San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers

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

Leave a comment

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.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

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.”

source: Getty Images
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.

source: Getty Images
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?

source:
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.”

Three things we learned from Chelsea vs. Tottenham

Leave a comment

LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur drew 2-2 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday as their hopes of winning the Premier League title were ended.

Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Premier League title.

[ VIDEO: Leicester fans react to title ]

Spurs looked to be on the brink of their first league win at Chelsea since 1990 as they scored twice just before half time through Harry Kane and Son Heung-min and were cruising.

There were multiple flashpoints in a feisty London derby and Mauricio Pochettino‘s men couldn’t hold on with Gary Cahill pulling on back and Eden Hazard smashing in an unstoppable strike late on to send the home fans wild.

Here’s what we learned from a wild night at Stamford Bridge.


SPURS CAN’T KEEP TITLE HOPES ALIVE

Tottenham did not give up without a fight but they threw away a chance to keep the title fight going until the penultimate weekend of the season.

Pochettino’s side started slowly but after Son and Danny Rose went close, they grew in stature and then the goals arrived. In the 35th minute Kane was played in by a wonderfully simplistic pass from Erik Lamela and Kane showed supreme composure to round Asmir Begovic and tap home. One minute before half time it got better as Christian Eriksen teed up Son to smash home. 2-0. Spurs’ fans were in dreamland.

Even at the start of the second half they pushed hard with Kane getting free on the left and having his curled effort saved. He then flashed a cross across goal which evaded his teammates and Spurs were on top. Chelsea pulled a goal back through Gary Cahill just before the hour mark to liven up a spicy encounter further and then Chelsea pinned Spurs back for the remainder of the game. Willian‘s cross just evaded Diego Costa at the back post as Kyle Walker cleared and then Hazard delivered the killer blow.

Spurs have had a sensational season but they crumbled at Chelsea and have now not won at Stamford Bridge for 27 years. Losing the battle in this manner was the most upsetting for Spurs and their fans.

PASSION BOILS OVER; DEMBELE IN TROUBLE

Right on half time, with Spurs leading 2-0, Danny Rose clattered into Willian in front of the benches. All hell broke loose. Pochettino raced onto the pitch to try and break up the scuffle, players from both teams bundled in and the coaches got involved. It was utter pandemonium as the thrusting passion of a truly vitriolic London derby was in full flow. Amid all that madness a moment of sheer lunacy arose.

Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele had already been at it with John Obi Mikel earlier in the game and, of course, Costa had been going at it with Jan Vertonghen and just about anybody else who wanted a piece. So, Dembele and Costa came together, squared up among the crowd and then the Belgian gouged Costa’s left eyeball with his right finger. Just what was he thinking? Referee Mark Clattenberg missed it but one of his linesman was looking straight at the incident, I mean straight at it, and didn’t tell the referee to act. Dembele will likely be getting a call from the English Football Association this week and can expect a ban for the rest of the season. There is no place for this kind of  behavior. What to follow was almost worse.

There were so many contentious incidents during this game and Clattenberg tried to be lenient and let tackles go to start with, but in the end he dished out 12 yellow cards. Eric Dier flew into tackles against Hazard and Fabregas and how he stayed on the pitch we will never know. At the end of the game it all kicked off again. Coaches, players and officials were involved in a huge brawl at the headed down the tunnel. Severe FA punishment for both clubs, mostly Tottenham, will follow.

Spurs threw away their chance to win the title and they reacted in the worse possible way. It was shambolic the way they ended the game. If it passion, pride and commitement you’re after, look no further than this London derby. It was a belter but is likely to see repercussions, especially for Dembele and probably many others.

HAZARD WINS THE TITLE, AGAIN

Almost 12 months ago Eden Hazard to win Chelsea the Premier League title. On Monday he scored to win Leicester City the Premier League.

Hazard came on at half time with Chelsea 2-0 down and helped changed the game. His incisive running scared Spurs’ defense every time he got on the ball and his sublime curling finish in the 83rd minute made it 2-2 and hammered the final nail in the coffin of Spurs’ title hopes. He hasn’t had the best season, far from it, but he gave the Chelsea fans what they wanted on Monday. To  end Tottenham’s title hopes. See the video above to watch it play out. The home fans were desperate to beat or draw with Spurs and were cheering “Leicester, Champions!” in the final moments and one fan held up a sign for their former manager, and current Leicester boss, Claudio Ranieri: “Do it for Ranieri!”

They did. Fans in Leicester rejoiced as Hazard celebrated in front of Tottenham’s fans following his goal. Last week he spoke of how Chelsea did not want Tottenham to win the league and do whatever they could to stop it happening. Turns out he did it himself. Hazard won the PL for a team for the second-straight season.

WATCH: Leicester players, fans react to winning the Premier League title

LEICESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 02:  Leicester City fans celebrate Chelsea's second goal as they watch the Barclays Premier League between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Yates's Bar on May 2, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom. If Spurs fail to win against Chelsea, Leicester City will become Premier League champions.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Barclays Premier League.

