Will Johnson: “We need to win against Seattle” as Timbers skipper issues rallying call

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The Portland Timbers welcome Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders to Providence Park on Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra) with the need for a vital win intensified for the home side.

So far in 2014, the Timbers are without a win in four games, drawing two and losing two. Something just hasn’t quite clicked for Caleb Porter’s team, as the reigning MLS Coach of the Year is facing a big battle in just his second season coaching in Major League Soccer.

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According to Porter’s captain, Will Johnson, the biggest rivalry in MLS needs no extra hype. Portland’s skipper epitomizes their fighting spirit and drive to get back to the highs of last season’s Western Conference regular season title, and he’s focused solely on toppling the Sounders on Saturday.

“It’s big time, this rivalry doesn’t need any building up. It is what it is, a fantastic spectacle of Major League Soccer,” Johnson said. “It’s intense, it’s big, it’s all those huge words you put next to it, it is fantastic. I think we are all ready to get this thing going, it will be a fantastic atmosphere where two good teams are fighting for three points.”

Johnson, 27, has been a revelation since switching Real Salt Lake for the Rose City in 2013. The Canadian national team midfielder is the heart and soul of the Timbers, and his terrific two-way play in the engine room saw him rewarded with a new long-term contract at the start of this season.

With the captain’s role comes responsibility, and although you’d hardly call Portland’s slow start to the season a catastrophe, Johnson is rallying his troops behind the scenes to get their season kick-started against Seattle.

“I am just keeping everyone positive, keeping guys composed and not pointing fingers. We are all in this together,” Johnson said defiantly. “When we are playing well, we accept the praise. And when we aren’t doing well, we are all in this together and have to find a way to battle out of it. It’s just about keeping the group united and making sure everybody understands that it is long season, and we are going to get this thing right.”

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In his first year in Portland, Will Johnson set career highs in goals and assists. The skipper is the Timbers’ heartbeat.

Matches against Seattle at a sold out stadium in downtown Portland, coupled with the energy, creativity and x-factor of the reverent Timbers Army, has seen this matchup become the most eagerly-anticipated game in MLS. It is certainly one of the first fixtures many neutrals look for when flicking through the schedule.

However, after two draws were followed by back-to-back defeats to Colorado and FC Dallas to start this season off, you could forgive the Timbers Army for letting out murmurs of discontent should another poor result arrive against Portland’s biggest adversaries.

Johnson understands that, and believes the fans have the right to express their opinions. Positive, or negative.

“We are trying as hard as we possibly can to win games and perform well. But if they get frustrated if we aren’t doing that, that’s understandable,” Johnson said. “We take the criticism just like we take the praise when we are doing well. It is just the reality of the situation. I would say it is good, because they really care about this team. They care about this city and us doing well, so if there is some criticism that goes along with the praise when we get it right, then so be it. We have the characters who can take that.”

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As mentioned, Johnson has tied himself to Portland for the foreseeable future, with the former RSL standout taking to life in PDX remarkably well. 11 goals in 35 appearances last season marked his best ever MLS campaigns, in terms of productivity, and the former Chicago Fire and Heerenveen player is delighted to be on board with the journey the Timbers are on.

“I love what this club is all about, through think and thin,” Johnson said. “You want to find a place where you are valued, where they look at you like you look at yourself and you see eye to eye. I feel like I fit in well with this club and the philosophy and the city as well. Speaking to the fans, owners, general manager Gavin [Willkinson] and Caleb, I just really like what the club is all about. For me it was always an easy decision to commit my future here and give everything I have for the club. The hard part is trying to reward them for believing in me.”

The next chance to reward the front office, coaching staff and their fans comes against Seattle. Johnson’s praise for head coach Caleb Porter runs deep, and he believes the tactics and plans have been spot on. It is just the execution from the players that’s been missing. Johnson thinks nabbing the Timbers’ first win of the season against the Sounders would be extra sweet, given their slow start to the current campaign.

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Johnson won named in the MLS Bext XI in 2013 for the first time in his career, and now has a long-term deal with the Timbers.

“It would be the icing on the cake, that’s how we are looking at it,” Johnson said. “Three points are there for the taking, we expect to win our home games. It would be nice to reward our fans, who have stuck with us for four games now without a win. We haven’t played to our peak. We need to win against Seattle, it would be a nice treat to get our first win of the season at home against Seattle.”

What about Seattle?

