Karim Benzema.

Despite not being first-choice up top, Morata scored 15 goals in 26 La Liga games and another three in the UEFA Champions League, which Real Madrid went on to win over Morata’s former club Juventus. Morata started for Juventus the last time the club had been in the Champions League final.

Despite being just 24, Morata is emerging as one of the world’s top forwards. He has nine goals in 19 games for the Spanish National Team and now is the right time for him to experience the challenge of the Premier League, where the games come thick and fast and the pace of the game is a step up from what he’s experienced in Spain and Italy.

However, the tactical knowledge he’s learned in both places should help him in England, where he can position himself between the opposing centerbacks.