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.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.