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

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

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That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?

Report: German publication has full FIFA corruption report

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The unedited 2014 report into World Cup bidding published by Michael Garcia has been ‘leaked’ into the press by German publication Bild.

FIFA had released a 42-page version of the report that claimed to clear corruption allegations against Qatar. This “suppressed” report is over 400 pages.

Garcia quit his job as investigator with the FIFA ethics committee in 2014, saying he believed progress in reforming FIFA had slowed considerably.

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Bild said it will publish more information and the full report on Tuesday, but the BBC notes a couple interesting facets of the initial release:

  • “Three Fifa executive members were flown to a party in Rio in a private jet belonging to the Qatari federation before the vote for 2018 and 2022 hosting rights.”
  • “Bild’s report includes details of a $2m (£1.6m) sum allegedly paid to the 10-year-old daughter of a Fifa official.”

Before you overreact, the 10-year-old is an incredibly gifted footballer.

The reporter who filed the story says the report shows no proof of a bought bid, but that it is like “a puzzle.”