Three from Dempsey, two from Chara leave Seattle tied in Portland, 4-4

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Eight goals and a hat trick from the player who has quickly become a focal point of the Portland-Seattle battle made the season’s first meeting between Cascadia rivals an all-time classic, even if the Timbers and their fans left Providence Parks with misgiving about the team’s late collapse. Giving up goals in the 85th and 87th minutes to complete a Clint Dempsey hat trick, the Timbers saw a two-goal lead descend into a 4-4 draw, a result that leaves Caleb Porter’s team winless on the season.

Portland now sits 0-2-3 after five matches, having yet to win or lose at home. Seattle, on the other hand, overcame last week’s late heartbreak against Columbus to inflict some disappointment of their own, with Dempsey’s late conversion from the spot leaving the team 2-2-1 on the season.

Seattle’s Kenny Cooper opened the scoring in the third minute as the Sounders covered their first corner kick, but goals in the ninth and 14th minutes from Diegos Chara and Valeri gave Portland its first lead before the quarter-hour mark. Clint Dempsey’s second goal of the season in the 24th minute allowed Seattle to go into halftime tied, 2-2, but early second half goals from Chara and Maxi Urruti handed the hosts a 4-2 lead.

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At least temporarily, Clint Dempsey is the joint-MLS leader in goals, his hat trick in Portland, Ore., vaulting him to four on the season. (Photo: Getty Images.)

In the 85th minute, a cross from Lamar Neagle saw Obafemi Martins find Clint Dempsey at the edge of the six-yard box, with the U.S. captain’s third goal of the season bringing his team within one. Two minutes later, after DeAndre Yedlin was brought down in the penalty area by Ben Zemanski, Dempsey’s third goal of the afternoon salvaged a point for the Sounders.

Dempsey, who arrived in Seattle in the middle of last season, has become a lightning rod for fans of a team that sat atop the league’s Allocation Order at the time of his arrival. Now the target of Timber fan derision, Dempsey’s three-goal statement marks his first salvo to the opposition support, with Portland’s crowd left stunned after he engineered Seattle’s response.

Seattle was on the board with the first good chance of the match in the minute when a corner from Gonzalo Pineda found Jalil Anibaba unmarked just beyond the far post, 10 yards from the byline. The defenders volley was headed into the right side of goal before Kenny Cooper touched it, but with the former Timber creeping in a the far post, Anibaba’s teammate tapped home the game’s first goal.

Just before the nine-minute-mark, however, an unlikely source brought the Timbers even. On a ball played toward the middle just inside Portland’s attacking third, Chara won possession from Pineda and drove toward goal. Pulling up just outside the penalty area, the Colombian beat Stefan Frei into the left of goal, a soft right hand from the Sounders keep unable to stop the midfielder’s first goal in three years.

Two minutes later, Cooper nearly had his second of the match, drawing a leaping save from former Sounder Andrew Weber that kept the ball from finding his upper-right hand corner. It was a stop that proved especially valuable two minutes later as Portland look its first lead of the season.

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Diego Valeri’s first goal of the season made it 2-1 on Saturday in Portland, Ore. (Photo credit: Getty Images.)

Off a Chara-forced turnover in the center circle, the Timbers quickly found Darlington Nagbe on the left, who played wide for the oncoming Michael Harrington.  The Portland left back’s pass to Diego Valeri found the Argentine with Anibaba at his back, something that proved irrelevant as the Timbers’ creator turned on a left-footed shot that found the top of Frei’s goal, making it 2-1.

Ten minutes later, the Sounders were back even. A Norberto Paparatto giveaway in his defensive third allowed Cooper to play the ball back in to Osvaldo Alonso, who headed toward the middle of the field for Obafemi Martins. Caught out after the bad giveaway, Portland had nobody to mark Clint Dempsey, who Martins found in the middle of the area for Seattle’s second goal.

Chances for Cooper (who forced another diving stop from Weber), Max Urruti, and Dempsey saw a first half primed for goals end with four, something the changed early in the second. With two goals within 12 minutes of kickoff, Portland had the day’s first two-goal lead.

In the 55th minute, it was Chara again, this time with help from Alvas Powell and Kalif Alhassan. The end product, however, was much the same as his first half goal. Allowed to carry the ball toward the edge of Seattle’s penalty area, Chara again beat Frei into the left of how, his court Major League Soccer goal giving his team their second lead of the day.

Two minute later, Seattle handed Portland a four. After an ill-advised back pass from Cooper, Anibaba had the ball taken off him by Urruti on the edge of his defensive third. The Argentine forward went in alone on goal, with Chad Marshall trying in vain to catch up as the 23-year-old curled his shot inside the right post, giving the Timbers a two-goal lead.

In the 85th minute, after the Timbers seemed destined to claim victory, Dempsey recovered one of Portland’s second half goals, finishing from close range after a buildup down the right found him in front of Weber’s goal.

Two minutes later, Seattle’s unlikely comeback was completed. After a run behind the defense saw Yedlin pulled down by Zemanski in the right of the penalty area, Dempsey finished in the middle of Weber’s goal, his hat trick leaving the Sounders on even footing after the eight-goal shootout.

The result also snaps Seattle’s three-match losing streak to their arch rivals, who had eliminated them from last year’s playoffs. Meanwhile, Portland’s winless run to start the year is at five, with the team’s defense continuing to prove a liability.

Oxlade-Chamberlain injury update

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Jurgen Klopp does not seem confident that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play again this season.

The Liverpool and England midfielder suffered an injury to his right knee early on in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg, as he appeared to extend his right knee under his body when making a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

Speaking to the media following Liverpool’s dramatic win, Klopp was downbeat about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of playing again this season.

“We don’t know exactly but if the medical department are quite concerned without a scan, you can imagine it’s difficult. The season is not that long anymore. It doesn’t look good,” Klopp said. “I’m a very positive person and still hope it only feels bad, but is not that bad. We’ll see. We lost a fantastic player tonight. It’s not good news.”

This injury has come at such a bad time for The Ox.

He has been flourishing with Liverpool in a central midfield role and has delivered key goals and assists in big wins since arriving from Arsenal last summer. Most notably the Ox’s driving midfield runs have caused Manchester City all kinds of problems and he scored two screamers against them in wins at Anfield in the Premier League and UCL.

Georginio Wijnaldum stepped in admirably for Oxlade-Chamberlain against Roma and the Dutch midfielder will be used alongside James Milner and Jordan Henderson from here on out by Klopp, especially with Emre Can battling a back injury.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he will now be focused on trying to be fit for the UCL final on May 26 (if Liverpool get there) and on making England’s 2018 World Cup squad. That seems like a big ask given Klopp’s gloomy assessment.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands…

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away on where he would go. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that didn’t “want to influence the next manager” of Arsenal with so many contenders mentioned.

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still had one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season, but he could have simply been saying that he would have preferred an announcement at the end of the season. The growing notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

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AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

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Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4