In recent meetings Portland have certainly had their number, at home. In 2013 they won 1-0 in the regular season, then knocked Seattle out of the playoffs with a 3-2 win in the Rose City which fueled the flames of rivalry further heading into Saturday’s early season clash. This year, Seattle’s squad is littered with players possessing bags of MLS experience, as their head coach Sigi Schmid has gone with a different approach to recruiting.

“It’s their secondary guys, because you still have Dempsey, Martins, Alonso, those guys who’ve been on the team for a while. but they’ve done well,” Johnson said of Seattle’s rebuild. “They are a good team, but it’s still the same guys who make them tick, Alonso in the middle, Dempsey and Martins up front, the guys they are counting on are the same and we have to be aware of them. They are dangerous, they are well organized and I don’t think it’s any harder… but I don’t think it’s any easier.”

What would make things a little easier against Seattle would be going ahead early, as Johnson revealed his team must start strong and build off the intense atmosphere created by the Timbers Army. But they must stay calm and focused because as we’ve seen in previous Cascadia clashes, things escalate and get out of hand pretty quickly.

“We have got to get the first goal. We haven’t had a lead this year, so that’s been part of it. And we need a shutout, we haven’t had a shutout either. So those are two key focuses for us,” Johnson said. “The atmosphere, intensity, there’s no need to ‘rah, rah’ and get everyone pumped up. The rivalry and atmosphere takes care of that, so it’s almost calming the nerves and executing versus letting your emotions getting the best of you and being too up for a fight. We have to play smart, as well as be aggressive, and find that balance. That will be the key.”

Off the field, Johnson is a bit of a nomad. He was born in Toronto, Canada in 1987, before moving to England and living in a suburb of Liverpool during his formative years. He then played in Chicago as a youngster, before moving over to the Dutch leagues and then he moved back to the U.S. with Real Salt Lake. Yeah, he gets around. In both Toronto and Liverpool, teams in Red are aiming to win their domestic titles this season. What does Johnson think about that?

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Johnson aims to get Portland ready for battle against Seattle. Can the Timbers keep calm and bag a win?

“It is great. The fans deserve it, they deserve a winning team in Toronto,” Johnson said.” For the league it is great when an ownership group is willing to pump in some money and get this thing going and generate buzz and press for the league. As for as it being Toronto, where I was born, a little piece of me is definitely very, very happy for them.”

What about Liverpool?

“Until I was about ten years old I grew up in Crosby, which is just outside of Southport. I am a red, red all the way!” Johnson said. “I grew up watching Jamie Redknapp, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, all those guys. They were my heroes growing up. Now I am following the Gerrard’s and the other guys today, it has been good. With NBC’s coverage I get every game on the road home or away, I get to watch most games. It’s been fun, it’s been a good year to be able to watch them.”

Johnson is hoping it will be a good year to watch his Portland Timbers side too. But what will the outcome be for a team rebuilt in 2013, and then going through some early growing pains in 2014? Reticent to look too far ahead, Johnson is thinking about getting the win against Seattle on Saturday, and building on it. Nothing more, nothing less.

At the end of the 2014 MLS season Portland will be…

“… MLS Champions. But I think that’s too cliche,” Johnson laughed. “We have just got to win our first game. You have to walk before you can run. Right now we are focused on winning against Seattle, but our goal is to win a trophy. That is why we are here, that’s why we play.”

Does Paul Pogba to PSG make sense?

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Paul Pogba‘s time at Manchester United could be nearing an abrupt end for the second time in his professional career.

And now, a club that was previously tracking the France international appears to be expressing heavy interest in the midfielder once again.

[ MORE: The latest Premier League player power rankings ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Paris Saint-Germain and Mino Raiola — Pogba’s agent — have been in contact recently over a potential move to the French capital at the conclusion of the 2017/18 season.

The report suggests that Raiola has been in talks with several other big clubs in regards to the availability of Pogba in the near future, however, a move to his native country could sweeten the deal for the 25-year-old.

The Frenchman has scored 10 league goals for the Red Devils since he re-joined the side in 2016/17 from Juventus.

Pogba has had an up-and-down relationship at Old Trafford with manager Jose Mourinho, which nearly caused a move for the attacker during the January transfer window.

Cross-town rivals Manchester City were heavily linked to Pogba at the time, however, nothing came to fruition as the Citizens went on to claim the Premier League title with several matches remaining on their calendar.

