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Portland overcomes red card, own defense to salvage point against Columbus

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A six-goal night at Providence Park ended with Portland’s third straight dramatic result, but with defensive mistakes continuing to undermine what little momentum Caleb Porter’s team can muster, the drama is less a fight against adversity than an attempt to overcome self-inflicted wounds. With Gastón Fernández scoring his fifth goals of the season late in Portland, the 1o-man Timbers were able to come back to draw Columbus, 3-3, but the erratic play of a team’s back line continues to define Porter’s second season.

Norberto Paparatto, one of the Timbers’ two big offseason buys from Argentina, was so bad to start the season, he was replaced in the team’s starting lineup by Mamadou “Futty” Danso. On a moment-to-moment basis, there’s been a clear improvement, with the central defense tandem Danso forms with Pa Modou Kah flashing the form that produced six shutouts in seven regular season games last season.

Then there are the meltdowns. There are the accidents. There are the freak occurrences that seem to plague Danso. Consider just the last three games:

  • Against D.C. United, Danso inadvertently headed a corner kick into his own net for a later equalizer.
  • Against the LA Galaxy, the Gambian defender watched a Dan Gargan throw in fly over his partner and bounce in the six-yard box, allowing Robbie Keane to put the Galaxy up in stoppage time.
  • And tonight against Columbus, Danso was called for a first half penalty before, redirecting an 81st minute shot from Ethan Finlay into his own net.

The last of those misfortunes came as Portland, having just fought back to 2-2 following Alvas Powell’s red card, looked set to salvage a result after the early dismissal tipped the scales in Columbus’s favor. On a three-match losing streak and without half of their back line, the Crew seemed set up for the Timbers’ second win of the season, but after Powell’s sending off, one point would have been enough.

It made Danso’s latest accident potentially devastating. After Will Johnson’s deflected goal in the 80th minute finally provided an answer to Federico Higuaín’s first half double, the Timbers were back even, having built on Maxi Urruti’s early opener. With Providence Park ignited, the Timbers seemed primed to push for a winner only to see that momentum blunted. Inadvertent as it was, Danso was responsible for another dramatic goal, giving the Timbers Army less than a minute to enjoy Johnson’s goal.

New signing Fanendo Adi came through four minutes later, knocking down a restart for Fernández on the game’s winning goal, but once the euphoria of the short-handed comeback wanes, the Timbers will be faced with the same question they’ve been trying to answer all season: What do we do in defense?

Right now, the answer appears to be “nothing.” Just wait for the luck to start evening out. If it doesn’t even out, the urgency that saw Portland get Adi from FC Copenhagen will be applied to the defense. At some point, the Timbers have to start avoiding the bad luck that’s following Futty Danso.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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