Three Good Questions: Portland Timbers’ Darlington Nagbe

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Timbers’ attacker Darlington Nagbe is coming off the best season of his three-year career, his career highs in goals (nine) and assists (four) helping him top honor’s in Major League Soccer’s annual listing of the league’s top players under 24 years old.

After Portland’s final preseason game, a 1-1 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps, ProSoccerTalk cornered the former University of Akron star, who pointed to former Zips head coach Caleb Porter as one of the reasons for his 2013 breakout.

PST: With a couple of months to reflect on it, why do you think your numbers — particularly in goals — [improved] so much last year?

Nagbe: I think it was Diego Valeri, the other pieces we brought in, and coach Porter. We all did a good job just playing as a team, moving the ball and passing the ball. That’s a big part of my game. [My teammates] helped a lot last year.

On his reluctance to take personal credit for the improvement.

Stuff just opened up. I feel like with me being in the league longer, I got more comfortable with the league – with the other teams. I was playing (well) with my teammates. Stuff like that played a big part.

PST: Under (former Timbers head coach) John (Spencer), you had some specific statistical goals. Anything like that under Caleb?

Nagbe: Just always do better than I did the previous year. So I had nine (goals) last year. I’l try to get at least nine. Or more.

On potential All-Star recognition and other honors, like being first in the league’s 24 under 24 list.

I never expect any individual awards. I barely think about them. If we can just do well as team and win games, all of those things will just fall into place.

PST: People probably ask you a lot about team goals for this year, particularly after last year, so let me approach this a different way: Tell me why this team is going to be better than the already really good team last year.

Nagbe: I just think last year was our first year together, and we did great things. Playing soccer, chemistry plays a big part, and this team being together another year under Caleb, I think it will really improve us.

On what to expect from Argentine imports Gastón Fernández and Norberto Paparatto.

[Paparatto’s] a strong defender out of the back – a center back who likes to play out of the back. He an Pa (Modou Kah) are going to complement each other really well. He’s going to help us build the attacks.

Gastón’s a similar player to Valeri. [He’s] smart on the ball, technical. He’s going to look to play those penetrating balls, but at the same time, he’s going to get us goals, also.

Report: Man City, Guardiola to discuss new contract this summer

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Manchester City does not want to let Pep Guardiola start the third year with the club without signing on for longer term.

Guardiola enters the third and final year of his deal in August, and the BBC reports that Man City plans to negotiate a new deal with the Catalan wizard this summer.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given City’s outstanding sophomore season under Guardiola.

Unbeaten City has an 11-point lead on the Premier League table after 18 weeks, with one draw and a PL record 16-straight wins. They have 56 goals scored, conceding just 12.

They’ve won five of six UEFA Champions League matches, only losing a match their opposition needed and they did not, 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. City faces Basel next, and visits Leicester City in the League Cup quarterfinals Wednesday.

Lanzini charged by FA for fooling ref with dive

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Manuel Lanzini dove to earn a penalty in West Ham’s 3-0 win over Stoke City on Saturday at the bet365 Stadium, and he may pay for it.

Lanzini, who also posted an assist in an influential performance, drew the penalty converted by Mark Noble when he hit the deck under minimal contact from Erik Pieters.

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He could miss two matches for “successful deception of a match official,” the same penalty given to Everton’s Oumar Niasse for a similar offense.

West Ham pulled out of the drop zone with the win, but has three bottom-half battles coming up over the festive fixtures: Saturday versus Newcastle, Dec. 26 at Bournemouth, and Jan. 2 versus West Brom.

Griezmann backtracks over ‘insensitive’ blackface tweet

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MADRID (AP) Soccer star Antoine Griezmann has apologized for any offense caused after posting an image of himself on social media in blackface as part of an NBA party costume on Sunday.

Griezmann, who is white, was also wearing a wig and holding a basketball in the photo which had “NBA 69 ALLSTARS” on the jersey.

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The photo on his official Twitter account was accompanied by the message “80’s Party” followed by basketball and laughing emojis.

One response called the photo a “bad idea” with others urging the France forward to delete the tweet.

Griezmann at first reacted to the criticism by tweeting: “Calm down friends, I’m a fan of the Harlem Globetrotters and of this great era… It’s a tribute.”

He later tweeted an apology to those he had offended.

“I recognize that’s it’s insensitive on my part. If I offended some people I’m sorry,” he wrote.

The 26-year-old Griezmann plays for Spanish team Atletico Madrid but has been linked to a move to Barcelona.

Alex Morgan named CONCACAF Female POY, Navas wins Male POY

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CONCACAF awarded some of its finest players and coaches on Sunday night, and two familiar faces took home the evening’s most notable awards.

[ MORE: Making sense of table in Man City’s world ]

U.S. Women’s National Team forward Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride) and Keylor Navas of Costa Rica and Real Madrid each earned Female and Male Player of the Year honors, after boasting tremendous 2017 seasons.

Morgan who primarily plays for Orlando in the NWSL, was also a member of Lyon, who went on to win the Women’s Champions League this past season.

Navas, on the other hand, played a key role in Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League run, as well as Los Blancos’ La Liga title.

For Morgan, the award is her third since CONCACAF began handing out its annual awards in 2013. Meanwhile, Navas has now won Male Player of the Year on two occasions.