San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers

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.”

(MORE: Latest MLS standings)

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.”

VIDEO: James Corden becomes Arsenal’s new coach… for the day

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Arsene Wenger is celebrating his 20th anniversary in charge at Arsenal this week, but there’s a new guy on the block.

[ MORE: Pulisic in dreamland ]

In this hilarious video, British comedian James Corden takes the Arsenal squad on a tour of LA and leads a training session with Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Hector Bellerin front and center as they work on psychology, teamwork and goal celebrations.

Corden, the host of the “Late, Late Show with James Corden” on CBS, filmed the piece during Arsenal’s preseason tour of the USA this summer as they played against the MLS All-Stars in San Jose, California before heading down to LA to face Chivas Guadalajara at the StubHub Center.

Judging by Corden’s performance though, I don’t think Wenger has much to worry about…

And don’t forget, you can watch the special Premier League Download episode “Inside the mind of Arsene Wenger” on NBCSN this Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN as Roger Bennett sits down with Wenger one-on-one to discuss his two decades leading the Gunners.

Mourinho sticks up for Allardyce after England humiliation

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 04:  (L-R) Opposing managers Jose Mourinho the manager of Chelsea and Sam Allardyce the West Ham manager greet each other prior to kickoff during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham and Chelsea at the Boleyn Ground on March 4, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho is standing by Sam Allardyce.

[ MORE: Pulisic in dreamland ]

On Wednesday Manchester United’s manager was asked about Allardyce’s shocking exit as England manager after just 67 days in charge.

Following an undercover investigation by The Telegraph in the UK which showed the veteran coach talking about ways to circumvent the FA’s rules on third-party ownership (TPO) of players, Allardyce agreed to leave the Three Lions after just one game in charge.

[ MORE: Allardyce: “Entrapment has won” ]

Despite some words against each other in the past, Mourinho spoke glowingly about Allardyce and stood by the Englishman despite his disgrace.

“The only thing I can say that I like Sam. I feel sorry for that because I know that was the dream job and I feel very sorry for it. The second thing I can say is that what happened obviously is not going to interfere in any way with my relation with him. I like him. I respected him before and that is not going to change,” Mourinho said. “The third thing is that this is between him and the Football Association. I have nothing to say about it, really.”

Right now, Allardyce needs all the friends he can get as he faces potential action from the FA over his comments as the investigation continues regarding any involvement he made have had with TPO’s, agents and beyond.

USMNT Pulisic on assist vs. Real Madrid: “There’s no better feeling”

Real Madrid's Luka Modric, left, and Dortmund's Christian Pulisic challenge for the ball during the Champions League group F soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid in Dortmund, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Christian Pulisic continued his fairytale rise up through the ranks of the soccer world on Tuesday as the 18-year-old jumped off the bench and notched a crucial assist as Borussia Dortmund scored a late equalizer in the UEFA Champions League against Real Madrid.

[ MORE: UCL  roundup ]

Trailing the reigning European champions heading into the final few minutes at home in their Group F game, Pulisic picked up the ball on the right flank (see video below) and drove towards Real’s defense. He then clipped a dangerous ball to the back post which eventually found Andre Schurrle who rifled home. Dortmund’s fans went nuts and so did Pulisic.

The U.S. national team attacker has now made five appearances in all competitions for Dortmund this season, scoring once, and the Hershey, Pennsylvania native revealed what it felt like to play against Real in a huge UCL game at the Westfalenstadion.

Speaking to TV cameras after the game, Pulisic was still on a high from his game-changing assist in just his second Champions League appearance.

“It was an amazing game to come into, especially because the level was so high. It was an intense game, so I was just excited to get in there and show what I could do and try to help the team,” Pulisic. “Yeah [the goal] was amazing, I mean what a goal to score in that moment in that in front of the home fans. It was amazing for both of us, for everyone.”

Pulisic also revealed his pride as his stellar start to the new season continues.

“There’s no better feeling. Playing in the Champions League is a whole other sense of pride and it is amazing,” Pulisic said. “You always watch it as a kid and coming on in such a big game, it is incredible. I can’t describe it.”

The rising star of U.S. Soccer did describe what it was like to be playing and making an impact at the elite level in Europe and he hopes to stay there for a very long time.

“That’s the goal when you want to play professional soccer, you want to get to the highest level you can and that’s how you get better,” Pulisic said. “At such a young age I want to keep playing at the highest level so I can improve more and more and become the best player I can be.”

Ahead of the USA’s friendlies against Cuba and New Zealand coming up, Pulisic’s star continues to rise and there’s no doubt that when the Hexagonal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying kicks off in November that he’ll be a crucial part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans.

Safe to say that will likely be the case for many years to come as we simply have never seen a young U.S. player making such a significant impact on such a big stage at such a tender age.

Allardyce on losing England job: “Entrapment has won”

BOLTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Former England manager Sam Allardyce leaves his family home on September 28, 2016 in Bolton, England. Allardyce left his position as the national football manager after only one match in charge following allegations made by a national newspaper. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
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The fallout from Sam Allardyce‘s shocking departure as England’s manager continues.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Allardyce ]

After being caught in a “sting” operation by undercover journalists discussing how to get around FA rules regarding third-party ownership of players, plus criticizing his employers, former England manager Roy Hodgson and his assistant Gary Neville.

Following lengthy meetings on Tuesday at Wembley Stadium, Allardyce, 61, agreed to leave his “dream job” as England’s manager after just 67 days and one game in charge.

Speaking to Sky Sports news he said the meeting where undercover footage of him discussing how to circumvent FA rules was filmed, was a favor to a close friend, agent Scott McGarvey.

Allardyce spoke to a large group of journalists on Wednesday morning outside his him before flying out of the county to “chill out and reflect” on a hugely damaging 24 hours for the veteran coach.

“On reflection it was a silly thing to do. I was trying to help out someone I’d known for 30 years. Unfortunately it was an error of judgement on my behalf, I’ve paid the consequences. Entrapment has won on this occasion and I have to accept that. The agreement was done very amicably with The FA and I apologize to those and all concerned in the unfortunate situation I’ve put myself in.”

Asked if this would be the end of his managerial career in the game, Allardyce didn’t seem too hopeful. “Who knows. We will wait and see,” Allardyce said.

The former Sunderland, West Ham, Newcastle, Blackburn and Bolton manager lives in hope and he previously told Sky Sports he is “not a quitter” and hopes to get another job, but it is tough to see Allardyce returning to the game as a manager at the elite level in England ever again.

There is also the threat that Allardyce could face further action over his comments, with the FA waiting on the full transcripts from The Telegraph to decide if the matter will be taken further and if he broke any rules.

Yes, Allardyce only suggested he knew ways around transfer rules via agents and he wasn’t paid by the fictitious businessmen played by undercover journalists, despite agreeing  fee of over $518,000, but the fact of the matter is he obviously knows people who are up to no good in the game and the FA may well use his information to try and stamp out any kind of corruption.

It’s been a sad few days for Allardyce and for English soccer as the national team is without a manager after a shocking and quite unbelievable demise for Big Sam.