MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 1-3 Portland Timbers

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One game, 100 words (or less): Portland had not beaten Real Salt Lake since the teams’ first MLS meeting in 2011, with the eventual Western Conference champions eliminating the Timbers from both U.S. Open Cup and the MLS playoffs last season. On Saturday, however, an occasionally dominant performance from Fanendo Adi and a man advantage through most of the second half helped Caleb Porter claim his first win over his early nemesis. With a 3-1 victory at Rio Tinto, Portland won its third game in four while extending RSL’s four-match winless run.

Three moments that mattered

1. 28′ – Ricketts comes up big on Garcia – With Luke Mulholland having already put RSL up one, Portland couldn’t afford to give up another goal, particularly against a team that’s proven so difficult for the Timbers to beat. That’s what made Ricketts’ 28th minute save so vital. On a play built down the left, sent to the right of the box, then moved back to the middle, Olmes Garcia was allowed to fire away from near the top of the box. Caught by his left post, Ricketts seemed to be giving up too much goal, but on a shot hit within diving distance, the 2013 Goalkeeper of the Year’s save kept his team within one.

source: Getty Images
Fanendo Adi scored twice in the first half to lead Portland to a 3-1 victory at Real Salt Lake. (Photo: Getty Images)

2. 36′ – Fanendo Adi blows up Chris Schuler, starts taking over – When, in American football, an offensive lineman knocks a defensive player onto his back, you can say he blew him up. Suffice to say, it’s something that rarely happens on a soccer field. On a 36th minute corner, however, Fanendo Adi came pretty close to doing that to Chris Schuler. Knocking the 6’4″ RSL defender to the ground, the young Nigerian headed home the equalizing goal beginning a nine-minute stretch of dominance that culminated with his second goal. For Schuler, the play was part of a difficult night that included a hand ball ahead of the game’s final, penalty kick goal.

3. 53′ – Tony Beltran gets sent off – Thankfully, Beltran didn’t do more damage to Darlington Nagbe. Going airborne from behind and wrapping his legs around the Portland attacker, Beltran committed one of the uglier fouls of the say, one that could have been dangerous had his weight fell on Nagbe’s knee or an ankle. Earning his second yellow in two minutes, Beltran left his team with 10 men, part of the reason RSL dropped its second game of the season.

Three lessons going forward

1. Fanendo Adi looks unplayable – Chris Schuler is one of the best defenders in the league, making it more remarkable Adi physically owned him on that 36th minute corner. In terms of speed and technique, the FC Copenhagen loanee kept Nat Borchers back pedaling four minutes later before sending Jeff Attinella diving toward his far post. Through 225 minutes, Adi already has four goals, giving Porter the number nine he lacked during his first 16 months in Portland.

2. This could be Jeff Cassar’s first big challenge – Real Salt Lake has gone four games without a win, and they don’t have Kyle Beckerman to help pull them out of this slump. There are other leaders within the team, but faced with the first slump of his coaching career, this may also be time for Cassar to come up with a solution.

Maybe that solution could be using the World Cup break to refresh the squad, or perhaps some kind of shakeup in midfield is in order. From outside the team, it’s always difficult to tell, but after losing to the Timbers for the first time in three years, it may be time to reflect on what’s gone on wrong the last two weeks.

3. These are games Portland should win – That sounds crazy considering the teams’ history against each other as well as their 2014 results, but RSL is missing three key players because of injury and the World Cup. The Timbers left Pa Modou Kah in Portland but were otherwise at full strength. Though the Timbers came into the game with three wins, the team still has the talent to compete at the top of the West. Portland needed to take advantage of this opportunity.

Where that leaves them:

  • Real Salt Lake: 6-7-2, second in the West, eight points behind Seattle
  • Portland: 4-4-7, sixth in the West, two points out of a playoff spot

Andrija Novakovich: “It’s a good feeling” to earn USMNT call up

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As the U.S. Men’s National Team continues its transition towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, a new face has emerged for the Stars and Stripes ahead of its upcoming friendly against Paraguay.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

Striker Andrija Novakovich earned his first call up on Sunday when U.S. manager Dave Sarachan named the Telstar player in his squad, which will play the South American side on March 27 in Cary, North Carolina.

