Emulating the match day experience on display at JELD-WEN Field is something high on Orlando's to-o list.

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

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Given two weeks, your mind can figure out how to screw things up. It’s funny like that. No matter how much how positive you think you are, how focused you think you can be, the bad stuff has a way of getting in. Strong minds have ways of dealing with that, but most of us can’t help dwelling. We’re always aware of the worst-case scenarios.

For the Portland Timbers, those worst-case scenarios are no longer just mental. Down by three goals at one point in the first leg of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference final in Sandy, Utah, the playoff neophytes had to starefailure in the face. That they responded with a late goal from Frederic Piquionne salvaged their chances of making their first final (making it 4-2 just before the referee blew for full-time), but chasing two goals ahead of Sunday’s kickoff, Portland’s already had to deal with disappointment.

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

Real Salt Lake, however, could have carried leg one’s energy into JELD-WEN Field, but instead of three or six days between games, the international break happened. With 14 days between legs, their momentum has cooled. Over a shorter period of time, they could have willed themselves to stay focused, concentrated on their short preparation period, and fed off of the positive between Utah and Oregon. Staying in their normal routine, it would have been easy to put blinders on. Instead, the 2009 champions had to ramp down, occupy all that time, and try to avoid thinking about all the ways Portland could crawl back into this match.

In that sense, there’s nothing good that can come out of this break for Real Salt Lake. All these 14 days have done is Caleb Porter a chance to figure out what went wrong in leg one. While Jason Kreis is trying to maintain his team’s focus, Porter can spend two weeks building his squad’s confidence. By Sunday’s kickoff, Portland will have walked through every scenario where they can get back into this contest.

[MORE: Notes on Real Salt Lake ahead of Sunday’s match]

What if Portland scores early on Sunday, a goal that would change the whole dynamic of the tie? And I’m not just talking about something freaky that happens shortly after kickoff. What if Portland scores in the 44th minute? Only down one with 45 minutes left at home, the second half looks completely different.

source: Getty Images
Javier Morales put in a Man of the Match performance in leg one, recording a goal and two assists in Real Salt Lake’s 4-2 victory over Portland. (Photo: Getty Images.)

If that happens, the Timbers don’t have to open up too soon. They don’t have to take undue chances against an attack that put 13 goals on them in five games. Portland can stay with their regular approach, one that will limit the exposure of their center backs and use their pressing high through the midfield to limit RSL’s access to playmaker Javier Morales. Whether you’re protecting or chasing a lead, it’s the type of modest scenario that starts to look very realistic when you’re given 14 days to dwell.

Still, how much that matters in the face of what we know about these teams is debatable. Between the regular season, U.S. Open Cup, and leg one in Sandy, these teams have met five times in 2013. Portland has not only failed to win, they’ve only led for 40 minutes – less than nine percent of the time. They’ve never led by two. Against a team they haven’t beaten since April 2011 (the first time the franchises ever met), Portland not only needs to win. They need to win by three. A two-goal margin only gets them to penalty kicks.

[MORE: Notes on Portland ahead of the West’s decider.]

Real Salt Lake’s leading scorer, Álvaro Saborío, will be out, but he didn’t play in leg one, either. The Costa Rican international also failed to get on the board in the team’s last meeting in Portland, a 0-0, October draw that Jason Kreis called the type of game his team would need to play in the postseason. If they pull off the same trick on Sunday, they’re back in the finals.

Just as every indication ahead of Portland’s finale with Seattle said the Timbers should win that match, there’s nothing in these teams’ recent history that says Portland’s going to their first MLS Cup final. They have a large, unconvincing body of work against RSL – a collection of evidence that tells us they have no answer for Salt Lake. Two weeks might give RSL time to entertain some doubts, but they’re going to have to do a major psych-out job to offset the advantages they’ve shown throughout the season.

Unless Caleb Porter found a magic bullet during the last two weeks, history’s likely to repeat itself, though in a season that’s seen Portland claim their first playoff appearance, postseason win, and conference final berth, it’s not difficult to imagine a breakthrough win over RSL landing them in their first MLS Cup final.

[MORE: Sporting Kansas City punches ticket for MLS Cup; downs Houston in Eastern Conference final]

Report: China tempting TFC’s Giovinco with big offer

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Could Sebastian Giovinco’s chances of another MVP award be diminishing?

