Diego Valeri led Major League Soccer in assists this season but was pulled after 60 minutes in Seattle on Saturday.

MLS playoff focus: Notes on the Portland Timbers ahead of Sunday’s match against Real Salt Lake

Leave a comment

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers are down two goals going into Sunday’s second leg of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference finals, the West’s top seed having lost to Real Salt Lake 4-2 in Utah to open the series. Here are the must knows about Portland ahead of the teams’ second leg, which kicks off at 9:00 p.m. Eastern at JELD-WEN Field:

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

  • When to change things up

Citing how his team performed in their two home games against Real Salt Lake (3-3, 0-0 results), Timbers head coach Caleb Porter says he’s not going to change things up for Sunday’s decider. His team’s down two goals, but he doesn’t feel the need to alter his team’s approach. Given how his side performed in those two matches, arguably out-playing RSL each time, Porter wants to see if they can get those goals back without venturing out of their comfort zone.

Thanks to Frederic Piquionne, he can afford to wait. The former French international’s 94th minute goal two weeks ago in Utah makes Portland’s task a lot easier. Instead of chasing three goals at kickoff on Sunday, the two-goal margin means the Timbers can stay the course, see if they can claim a goal, and bring the game back within reach before they’re forced to take chances.

At kickoff on Sunday, expect the teams to look very similar to how they set up two weeks ago. If Portland’s defense improves, the steady hand may pay off.

[MORE: MLS playoff preview: Real Salt Lake at Portland Timbers, with the Western Conference title on the line]

  • Futty Danso needs to be better

The broadcast may have cursed him, ESPN noting that Portland had not lost this year with Danso in the starting lineup. Then the Gambian international was beaten by Chris Schuler on the first goal. Six minutes later, his giveaway at the edge of the Timbers’ penalty area gifted Robbie Findley a go-ahead score. It was Danso’s worst performance in over a year.

Throughout the season, the strong performance of Portland’s central defense had been a bit of a mystery, with the Timbers’ third and fourth choice center backs helping the team produce one of the league’s best defensive records. In Utah, though, Danso was exploited. He needs to rekindle his regular season form if Portland’s to contain RSL.

  • Home is where the improvement is

Portland has lost once all season at home: Their second game of the year against Montréal, all the way back in March. Since then, the Timbers have gone 11-0-4 against MLS opposition.

Unfortunately for them, two of those draws came against RSL. Though the Timbers are a better team at home (they were 3-4-10 on the road in the record season), JELD-WEN hasn’t provided solutions for their nemeses. It’s only provided improvement.

  • How long can Diego Valeri go?

Portland’s Argentine star was silent on the road in the conference semifinals before giving a Man of the Match-level performance at home. We could be in store for the same on Sunday. A non-factor in Utah, Valeri’s had two weeks to rest. He should be much better in leg two.

How long he lasts, however, is the big question. It’s a backs-to-the-wall game, so you figured he’ll go until he drops, but that might come some time mid-second half. Having suffered a groin injury Aug. 31 in Sandy, Valeri hasn’t played 90 minutes in his last 11 appearances, only twice lasting longer than 63 minutes.

If things go well for Portland, the teams might be on the field for two hours. Caleb Porter may only have his star player for one of them.

  • The end of an unexpected ride?

A few people picked Portland to make the playoffs. Nobody thought they’d finish first in the West. One year after sliding to eighth in their conference, the Timbers have a chance to extend their season into December. Nobody saw this coming.

So if they can’t comeback against RSL tomorrow, the disappointment will eventually be cast as a footnote to a season of rebirth. New coach, some new players, and a completely new standard of performance have been instilled at JELD-WEN. Even if the team can’t figure out RSL, it was still a wildly successful season.

Lionel Messi picks up hamstring injury, will travel with Argentina anyways

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 20: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at Camp Nou on August 20, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi’s “return” to the Argentinian national team may have to wait.

Barcelona has revealed their superstar picked up a left hamstring injury at an unspecified time, and discovered them during tests earlier on Monday. The statement said he would still travel to Argentina to link up with the national team for the international break, and will have more tests there.

Argentina, sitting in the third spot in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying and just two points above elimination, have vital matches against Uruguay and Venezuela over the next week. “His presence in those matches will depend on how the injury develops,” the statement from Barcelona read.

It is unclear when Messi developed this injury. He has played the full 90 minutes in all four of Barcelona’s matches this season, including the 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, the first of the four matches in which he did not score or assist a goal.

This also could be a bit of gamesmanship from Barcelona. Obviously, it benefits clubs for their players to rest during international breaks instead of play international matches, and for them to suddenly announce an injury to Lionel Messi would put pressure on Argentina to consider sitting their superstar. Of course, in attempts to dispel this idea, Barcelona included in their statement that the injury report was “approved by the FC Barcelona Medical Services and the Argentinian Football Association.”