While PSG seems like a logical fit given the club’s free-flowing attack and recent willingness to acquire massive talents, including Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, the Ligue 1 giants may not be able to financially support another big-time addition like Pogba.

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play laws have been tested by PSG, particularly during last summer’s transfer window when the club acquire both Neymar and Mbappe for over $400 million combined.

PSG is set to meet with UEFA on Friday though, which could give an indication one way or another as to how the front office can approach its spending habits in the months to come.

Watch Live: Burnley v Chelsea; Leicester v Saints

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Two big Premier League games are coming your way on Thursday as Burnley host Chelsea at Turf Moor, while Leicester welcome Southampton to the King Power Stadium.

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Burnley are aiming to win six-straight games in the Premier League as reigning champs Chelsea head to Lancashire hoping to cut the gap on the top four to just five points.

In team news from Turf Moor, Burnley start Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes up top together as Sean Dyche looks to get at the visitors early with plenty of balls into the box. Chelsea rest Eden Hazard and Willian ahead of the FA Cup semifinal and start Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata up top together.

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As for Leicester against Saints the Foxes’ hopes of European action are all but over after a poor run of form, while Southampton are battling for their lives in the relegation zone but a win would move Saints to just two points from safety with four games to play.

The teams news from Leicester is that Kasper Schmeichel is out injured in goal, while Claude Puel has picked an attacking lineup with Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho up top and the Mahrez, Gray and Albrighton all starting.

Saints are unchanged from the team which started so well against Chelsea before collapsing to lose last time out.

Click on the links above to watch the games, which both kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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With the games coming thick and fast, it is time to take a look at which players were “en fuego” during the past weekend in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Full Power Rankings archive ]

Players from Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City dominate our latest rankings after their fine performances over the past PL weekend.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League and based on them actually playing in the previous Matchweek. If they didn’t play due to injury or suspension, they aren’t going to make this list.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


  1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – New entry
  2. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Up 8
  3. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) – Up 10
  4. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – Up 14
  5. Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle United) – Up 10
  6. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – Up 5
  7. David De Gea (Man United) – Down 5
  8. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – Down 8
  9. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Up 3
  10. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – New entry
  11. David Silva (Man City) – Down 2
  12. Paul Pogba (Man United) – Down 7
  13. Romelu Lukaku (Man United) – Down 7
  14. Kenedy (Newcastle) – Up 3
  15. Marko Arnautovic (West Ham) – Down 11
  16. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) – Down 13
  17. Kyle Walker (Man City) – New entry
  18. Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace) – New entry
  19. Nick Pope (Burnley) – New entry
  20. Jay Rodriguez (West Brom) – New entry

FIFA closes racism case from U-17 World Cup final

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA closed a racism investigation Thursday that involved a Spain player and an England opponent from the Under-17 World Cup final.

FIFA said its disciplinary panel dismissed the charge against the Spanish player because of a “lack of sufficient evidence that could corroborate the English player’s claim.”

It is the third recent case of a high-profile allegation of racist abuse of black players being closed without action.

The latest ruling, from England’s 5-2 win in India last October, followed “a thorough investigation,” FIFA said.

In March, UEFA ended two investigations because of a lack of verifiable evidence.

Those claims were made by Borussia Dortmund forward Michy Batshuayi against Italian club Atalanta, and Liverpool youth forward Rhian Brewster against a Spartak Moscow opponent.

Brewster also played in the Under-17 World Cup final, scoring the first goal in England’s comeback after trailing 2-0 in the first half.

“Despite the absence of a sanction, which can only be imposed on the basis of clear evidence, the disciplinary committee would like to restate FIFA’s unequivocal, zero-tolerance stance against all forms of discrimination,” the soccer body said in a statement.

In other rulings announced Thursday, FIFA imposed fines totaling more than $1.25 million.

The Laos soccer federation was fined 690,000 Swiss francs ($712,000) for several breaches of rules governing the eligibility of players to represent a national team.

Benfica and Sporting Lisbon were among five clubs found guilty of breaking rules which prohibit third-party investors having a stake in players’ transfer rights, and misuse of FIFA’s international transfer registration process.

Benfica was fined a total of 165,000 Swiss francs ($170,000) in two cases and Sporting was fined 110,000 Swiss francs ($114,000). In Spain, Celta Vigo was fined 65,000 Swiss francs ($67,000) and Rayo Vallecano was fined 55,000 Swiss francs ($57,000). Qatari club Al Arabi was fined 187,500 Swiss francs ($194,000).