Portland Timbers v Real Salt Lake - Western Conference Championship - Leg 1

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 Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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