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.”

Arsene Wenger confirms deals for Mustafi and Perez are complete

GETAFE, SPAIN - APRIL 24:  Shkodran Mustafi of Valencia applauds fans after Valencia drew 2-2 with Getafe CF during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Valencia CF at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on April 24, 2016 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsenal has completed a pair of big-money deals with the transfer windows closing down,.

Manager Arsene Wenger confirmed that the club has finished the transfers of Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, two players they have long been linked with. He also confirmed the club was unlikely to sign any other players, unless new opportunities cropped up before the window shuts on Wednesday.

“We have bought two players, Mustafi and Perez. We had to work very hard to get signings done,” Wenger said. “We have no plans for anyone else now.”

Mustafi fills the most pressing need, helping patch up a back line ravaged by injuries. He is set to sign a five-year deal, according to the BBC and other reports. The fee is a reported $46 million.

Perez, a 27-year-old Spaniard, also fills a heavy need up front. With just Olivier Giroud and Chuba Akpom as the only healthy strikers available to the Gunners, Perez will help fill a gap. Perez was purchased for a reported $22 million, triggering the player’s release clause.

It’s unclear how soon the players will be available to play for Arsenal. The club next takes on Southampton after the international break.

Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Gladbach all win in Bundesliga openers

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 14:  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund is challenged by Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League quarter final, second leg match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund at Anfield on April 14, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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The Bundesliga officially opened Friday with Bayern Munich’s 6-0 demolition of Werder Bremen, but the rest of the league got under way Saturday, and it was business as usual.

Borussia Dortmund cruised with a 2-1 win over FC Mainz at Westfalenstadion behind a brace from main man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The first came early in the 17th minute, a headed goal at the far post on the end of a beautiful ball from Andre Schurrle. The second on a penalty in the 89th minute after Schurrle was fouled by Karim Onisiwo. Aubameyang started last season with 13 goals in the team’s first 10 games, and he’s begun this year’s campaign on the same foot.

Wolfsburg worked its way to a 2-0 win on the road at Augsburg with a pair of impressive goals. Daniel Didavi bagged an incredible strike from a seated position in the 35th minute. After being knocked to the ground near the penalty area, the ball fell in the lap of the 26-year-old, and he spun around, looping the ball into the top corner.

The second was a late free-kick from Ricardo Rodriguez to double the lead.

Borussia Monchengladbach won a thriller at Borussia-Park 2-1 thanks to an 85th minute winner from Lars Stindl. The 28-year-old stayed just onside and beat Tin Jedvaj to the ball, slotting it in five minutes from time for all three points. Goals from Andre Hahn and substitute Joel Pohjanpalo had cancelled each other out. Fabian Johnson entered the game in the 61st minute.

Elsewhere, Timmy Chandler and Eintracht Frankfurt held serve at home with a 1-0 win over Schalke. Alex Maier scored the only goal in the 13th minute, and while he had a later penalty saved, The Eagles held their opponents scoreless the rest of the way. Chandler came on as a 56th minute substitute and helped keep the clean sheet.

Ingolstadt pulled out a 1-1 draw on the road at Hamburg thanks to a 76th minute equalizer from Lukas Hinterseer. Marcel Reese and Anthony Modeste gave Cologne a 2-0 home win over Darmstadt.

Premier League Saturday Roundup: Chelsea, Arsenal cruise, United snatches three points

Hull City v Manchester United - Premier League
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New managers have quickly brought the attention back to the Premier League’s traditional powerhouses, but one newcomer continues to impress in its return to top-flight football.

Hull City couldn’t pull out a draw against unbeaten PL favorites Manchester United, but the Tigers still looked impressive at times. Meanwhile, Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal all won on the day, with the Blues keeping their winning ways up as well.

 

Hull City 0-0 Manchester United – RECAP

The points were surely going to be split between two of the better sides during the opening month of the season, but Marcus Rashford stole all three out from under Hull City. Despite a clever defensive effort from the Tigers, United remained unbeaten through three games after the second-half substitute smashed home Wayne Rooney‘s cross in the 92nd minute of play.

Chelsea 3-0 Burnley – RECAP

It was easily Chelsea’s best performance of the young season, and Eden Hazard looks to be back to his old ways after kicking off the day with a goal. The Clarets were held throughout the match at Stamford Bridge, limited to zero shots on target.

Tottenham 1-1 Liverpool — RECAP

Philippe Coutinho continues to present challenges for opposing defenses but luckily for Spurs the Brazilian was off with his finishing on the day. A James Milner penalty kick gave Liverpool the lead at White Hart Lane before Danny Rose leveled things up for the home side. Spurs remain unbeaten in their start to the new campaign but like many other PL sides, Mauricio Pochettino‘s men are still fine-tuning in the early portion of the season.

Watford 1-3 Arsenal – RECAP

A brutal schedule to open the season forced the Gunners to wait three weeks to find their opening win, but Saturday’s performance was a reminder of just how dangerous Arsene Wenger‘s group can be when firing on all cylinders. Alexis Sanchez looked like a menace from the opening kickoff, working his way into dangerous areas on the field and troubling the Watford backline.

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

 

Leicester 2-1 Swansea City RECAP

The Foxes don’t look dominating like they were a season ago, but the most important thing about Saturday’s performance was that they won. Jamie Vardy got back on track with a much needed finish off of a routine long ball, before captain Wes Morgan powered home a close-range strike.

Crystal Palace 1-1 Bournemouth – RECAP

It looked as though Josh King‘s first-half finish would be enough for Bournemouth to earn its first win of the season, but Scott Dann‘s late effort ensured that Palace would take a share of the points at home. Neither side looked dominant after the opener from the visitors, but it was a valiant effort from Alan Pardew‘s side to pick up a draw.

Southampton 1-1 SunderlandRECAP

Chances were limited until the latter stages of the match but some clever play from Jermain Defoe to earn a penalty kick handed the Black Cats the lead with 10 minutes to play before the home side equalized in the dying minutes. Jay Rodriguez was the savior for Southampton, after scoring with five minutes to play for the Saints.

Everton 1-0 Stoke City – RECAP

The Toffees have quietly gone about their business this season but Ronald Koeman‘s side have taken seven out of nine points in their first three matches. Leighton Baines‘ penalty kick secured the team’s second win of the new PL season on Saturday, and Everton will be certainly pleased with the start.

Hull City 0-1 Manchester United: Rashford strikes late on the road

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  • Rashford plays hero after entering as substitute
  • Jakupovic makes seven saves in losing effort
  • Hull held to two shots on target
  • United remains unbeaten in first 3 matches

Hull City did just about everything right to earn a draw on Saturday, but Marcus Rashford decided to flip the script in the dying minutes.

Manchester United came away with a 1-0 victory at the KC Stadium after the second-half subsitute smashed home Wayne Rooney‘s cross in the 92nd minute.

Robert Snodgrass nearly handed Hull the lead after 25 minutes when the midfielder’s free kick narrowly missed wide of David De Gea‘s net. The Spanish goalkeeper was easily beaten by the shot, but United dodged a bullet as he watched the attempt go off target.

Chances were aplenty for United throughout the match, including the first half, which saw the Red Devils’ claims for a handball inside the penalty area denied.

The Red Devils found another chance to break the deadlock on the stroke of halftime but Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn’t find the back of the net. The Swedish striker appeared to be offsides on Wayne Rooney’s free kick but Hull survived the sequence unscathed.

It always seemed like United would find a breakthrough, despite Hull’s best defensive efforts, and Rashford’s late finish ensured the Red Devils would remain unbeaten to start the 2016/17 season.