With two matches to spare, the Foxes have clinched their first-ever top-flight title in the club’s 132-year history, finishing off the most improbable run in sports history.

While Leicester didn’t get to celebrate the title on the pitch, that didn’t stop the players and fans from celebrating around the city.

 

 

Leicester City crowned 2015-16 Premier League champions

1 Comment

Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Premier League title.

I’ll repeat it again: Leicester City have won the 2015-16 Premier League.

One of the greatest fairytales in sporting history is complete.

[ VIDEO: Leicester react to winning PL ]

With nearest rivals Tottenham Hotspur drawing 2-2 at Chelsea on Monday, the Foxes become just the sixth team in history to win the Premier League as they won their first-ever top-flight title in their 132-year history.

They have an seven-point lead at the top of the table and Tottenham have just two games remaining, meaning Leicester cannot be caught and won the title while watching the game on TV from the comfort of their own home.

[ MORE: Full Leicester City archive

In a season which has defied belief, Leicester has shrugged off the challenge of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester City to become the most unlikely champion in PL history and probably English soccer history.

Italian manager Claudio Ranieri has masterminded the success in his first season in charge at the King Power Stadium with the veteran boss moved to tears at the final whistle. He took over last summer after Leicester City survived relegation in the final weeks of last season under Nigel Pearson. They were only promoted back to the PL for the 2014-15 season and have kept a large number of the players who led them from the third tier in 2009.

[ MORE: The perfect storm which Leicester took advantage of

Now, they’ve gone from 5000-1 outsiders and among the favorites for relegation to PL champions. This is one of the most remarkable stories in sporting history. Period. Maybe even the most remarkable.

Their journey has inspired every other team around the globe and with Jamie Vardy‘s goals, Riyad Mahrez‘s magic, N'Golo Kante‘s running and a defiant defensive unit led by captain Wes Morgan, the Foxes have ridden an incredible wave of euphoria in recent months to get over the line.

[ MORE: Detailing the day Leicester (pretty much) won the PL ]

In truth, every single Leicester player must be lauded and they will go down in history, their names never forgotten in Leicester and further afield.

With streets set to be named after them, calls for Raineri to be knighted and a first-ever appearance in the UEFA Champions League coming up next season, the Foxes have become the biggest sporting story on the planet.

I’ll say it again one more time just in case you don’t believe me: Leicester City are the 2015-16 Premier League champions.

Never in my life did I think I’d be typing those words.

Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Hazard’s late goal hands Leicester City the title

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 02:   Toby Alderweireld of Tottenham Hotspur and Diego Costa of Chelsea battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on May 02, 2016 in London, England.jd  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment
  • Kane, Son score for Tottenham
  • Hazard equalizes in the 83rd minute
  • Leicester City are Premier League champions

Leicester City are officially your Barclays Premier League champions for the 2015-16 season.

In need of a win to keep their title hopes alive, Tottenham squandered a 2-0 halftime lead at Stamford Bridge, settling for a 2-2 draw with Chelsea to hand Leicester the trophy.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

After an even opening to the match, Tottenham scored two late goals before the break to take a commanding lead into the dressing room.

Harry Kane opened the scoring in the 35th minute, capping off a fluid run of play from the visitors. Erik Lamela collected from Christian Eriksen before slotting Kane in with a perfectly-timed through-ball. Kane’s first touch took him around the goalkeeper, leaving him an open net for his league-leading 25th goal of the season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Less than ten minutes later, Son Heung-min made it 2-0 Tottenham. A turnover from Branislav Ivanovic led to a quick break from Spurs, with Son finishing off just his third Premier League goal of the season.

The first half ended with a touchline melee that saw both benches clear as tempers boiled over. A challenge from Danny Rose on Willian led to a shoving match between the players, with Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino jumping onto the pitch to separate the two. Pochettino’s presence led to a huge gathering that took a few minutes for referee Mark Clattenburg to quiet down. In the midst of it all, video review showed Mousa Demebele appearing to scratch the face of Diego Costa, which could bring on further punishment from the FA.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Two goals down, Chelsea came out of the break on the front foot, and the Blues pulled a goal back in the 58th minute. Gary Cahill got free of his mark on a corner kick, finding enough room to take a touch and fire a left-footed volley past Hugo Lloris to cut Spurs’ lead to one.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Chelsea looked the better side throughout the second half, with Hiddink’s men determined to end Tottenham’s title hopes. Then, in the 83rd minute, Eden Hazard found an equalizer to give Chelsea a share of the points and Leicester the Premier League title. After scoring his first two league goals of the season last weekend, Hazard’s third was his prettiest, bending a beautiful shot into the top corner to the delight of Leicester fans everywhere.

Tempers flared before the final whistle, but when that whistle blew at Stamford Bridge, Leicester City were crowned Premier League champions.