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.

Relegation picture: The situation for Newcastle, Sunderland, Norwich

Leave a comment

This is tight, tense and getting horrible for the three teams battling it out at the bottom.

We know Aston Villa has already been relegated but three teams — Norwich City, Sunderland and Newcastle United — are in a dogfight to avoid relegation.

Three into two doesn’t go.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Just two points separates the three aforementioned teams going into the final two weeks of the season. Plus, Crystal Palace isn’t out of the picture either as they have 39 points but Alan Pardew‘s side should be fine. Just.

Newcastle United is the form team as Rafael Benitez’s side is now unbeaten in four games and grabbed a huge 1-0 win against Palace on Saturday, while Sunderland is solid under Sam Allardyce and have lost just once in eight games but have six draws in that span.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | standings

Norwich is reeling after three defeats on the spin and Alex Neil‘s side is running out of time as they lost 1-0 at Arsenal on Saturday despite a brave, battling display.

Below is a look at the relegation picture, plus the remaining fixtures for all three teams as Newcastle have just two games left, while both Sunderland and Norwich have three.

Who do you think will survive out of these three teams?


Newcastle United – 17th place, 33 points

May 7 – Aston Villa (A)
May 15 – Tottenham Hotspur (H)

Sunderland – 18th place, 32 points

May 7 – Chelsea (H)
May 11 – Everton (H)
May 15 – Watford (A)

Norwich City – 19th place, 31 points

May 7 – Manchester United (H)
May 11 – Watford (H)
May 15 – Everton (A)


Looking at the schedules above, Newcastle has a great chance of getting at least three points from their remaining two games with an away trip to Aston Villa up next, plus if Tottenham is out of the title race heading into the final game then it may be a great chance to pick up another three points at home.

Sunderland will find it tough going against Chelsea and Everton but home advantage will be key, while the final game away at Watford, a team who has nothing to play for, could be the crucial one. They hold their own destiny in their hands. Win all three and they will stay up.

As for Norwich, they won’t expect much against Manchester United next up but they will fancy their chances of picking up at least four points against Watford and Everton in their final two games. Simply put, nobody knows which of these two teams will go down and it’s likely to stay that way until the final minutes of the season.

Arsenal 1-0 Norwich City: Amid protests, Welbeck pulls Gunners third

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Danny Welbeck of Arsenal celebrates scoring the opening goal with Olivier Giroud (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Gunners scoreless streak ends at 200 mins
  • Welbeck subs on to score
  • Norwich stay 19th

Danny Welbeck‘s second-half goal was enough to give Arsenal a much-needed three points from Norwich City’s visit on Saturday.

The Emirates Stadium started with protests, and the Gunners didn’t do a ton to quiet Arsene Wenger‘s critics in the 1-0 match.

Arsenal does, however, pull three points clear of fourth place Manchester City, which plays Sunday at Southampton.

Norwich, meanwhile, is two points back of Newcastle and one point back of Sunderland as the race for 17th continues in England. Newcastle has played one more match than each of its competitors.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal couldn’t find a way through Norwich City’s defense in the first half, entering the break without scoring a goal in 187 minutes. After taking a 2-0 lead in the 38th minute against West Brom, the Gunners were blanked in the second half, then in a 0-0 draw with Sunderland.

Norwich had a chance or two during a late 10-minute run of play, but couldn’t beat Petr Cech. Both sides had 7 shots, but Norwich was the only to put any on frame with three.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Welbeck subbed on for Arsenal, joining Olivier Giroud up top and quickly making an impact with a shot that deflected to beat John Ruddy and give Arsenal the match’s first goal.

The Gunners still carried the play, though the chance for a pivotal point lurked with every Canaries moment of possession.

Mohamed Elneny took a phenomenal shot that Ruddy met with a similar save, when, in the 83rd minute he used the outside of his foot to swerve an effort that forced Ruddy into flight just to force a corner. Good-looking stuff.

PHOTOS: Supporters protest, support Arsene Wenger before Arsenal-Norwich

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Arsenal supportes hold banners 'Time For Change' during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Leave a comment

“Time for Change” read the sea of placards outside the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, as Arsenal fans protested the continued employment of its legendary manager.

Many consider this season a wasted opportunity for Arsenal to lay claim to a first Premier League title since 2003-04, and have laid the blame at the feet of manager Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: Everton’s moving tribute to Hillsborough 96 ]

There were some expressing support for their beloved boss, and we’ve got all that and more below. The match is scoreless as halftime, as Arsenal continues to have trouble scoring against relegation threatened rivals.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Arsenal supportes hold banners 'Time For Change' during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was processed using digital filters) Arsenal supporters hold a banner saying 'Arsene Thanks for the Memories But It's Time To Say Goodbye' prior the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: An Arsenal supporter holds banner 'Proud of Arsene Ashamed of Fans' during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: A banner protesting to Arsene Wenger is seen prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

And some had some pretty good fun with the protests:

Sunderland hail “brilliant point” but Allardyce fuming at refs

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Sam Allardyce, manager of Sunderland reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Sunderland at the Britannia Stadium on April 30, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sam Allardyce was fuming with the officials as Sunderland drew 1-1 at Stoke City on Saturday.

The Black Cats netted a last-gasp penalty kick via Jermain Defoe to move onto 32 points but slipped into the relegation zone courtesy of Newcastle United’s huge home win against Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Deeney “sticks it to Villa” ]

Sunderland have a game in hand over Newcastle but they are a point behind. Things are getting very tight as two from Sunderland, Norwich and Newcastle will be relegated.

Speaking after the game, Allardyce feels his side continue to get unlucky with calls from officials and it is starting to wear thin with Big Sam.

“The disappointment is, how many points do they take away from us in this battle against relegation that cost us so dear?” Allardyce told Sky Sports. “All this rubbish about people saying it evens itself out, that’s the biggest load of rubbish I’ve ever heard in my life.

“We’ve had countless opportunities ourselves to win games, so we’ve got ourselves to blame as well but the last thing we want at this stage of the season, with so few games left, is to not get what we deserve. In the last two games, today and last week we certainly didn’t get what we deserved off the officials as far as I was concerned. But I am pleased he was brave enough in the last minute to give a penalty in against Jermain Defoe.”

On reflection, Allardyce agreed that it was a “brilliant point” for his team and but he still couldn’t resist another moan at the officials.

From the BBC:

“It is a brilliant point in the end but for me one that could have been a win rather than the draw,” Allardyce said. “Obviously they didn’t deserve their goal because it was a blatant foul on Younes Kaboul and we should have had a penalty when Geoff Cameron flicks the ball with his hand and referee and his assistant don’t see it. Those things have gone against us today which has not allowed us to be in a position to win it. It is a very precious point and in the end the referee was brave and good enough to make the right decision for us for the penalty.”

The incidents in question are certainly debatable. For Stoke’s goal it did appear that Peter Crouch had his arms on Kaboul when he nodded down for Arnautovic and Allardyce can have complaints about that. Last week a handball decision against Per Mertesacker didn’t go Sunderland’s way and if you add up those two calls, that’s an extra four points for the Black Cats.

[ VIDEO: Townsend scores screamer

However, with Sunderland not really at the races at Stoke and still managing to grind out a point to keep their PL fate in their own hands, he has to be happy enough.

They now have home games against Chelsea and Everton coming up, with the final game of the season away at Watford. Seven points from that will see Newcastle unable to mathematically finish above them.

It’s a big ask but what if Big Sam starts getting some big decisions in Sunderland’s favor?