What in the world is wrong with the Portland Timbers?

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Alright, so maybe they were a little over-hyped after a season where you could argue they did just as much “not losing” as winning — 14 wins, 15 ties — but how do you explain the Portland Timbers drop from near-champion to cellar dweller?

I’m not saying I’ve got answers, but let’s go through this together and see what we come up with, shall we?

Some would say it’s simply the matter of a challenging run of opponents. After roughly one-quarter of the season, Portland has already made trips to Salt Lake, Houston, Dallas and Colorado.

But they’ve also failed to gain three points at their intense home park against Chivas USA. Against Chicago. Against Philadelphia. None of those teams can claim a spot in their conference any higher than eighth.

The Timbers have the fourth-worst goal differential — not surprising for a last-place team — and they’ve only scored nine goals over eight games.

Four of those goals came in one match, and the Timbers have been blanked twice. Last year, they weren’t shut out until May 3. They didn’t lose a match in which they were shut out until July.

It’s April.

The advanced stats say Portland may be struggling on attack and defense, but they haven’t been absolutely miserable. And it’s a good sign that of the three major Squawka stats, the Timbers rank the highest in terms of possession (12th in the league). Last year, they were fifth in possession, second in attack, third in defense. It’s all down.

This has a lot to do with the player who was a stat nerd’s darling in 2013, Darlington Nagbe. The midfielder scored nine goals, added four assists and posted the best Squawka score in the league. He’s nowhere near that now — 34th — with a lone assist through 667 minutes of play. Maybe it’s as simple as the his functioning closer to star status again.

But what’s also troubling is where the keepers rank out of the 24 keepers to have taken the pitch for Major League Soccer clubs so far. Donovan Ricketts has already fought injury this year after getting loads of plaudits and award buzz last year.

source:
Squawka.com

There are a few bright spots, aside from the traditional possession percentages head coach Caleb Porter has been trumpeting in post-match banter. For one thing, his team is still ticking people off. After totaling the fifth-most fouls suffered in their tremendously successful 2013, the Timbers are third right now.

Next up, it’s DC United at Providence Park, followed by two incredibly-stiff tests. The Timbers will square off with the only two positive possession stat teams in the league so far this season: Los Angeles and Columbus.

Porter is saying his problems are only mostly regarding the final-third (which is true for every team, but I digress). He loves their organization and chemistry, but the head coach wants his guys to be a little more selfish, to shoot. From The Oregonian:

Whatever it is, the Timbers Army is right to feel antsy. The season’s not going well, and five points behind the last playoff spot starts to look more daunting once the calendar turns May.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.