Four-goal night leaves Real Salt Lake up two on Portland after West’s first leg

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Real Salt Lake’s dominance of the Portland Timbers continues. With goals from Chris Schuler, Robbie Findley, Devon Sandoval, and Javier Morales, RSL claimed a 4-2 win over the West’s top seed, giving Jason Kreis’s team a two-goal in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference final lead ahead of the teams’ second leg on November 24th.

An opening goal from former RSL midfielder Will Johnson and a last moment header from Frederic Piqionne served as bookends for the hosts’ dominant performance, with the win improving Real Salt Lake to 3-0-2 against the Timbers in 2013. Portland are  winless in their last nine meetings against the 2009 champions, the loss ending the Timbers’ 10-match unbeaten run. It’s second time this season the Timbers have given up more than four goals, Sunday’s outburst matching Real Salt Lake’s four-star performance in the teams’ last meeting at Rio Tinto (4-2, Aug. 30).

Portland will have two weeks to rebound from their seventh loss of the season, but having been outscored by the Claret and Cobalt 13-8 this year, the Timbers allowed RSL to take a huge step toward their second MLS Cup final.

Portland got on the board first, a joint effort from Will Johnson and Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando. On a restart 26 yards from goal, Rimando was beaten well inside his right post by a shot through the top of his wall. Jumping behind the wall as the shot was taken, Rimando couldn’t get his right hand to prevent his former teammate’s opening goal.

The breakthrough allowed what had been a somewhat even match to descend into one-way play, with Real Salt Lake taking control of a Timbers side that seemed content to rest on their lead. But much like in their first leg against Seattle, Portland was allowing shots but not chances through the first half-hour, the hosts attempting six shots with only one finding Donovan Ricketts’ gloves.

In the 35th minute, however, RSL broke through, with Javier Morales earning then delivering the corner that tied the match. From the right, Morales’s ball to the middle of the penalty area saw Chris Schuler out-muscle Mamadou Danso. Rising above the Portland defender while keeping his opposition on the ground, Schuler finished into the left of goal from nine yards out, making it 1-1.

Six minutes later, Danso was at fault on RSL’s go-ahead goal, misplaying a long ball from Kyle Beckerman. As he tried to turn to get his body between the ball and the oncoming Robbie Findley, the Gambian international’s poor touch saw the ball kicked into his own penalty area, with Findley’s head of steam allowing the RSL attacker to get to the ball before Donovan Ricketts. The former U.S. international’s first touch beat Ricketts to give RSL a 2-1 lead.

After a half in which they’d outshot Portland 13-5 (5-1, shots on goal), RSL doubled their lead early in the second half, a midfield giveaway by Diego Chará leading to a counter attack down the Timbers’ left. Morales’ ball toward the corner for Findley allowed the forward to find his strike partner, Devon Sandoval, with a ball across the top of the six-yard box. The rookie from New Mexico beat Jack Jewsbury to put home the hosts’ third of the night.

In the 82nd minute, Morales capped his one goal, two assist evening, heading Joao Plata’s corner off Frederic Piquonne and into Ricketts’ net, giving RSL a three-goal edge. Moments earlier, a reflex save from Ricketts had prevented a Luis Gil header from converting a Morales cross but conceded a corner. With a quick run near post, RSL’s normal corner kick taker converted one of his own, completing the Argentine’s stellar evening.

Deep into stoppage time, a cross from Jewsbury found Piquionne between central defenders, the former French international heading home to cut RSL’s lead to two – a goal which may damper what was an otherwise dominant performance from RSL. Whereas a three-goal lead carries the weight of being potentially decisive in a two-legged series, a two-goal margin looks surmountable.

But if Portland’s to conquer that obstacle, they first need to come up with a plan to derail RSL. To this point, Caleb Porter’s  Timbers have yet to get a a win over their conference final opponents, let alone a two-goal one.

Scoring

Real Salt Lake: 35′ Chris Schuler, 41′ Robbie Findley, 48′ Devon Sandoval, 82′ Javier Morales

Portland: 14′ Will Johnson, 93′ Frederic Piquionne

Lineups

Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert (33′ Lovel Palmer); Luis Gil, Kyle Beckerman, Sebastián Velasquez; Javier Morales (86′ Ned Grabavoy); Robbie Finley (66′ Joao Plata), Devon Sandoval

Unused subs: Jeff Attinella, Olmes Garcia, Khari Stephenson, Cole Grossman

Portland: Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Mamadou Danso, Pa Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Diego Chara, Will Johnson; Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri (53′ Kalif Alhassan), Rodney Wallace (75′ Frederic Piquionne); Ryan Johnson (59′ José Valencia)

Unused subs: Milos Kocic, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Sal Zizzo, Ben Zemanski

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

Photo credit: New England Revolution / Twitter: @NERevolution
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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

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John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”