A legitimate injury to Messi would be a devastating blow to Argentina considering Sergio Aguero has already withdrawn from the squad following an injury picked up against West Ham this weekend. Aguero was substituted in the 88th minute of Manchester City’s 3-1 win over the Hammers.

Messi was expected to make his first appearance to the national team setup after his brief “retirement” following the loss in the Copa America finals.

VIDEO: What will Southampton’s new star Boufal provide?

Leave a comment

Sofiane Boufal is a name many will be familiar with.

After his $21 million move to Southampton on Monday for a club-record fee, plenty of people are getting excited about seeing Boufal in the Premier League.

The Moroccan international is the type of player who has already become a cult figure due to the “Football Manager” video game, as his potential to become a star of European soccer has been well documented with huge teams interested in signing him over the past six months.

[ MORE: Fabregas wants Chelsea stay ]

That’s because Boufal, 22, shone for Lille last season, scoring 12 goals and his trickery, pace, set pieces and direct running saw him named as the best African player in Ligue 1.

He chose Southampton and it seems like a very wise choice after they helped turn the likes of Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw, plus many more, into top international players.

So, what have Southampton got in Boufal?

Take a look at the video above which gives a great overview of Boufal from his time at Lille after making the step up from Angers in Ligue 2 in January 2015.

That’s right, those comparisons with Riyad Mahrez seem pretty legit.

Late show? Chelsea linked with transfer deals for James Rodriguez, Alonso

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea may be set to do some late business in the summer transfer window.

According to Marca in Spain they will sign Fiorentina defender Marcos Alonso for $27 million.

[ MORE: Boufal signs for Saints ]

Alonso, 25, previously played for Bolton and Sunderland in the Premier League but the Real Madrid product moved to Serie A in 2013 and has flourished for Fiorentina. He is able to operate as a left back and in midfield and could provide Antonio Conte with another option in defense so he can switch Cesar Azpilicueta to right back and potentially Branislav Ivanovic to center back.

Another player who could be on his way to Chelsea is Real Madrid’s forward is James Rodriguez. This is one we’ve heard before, many times.

The Colombian national team captain, 25, was subject of a $80 million bid from Chelsea but according to the Daily Mirror the bid was turned down by Real Madrid.

[ MORE: McCourt to buy Marseille ]

James has found himself a bit-part player at the Santiago Bernabeu with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema around. However he has a huge release clause in his contract and Chelsea would have to pay close to $100 million for his services. Is he really worth that? When you have Oscar, Pedro, Willian, Eden Hazard, Victor Moses and others already in your squad, probably not.

In terms of outgoings at Stamford Bridge, Kurt Zouma has been linked with a move to Schalke in the Bundesliga as the French central defender continues his long comeback from a horrendous knee injury he suffered against Manchester United in February last season. Zouma, 21, is said to be close to joining Schalke on a season-long loan deal wit a view to a permanent move.

Nacer Chadli signs for West Brom

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 30:  Nacer Chadli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Colchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Weston Homes Community Stadium on January 30, 2016 in Colchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Bromwich Albion have signed Nacer Chadli from Tottenham Hotspur in a deal said to be worth $17 million.

[ MORE: Boufal signs for Saints ]

Chadli, 27, has spent the past three seasons with Spurs after arriving from FC Twente in 2013 for $9.1 million.

The Belgian international fell down the pecking order at Tottenham last season under Mauricio Pochettino and has now moved on to secure regular minutes in the Premier League.

Speaking to West Brom’s website about his move to the Hawthorns, Chadli was delighted to be on board with Tony Pulis‘ side.

“I feel very good to be here. It came very quickly but I spoke to the Club and they have a good team, a good manager and I am very pleased to be here,” Chadli said. “My ambitions? I just want to help the team win as many games as possible.”

Chadli can operate in central midfield, out wide, in a No. 10 role or even up front and he is very good on the ball and has an eye for goal with 25 goals in 119 appearances in all competitions for Tottenham.

With Spurs possessing Dele Alli, Victor Wanyama, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son in the central and attacking midfield areas, Chadli wasn’t guaranteed minutes at White Hart Lane.

West Brom have picked up a player who can create chances and is a powerful presence in midfield. With his creativity Chadli should slot in nicely in front of Darren Fletcher in the Baggies’ midfield and Pulis will be hoping he can lay chances on for Salomon Rondon up top.

This seems like a really shrewd piece of business by West Brom, while Spurs are also looking to offload Ryan Mason and Son according to multiple reports. Is Pochettino lining up some last-minute business in the transfer window?

Could West Brom’s Saido Berahino be heading for Spurs with Chadli the sweetener in the deal? Let’s see what the next 48 hours or so brings before the transfer window slams shut at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday.