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Regression or progression? Why New York, Portland are off to slow starts

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They were the feel good stories of last year’s regular season, but four weeks into the 2014 campaign, both the New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers have yet to win a game. Perhaps more importantly, both teams are playing to their poor March records. After being blown out on opening day, the Supporters’ Shield-winning Red Bulls have earned three lackluster draws, while Portland’s struggles while drawing its first two at home have led to back-to-back losses on the road. While both teams started slowly last year, too, 2014’s brought new problems.

Even before opening day disappointments, both teams’ rise last season made them logical relegation candidates, with last year’s San Jose providing a great example of what happens when everybody comes back to earth. In 2012 under Frank Yallop, the Earthquakes surged from out of the playoffs the pervious year to the top of the league, claiming the Supporters’ Shield. Chris Wondolowski won Most Valuable Player, Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart had career years, while Simon Dawkins and Martín Chávez exploded on the wings. The likes of Rafael Baca, Steven Beitashour, and Justin Morrow had unpredictably good seasons, while Honduran import Víctor Bernárdez won Defender of the Year.

Fast forward one year, and everybody simultaneously regressed, perhaps predictably so. As a result, Frank Yallop was out of a job within months, and the Earthquakes had to rally under Mark Watson to finish on the edge of the playoff picture. The team regressed.

What does San Jose’s story tell us about New York and Portland? As it concerns the Timbers, it may tell us a lot. The list of players who had unexpectedly strong seasons under Caleb Porter is nearly as long as San Jose’s, from Ryan Johnson and Rodney Wallace in attack, to Will Johnson in the middle, to Donovan Ricketts in goal. Even Michael Harrington, on Kansas City’s bench the year before, and Jack Jewsbury, moving from midfield to right back, may have been unexpectedly strong performers, while Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe may yet prove regression candidates, too. Play devil’s advocate and be pessimistic, and Portland could be 2014’s San Jose.

The obvious problem: Portland can’t score goals, and it isn’t necessarily for lack of good chances. Yes, the quality of the chances can always improve, but when you see Diego Valeri flubbing shots at the edge of the six-yard box (vs. Philadelphia), Kalif Alhassen not hitting goal with open shots inside the arch (at Dallas), or Futty Danso missing opener headers at close range on corners (vs. Colorado), player performance is the issue. All the things that were going right for Portland last year — those things that translated onto the scoresheet, into the stat columns, and into the standings — may not be clicking thus far this season.

source: APThere is an alternate narrative, though. Whereas San Jose’s year-over-year improvement happened under the same coach, Portland brought in a new guy, somebody with a drastically different philosophy about how to play soccer. Moving from John Spencer to Porter (right), the Timbers also completely overhauled their roster, with only Nagbe and Diego Chara returning to the starting lineup in a similar role. If the concept of regression requires us to identify a mean or baseline, it’s almost impossible to tell what Portland’s should be. The player’s based level of play under one coach may be drastically lower than expectations under Porter.

In New York, however, the explanation may be two-fold. Yes, New York may have also punched above its weight, but this year’s problems may come down to an old cliché: If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind – an expression that actually has a practical application in professional sports. In a world where athletes’ performances start to diminish after a peak age, electing to carry over an old squad could mean taking a step backwards.

Thierry Henry is 36. Tim Cahill is 34. Jámison Olave is 32, while eight others who’ve seen time this year are 29 or older. New York may not only have exceeded expectations in 2013, but the advanced age of the squad means their recoil could be brutal, perhaps explaining why this season, in 360 uninspiring minutes, New York is playing like one of the league’s worst teams.

This is not to say the Red Bulls and Timbers are destined to fail, but if we’re looking for explanations as to why New York’s 0-1-3 and Portland’s 0-2-2, regression may be one of them. And for New York, age may be another. Four games is too few to draw any conclusions, but it is enough to note some potentially disturbing patterns. Teams shouldn’t blow things up based on one bad month, but they may need to develop plans in case the trend becomes undeniable.

If March was just an uncharacteristic stretch, New York and Portland’s results should improve soon. It’s also worth remembering: 2013 may not tell the story of how good these teams really are.

Jose Mourinho set for talks with Manchester United

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Jose Mourinho is closing in on taking over at Manchester United.

Multiple reports claim Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, will meet with United’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and other representatives in London on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after Louis Van Gaal left the Red Devils.

[ MORE: LVG issues statement ]

It is believed that a deal may be struck on Tuesday but confirmation of Mourinho’s arrival at Old Trafford will not come until later this week, perhaps within the next 48 hours.

Late on Monday it was confirmed that Van Gaal was fired by United after two seasons in charge which saw them finish in fourth-place and fifth-place in the Premier League. Just two days after securing the FA Cup at Wembley — United’s first trophy since Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013 — LVG was gone.

Van Gaal’s Dutch coaching staff also departed but mystery over the future of United legend Ryan Giggs remains. Giggs, 42, was LVG’s assistant but now seems set to be overlooked for the second time in the last three years when it comes to being handed the job permanently. Will he stay on and accept a lesser role on United’s coaching staff if Mourinho rolls up?

All the focus is now on the future and that next step and Mourinho arriving seems inevitable, as well the most logical and best available option.

Is it a risk? Of course it is.

[ VIDEO: Most bizarre moments of LVG’s reign ]

Mourinho, 53, was fired by Chelsea last December, just seven months after delivering a third PL title for the Blues. Their title defense was woeful and Mourinho left them one point above the relegation zone as his off-field antics — the Eva Carneiro situation, cryptic post-game press conferences and public condemnation of his star players — saw Chelsea rapidly unravel at the seams.

However, he is a born winner and has delivered trophies wherever he has managed.

He’s won two UEFA Champions League titles, three PL trophies, two Serie A’s, a La Liga crown and two Portuguese titles. He is a trophy machine and everything points to him delivering short-term success at United.

For the long-term, he may not align fully with their philosophy and ideology of promoting youth and being a proponent of sportsmanship and fair play, yet Mourinho is a winner and he gets the job done whatever way he can. Right now, that’s exactly what United need.

This is not the perfect fit but it is a necessary one as one of the most powerful and wealthy clubs on the planet looks to get back to winning where it matters most: on the pitch.

Pardew says Crystal Palace need a “big name” signing this summer

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Alan Pardew manager of Crystal Palace gives a thumbs up during The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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After losing to Manchester United in the FA Cup final on Sunday, Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew is already looking ahead to next season.

The Eagles’ boss was happy with his team’s performance against United, but admitted that the club needs to bring in some more talent over the summer transfer window.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews ]

Speaking about his summer plans, Pardew said he wants to bring a “big name” to Selhurst Park to help Palace continue their plan of growth.

We have shown that we have got talent in the group. We need to refine it a little bit, and we are going to try to do that in the transfer market. But we were a force to be reckoned with against Manchester United. We have given a real good, honest account of ourselves.

I think we have got to get players who are better than this. There is no point in getting players who are not potentially better than the ones we have got. Well, then they have got to be good players. So will there be a big name in there? There’s going to need to be.

After a hot start to the 2015-16 Premier League season, many believed Pardew had a Palace side that was able to compete in the top half of the table for a spot in Europe. However, after sitting fifth on Boxing Day, Palace won just two of their final 21 matches and slid all the way down to 15th on the table.

[ MORE: The best moments of LVG’s memorable yet bizzare tenure at Man United ]

Palace has far too much talent to be languishing near the relegation zone, but Pardew is right that work must be done over the summer. If the club’s new American ownership is willing to spend, a quality striker will be Pardew’s first target.

Last summer’s striker signing Connor Wickham finished the season tied for the team lead with five goals, level with Yohan Cabaye and Scott Dann. When considering that four of Cabaye’s five goals came from the penalty spot and that Dann is a center-back, the Eagles’ lack of attacking depth is quite clear.

FIFA fires finance director Kattner over bonus payments

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  FIFA Acting Secretary General Markus Kattner looks on prior to the Extraordinary FIFA Congress at Hallenstadion on February 26, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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GENEVA (AP) FIFA has fired finance director and interim secretary general Markus Kattner after an internal investigation revealed he got irregular bonus payments worth millions of dollars.

Kattner was due the payments over a six-year period from 2008-14 from additions to his employment contract, a person familiar with the FIFA investigation said Monday.

The extra payments were signed off by then-President Sepp Blatter and then-secretary general Jerome Valcke, Kattner’s immediate boss in that period.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s FIFA coverage ]

“We don’t yet understand why these payments were made,” the person said on condition of anonymity as details of the investigation are confidential. “These contract provisions were not known widely and not to the appropriate officers at FIFA.”

It is unclear if the contracted payments which came to light last week could form part of a wider investigation of criminal mismanagement at FIFA conducted by Swiss federal prosecutors.

“We are not in a position to determine the legality of the contracts,” the person said, adding that “the appropriate authorities are aware of the issue.”

FIFA’s ethics committee is likely to now open an investigation against the 45-year-old German official, with charges of conflict of interest and disloyalty to FIFA among potential outcomes.

[ MORE: Louis van Gaal officially sacked at Manchester United ]

Kattner joined FIFA as director of finance in 2003 and took the deputy secretary general title in 2007, the year Blatter hired Valcke for the top administrative job of world soccer’s governing body. Kattner was promoted in an interim role when Valcke was suspended last September for financial wrongdoing and then fired in January.