It wouldn’t be on account of a lack of production, rather massive money coming his way from the Chinese Soccer League.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

Great, and right when we were daydreaming about how Toronto FC’s Italian attacker could run a revenge tour on the folks who somehow left him out of the MVP finalists last year.

Giovinco turns 30 on Thursday.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurtis Larsson:

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, told the broadcaster.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Giovinco is with Toronto FC for preseason training camp, and both the club and player have shown no interest in moving on from the diminutive winger and 2015 MVP.

But if China comes calling with crazy money, say a $25-30 million transfer fee, shouldn’t TFC think twice? Any figure above $25 million would be more than the sum of the three biggest incoming transfer fees in MLS history (Miguel Almiron, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe).

AFCON wrap: Ivory Coast bounced, DR Congo wins Group C

Congo's soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal against Togo during the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Togo at the Stade de Port-Gentil, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Down went another knockout round mainstay from the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Ivory Coast failed to capture one of the top two spots in Group C.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morocco 1-0 Ivory Coast

Needing a win to move on, the Ivory Coast fell in its final group match. Rachid Alioui scored a 64th minute goal that meant the Ivory Coast needed two to advance to the quarterfinals. The goals didn’t come, and Morocco will face the Group D winner next.

Togo 1-3 DR Congo

Junior Kabananga, Paul-Jose M’Poku, and Ndombe Mubele scored as the Leopards finished the group stage with an unbeaten record of 2-1. DR Congo will face the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s matches

Ghana is through with six points, while Uganda is out. Egypt will go through with a result against Ghana, while Mali needs a win and an Egypt loss to get to tiebreakers.

Egypt vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. ET
Uganda vs. Mali — 2 p.m. ET

Alex Ferguson praises Mourinho as Man Utd boss

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 13:  Head Coach Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid and Manager Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United look on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester United at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 13, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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Four years ago, Alex Ferguson stepped down as Manchester United manager with a fitting finish as Premier League champion.

The legendary manager has since watched hand-picked successor David Moyes struggle for a season before Louis Van Gaal hit similar managerial speed bumps over campaigns.

Now Jose Mourinho is in charge of Manchester United, and Ferguson is… pretty happy with the guy.

[ MORE: Premier League Player Power Rankings ]

Mourinho has United in sixth place, four points out of fourth and 14 back of pack leaders Chelsea. Ferguson sees a few too many draws in the bunch, but says the side is really coming along.

From the BBC:

“You can see he has got to grips with the club,” he said. “The team is playing really well and he has been very unlucky. He has had six 1-1 draws and in every game he has battered the opposition.

“If they hadn’t had all these draws, they would be there challenging Chelsea. That is the unfortunate part but he is going to have to live with that.”

Ferguson also spoke about new club record scorer Wayne Rooney and how Mourinho has settled down on the touchline, a feature he thinks has filtered down to the players onto the field.

One week left: Transfer needs for each Premier League team

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates as he scores their first goal during the Premier League match between Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur at St Mary's Stadium on December 28, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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This time next week the January transfer window will be set to close.

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The next seven days could see plenty of teams scrambling around frantically to sign new players, but so far it has been a quiet month across the Premier League in terms of transfers.

A new trend? The calm before the storm? However it ends up, here’s a look at what each PL team needs in the final week of the window.


Arsenal: None – Yep, they really need nothing. With long-term absentees Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck returning, Arsene Wenger looks set. It will be a quiet week for Arsenal. Well, expect for the impending touchline ban for Wenger and Granit Xhaka potentially being in all kinds of trouble.

Bournemouth: Striker, center back, goalkeeper – After losing Nathan Ake (his loan from Chelsea was terminated early) Eddie Howe has a large whole in his defense. Conceding eight goals in the last three games suggests that. Asmir Begovic could be arriving from Chelsea to boost the goalkeeping position significantly, while an experienced striker up top may help steer the Cherries away from any relegation danger.

Burnley: Center back, winger – If Ben Mee or Michael Keane go down injured, you worry about the drop off for the stingy Clarets. Also, another creative tricky winger would be a great pick up. Andre Gray and Sam Vokes can score in the PL but imagine what they could do with more chances presented to them?