The 21-year-old forward has been nothing short of brilliant in his first season with the Dutch second-division club, scoring 18 league goals for Telstar — who sit fourth in the Eerste Divisie.

“It’s a good feeling to get the call-up and hopefully it will be a very good experience,” Novakovich said. “They [the U.S. national team] sent the club and myself an email saying that I was on the preliminary roster and we were just waiting, and then this week I got another email saying I was on the final roster.

“I called my Mum right away and she’s proud, she’s happy.

“I’m just there for the experience — of course I want to play, of course I want to get the opportunity and hopefully that will happen, It’s an honour to be called up and I’m very proud and very happy.”

Novakovich, a Wisconsin native, is currently on loan at Telstar from English Championship side Reading.

The young USMNT player moved to England back in 2014 to join Reading’s academy, despite originally planning on playing for Marquette University following high school.

Despite this being his first senior-team call up, Novakovich is familiar with the U.S. national team setup. Novakovich has previously represented the Under-17, U-18 and U-20 national teams.

Lionel Messi suggests 2018 will be his final World Cup

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Lionel Messi’s track record as a professional has encompassed just about every imaginable accolade, but one that has eluded he and his Argentina national teammates is winning the World Cup.

[ MORE: Kekuta Manneh added to USMNT squad ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

The Barcelona star has played a significant role for the Albiceleste since debuting for Argentina back in 2005, and even helped guide the South American power to the 2014 World Cup final, however, harsh criticism from local media could push Messi and many of his teammates towards not returning to the national team.

This wouldn’t be the first time Messi has contemplated international retirement, though.

Following the 2016 Copa America Centenario final — which resulted in a Chilean victory over Messi’s Argentina — the Blaugrana attacker announced his retirement from the Albiceleste. While he has since returned to the international scene, it appears Messi is once again considering a halt from representing Argentina.

“It’s just the feeling that this group of players has. It seems that having reached three straight finals didn’t mean anything,” Messi told La Cornisa TV. “Obviously, we depend on results and unfortunately, we reached three finals and we didn’t win them.

“A lot was said about us. The criticisms hurt back then. But the demand is going to be there for this group to get it done. We think that if we don’t do it, we are going to get a lot more [criticism] and we are not going to have another possibility.”

Argentina has fallen in three consecutive major finals dating back to 2014, including two Copa America competitions and the World Cup.

Messi says these shortcomings have weighed heavily on him, and that winning a World Cup is still the one goal that has left him hungry.

“I’ve cried many times for lost finals,” the Barca forward said. “I cried for not being able to fulfill the dream of our nation. My desire is the same as every Argentine, which is to lift the World Cup.”

He continued: “To win a World Cup is not easy. It doesn’t happen often. The last time we did things well but due to minor details we didn’t get it done. We are very enthusiastic and eager to lift the cup for our country. I hope God helps us and it happens.”

Messi has scored 61 international goals in his international career for Argentina, the most of any player from his native country.

Brazil to play Austria in final warmup game for World Cup

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VIENNA (AP) The Austrian soccer federation says Brazil will play its final warmup game for the World Cup against Austria on June 10, a week before the five-time world champions take on Switzerland in their Group E opener.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of friendly ]

The match will be played in Vienna at Ernst Happel Stadium, the same venue where both teams last met in a 2014 friendly, which Brazil won 2-1.

Brazil has further build-up games against World Cup host Russia (March 23), world champion Germany (March 27) and Croatia (June 3) ahead of the June 14-July 15 tournament, where it also meets Costa Rica and Serbia in the group stage.

Austria failed to qualify for the World Cup but will also play friendlies against Russia on May 30 and Germany on June 2.

Fiorentina renames training ground for Davide Astori

Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images
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Fiorentina’s training ground has been renamed “Centro Sportivo Davide Astori” in honor of the club’s deceased captain.

[ MORE: Manneh added to USMNT squad ]

Davide Astori died in his team hotel room on March 4, shocking the Italian soccer world and triggering tributes around the world of soccer.

The respected Italian national team center back has had number retired by both Fiorentina and former club Cagliari.

Thousands packed a Florence piazza to salute the player en route to his funeral, and the club won its first match after his passing following vivid pre- and in-match tributes.