“Markus Kattner has been dismissed from his position effective immediately,” FIFA said in a statement Monday. “FIFA’s internal investigation uncovered breaches of his fiduciary responsibilities in connection with his employment contract.”

FIFA has already announced that United Nations official Fatma Samoura is due to start work next month as the new permanent secretary general.

Kattner’s alleged wrongdoing came to light last Friday, the person said, one week after Samoura’s hiring was announced by President Gianni Infantino.

The 45-year-old German official was at FIFA headquarters on Monday before his firing was announced.

His exit is unconnected with the timing of Samoura’s hiring and expected arrival at FIFA in June, the person said.

[ MORE: Frank Lampard responds after being booed by NYCFC supporters ]

“This is based on documentary evidence that is information which emerged in the last three days,” the person said, with no whistleblower involved in revealing the case.

FIFA is being subjected to an internal investigation led by United States-based legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which is working separately from investigations by federal prosecutors in the U.S. and Switzerland.

As a central figure overseeing FIFA finances for more than 12 years of Blatter’s presidency, Kattner’s name has been linked to allegations in the American and Swiss cases, and investigations of other officials by FIFA’s ethics committee.

Michel Platini has said that his invoice requesting a $2 million payment for backdated salary from FIFA was sent to Kattner in 2010. The now-banned UEFA president got the money approved by Blatter in February 2011.

[ MORE: Uruguay sweating Suarez’s fitness ahead of Copa America Centenario ]

In that case, Platini had a four-year ban confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport this month, and Blatter awaits an appeal at CAS to challenge his six-year ban. They deny wrongdoing.

Kattner is also expected to be sought as a witness in German and Swiss investigations of unexplained payments between German organizers of the 2006 World Cup and FIFA.

When questioned at FIFA news conferences since October, Kattner has said he has been advised by FIFA not to comment on ongoing criminal and ethics cases.

Looking ahead for the USMNT: Two key friendlies before Copa 100

PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO - NOVEMBER 17: USA's #3 DeAndre Yedlin brings the ball under control as T&T's # 3 Joevin Jones looks on during a World Cup Qualifier between Trinidad and Tobago and USA as part of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Russia 2018 at Hasely Crawford Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen Getty Images)
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With the Copa America Centenario kicking off next week across the United States, what can we expect from the USMNT in their two upcoming friendlies?

After defeating Puerto Rico in a glorified scrimmage on Sunday, the U.S. has two more matches before the tournament that will pose a much tougher challenge for Klinsmann’s men.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The USMNT faces Ecuador on Wednesday, May 25 in Texas before traveling to Kansas City to take on Bolivia on Saturday, May 28. Both of those South American sides will be competing in the Copa America.

While Klinsmann may have given some of his younger players minutes against Puerto Rico, you would expect a much stronger lineup to be fielded in the friendlies against Ecuador and Bolivia.

However, as all U.S. Soccer fans know, you can never predict what Jurgen Klinsmann is going to do.

[ MORE: Louis van Gaal sacked after two years at Manchester United ]

Klinsmann confirmed that Brad Guzan will be his number-one goalkeeper at Copa America, which means we will likely see the Aston Villa man in net for both upcoming friendlies.

The USMNT will also get some reinforcements on the back-line with both Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler joining up with the team ahead of the Ecuador match. Cameron and Besler have worked together well as a solid center-back pairing in the past, but Besler will likely find himself behind John Brooks, who is coming off of a great season with Hertha Berlin.

The midfield is probably the biggest question in this team, as Klinsmann has endlessly tinkered with both formation and player selection. Michael Bradley is a surefire pick, but the other spots are much harder to determine. Klinsmann has recalled one of his personal favorites Jermaine Jones to the squad, a veteran who has found some good form in Colorado this season. Jones could slot into the middle alongside Bradley, but at 34-years-old, his lack of pace could cost the U.S. when facing a side like Colombia in the Copa America.

[ MORE: Liverpool set to sign Mainz goalkeeper Loris Karius ]

Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic is the youngest player in the side, with the 17-year-old entering this week with just one cap to his name. While Klinsmann may have brought the teenager just for the learning experience, fans will want to see Pulisic on the pitch and these friendlies could be a time for the midfielder to earn valuable minutes for his progression. However, if Klinsmann has no plans to play Pulisic at the Copa, it would be better for the team’s consistency if he does not feature in the pre-tournament matches.

Up top, Bobby Wood may have finally done enough to lock down a starting position. With Jozy Altidore out injured, this is Wood’s time to shine and prove he should be Klinsmann’s first choice striker every match.

The USMNT kicks off the Copa America Centenario on June 3 in Santa Clara, California, facing Colombia at Levis Stadium.