Chelsea: Striker – Diego Costa is running the show and Michy Batshuayi is an able deputy but some experience would be great in position. It seems like Fernando Llorente will be remaining at Swansea City for now, so could Antonio Conte will have to get creative to bring in a short-term solution to help ease the pressure on Costa.

Crystal Palace: Center back, full back – Basically, as many defenders as they can get. Sam Allardyce hopes to sign Patrick Van Aanholt from Sunderland which shores up the left back area, but two new center backs wouldn’t go amiss.

Everton: Winger – Ronald Koeman has done his best early with Morgan Schneiderlin and Ademola Lookman arriving. That’s good but with Gerard Deulofeu leaving, perhaps a new winger could arrive, especially with Yannick Bolasie now a long-term absentee.

Hull City: Everywhere – Look, Hull has an honest squad of hardworking players but they need more quality. New manager Marco Silva has already brought in Evandro, Lazar MarkovicOmar ElabdellaouiOumar Niasse and signed Markus Henriksen permanently in January. One more striker and a winger would improve the Tigers’ chances of being successful in their battle against relegation.

Leicester City: Center backs – Wes Morgan and Robert Huth have been all over the place and Claudio Ranieri needs some PL quality defenders to steady the ship. Simply put, Leicester need to stop conceding goals early and new defenders may help with that.

Liverpool: None – Apart from maybe a new center back, the Reds are in very good shape and if anything they have too many options in midfield and up top. Long-term, getting a new left back will be a priority alongside a new center back.

Manchester City: Center backs – A long time need which probably won’t be fixed in January, Pep Guardiola needs to improve his defense. Virgil Van Dijk would be an absolutely perfect fit.

Manchester United: None – Like Arsenal and Liverpool, the main issue with United is that they have too many players around. Jose Mourinho likes a small squad. Don’t expect much action but they could do with a new center back in the summer. Along with Liverpool and City, another club van Dijk would be a great buy for…

Middlesbrough: Strikers – Aitor Karanka needs a couple of new strikers or any kind of attacking talent which can improve their chances of staying up. Traore, Ramirez and Negredo are dangerous when they’re on form but that’s not too often.

Southampton: Striker, center back – Saints continue to struggle to score goals but with Charlie Austin potentially returning in early March, they may stick with Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez. Mamadou Sakho could be an option at center back after Jose Fonte left for West Ham.

Stoke City: None – Stoke addressed their biggest need already by signing striker Saido Berahino. Finally they have a “fox in the box” who can finish the chances Shaqiri, Arnautovic and Co. create.

Sunderland: Everywhere – David Moyes needs big help. Help for Jermain Defoe up top is key so he needs some strikers. In defender they’ve added Joleon Lescott, but extra quality in central midfield would be helpful in the run-in. Khazri and Ndong will return from AFCON but injuries have not been kind for the Black Cats. Moyes doesn’t have much money to spend but Robbie Keane on a short-term deal sounds intriguing…

Swansea City: Striker – Fernando Llorente can’t do it all on his own, so the Swans need to add one more body up top. Adding Tom Carroll, Martin Olsson and Luciano Narsingh so far in January will prove to be shrewd business.

Tottenham Hotspur: Striker – Vincent Janssen just hasn’t worked the Premier League out. Pochettino needs some help for Harry Kane with a busy few months coming up in Europe, the PL and in the FA Cup. Defensive injuries are a concern but Spurs have sufficient backups.

Watford: Playmaker – Walter Mazzarri‘s side have plenty of numbers in midfield (they’ve already added Tom Cleverley) and defense, plus options up top with Deeney, Ighalo and Okaka, but they’re lacking quality in that key playmaking area. Having a classy No.10 behind Deeney and Okaka would be a joy to watch.

West Bromwich Albion: Striker – Like so many teams, West Brom could do with an experienced forward. They finally sold Berahino to Stoke so now there’s a spot open. Pulis will no doubt be sat by the phone with his baseball cap on as the deadline nears next Tuesday…

West Ham United: Playmaker – Depending on whether or not Dimitri Payet leaves for Marseille, West Ham must have another playmaker lined up to arrive if their star man does depart. Fonte was a key addition to bolster their backline. Hammers looked okay apart from the Payet saga.