WATCH LIVE: Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids

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There’s a reason why the term litmus test has been thrown around ahead of tonight’s game in Portland. For the Timbers, the game is a chance to measure themselves against a potential rival for a playoff spot, making three points all the more important. For Colorado, it’s an opportunity to further establish themselves in the West’s increasingly top five, taking valuable points on the road from a talented but wayward team.

Those are the stakes for this week’s Friday night game, with NBCSN and NBC Live Extra bringing you all the action from Providence Park starting at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

Portland, coming off back-to-back loses to the rival Sounders, have been passed in the standings by Chivas USA, leaving last year’s conference finalists in eighth with 15 games to play. Needing to pass three teams to claim a second straight playoff spot, the Timbers are quickly approaching a make-or-break point of their season.

Those are circumstances that put Liam Ridgewell, the club’s latest Designated Player, in the spotlight. Imported from the Premier League’s West Bromwich Albion, the left back will be slotted into the middle of Portland’s troubled defense. Making his MLS debut tonight, Ridgewell represents one of the back line’s last hopes for improvement.

That defense will be facing Deshorn Brown, the Colorado striker whose athleticism makes him one of the more difficult matchups in the league. Behind him, Dillon Powers continues to emerge as a decisive player in midfield, while Drew Moor’s presence anchoring the central defense during head coach Pablo Mastroeni’s first season.

Should that spine come through tonight, the Rapids will jump to second in the West, though the impact will be more dramatic for Portland. If the Timbers can’t get full points at home against Colorado, fans will have little reason to believe their team’s capable of making a second half push.

Lineups

Portland: Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Danny O’Rourke, Liam Ridgewell, Michael Harrington; Diego Chara, Will Johnson; Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, Steve Zakuani; Fanendo Adi

Colorado: Clint Irwin; Chris Klute, Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor, Thomas Piermayr; Dillon Serna, José Mari, Jared Watts, Dillon Powers; Dillon Serna, Carlos Alvarez, Marlon Harrison; Deshorn Brown.

Messi could face CONMEBOL suspension for verbal abusing official

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Already facing some uncertainty with a depleted roster, Argentina could face a significantly greater challenge.

[ MORE: Aguero left out of Argentina starting XI vs. Bolivia ]

Barcelona star Lionel Messi could face suspension after reportedly verbally abusing linesman Marcelo Van Gasse during the second half of Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile.

Messi was reported to CONMEBOL for yelling, “F*** off, your mother’s c***” at Van Gasse and refused to shake the official’s hand at the end of the match.

The officiating crew from the match didn’t initially include Messi’s rant in the post-match report, however, it was added on Monday and submitted to CONMEBOL.

The South American federation must now decide if and when it will punish Messi for his reported actions, and there is the potential that the world-class attacker could be suspended for Tuesday’s clash against Bolivia if the federation acts quickly.

There are several other scenarios though for CONMEBOL to action, including disregarding Messi’s verbal assault.

La Albiceleste currently sit third in World Cup qualifying on 22 points.

Arena speaks about USMNT turnaround, says “no secret formulas”

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It’s only been one competitive match since Bruce Arena regained control of the U.S. Men’s National Team and there’s already been a noticeable difference in form.

[ MORE: Three keys for the USMNT ahead of Panama clash ]

The former LA Galaxy manager wouldn’t have you believe that though following Friday night’s convincing 6-0 victory over Honduras in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

“It’s nothing I can write a book on,” Arena said about his team’s turnaround in form against Honduras. “You have a sense of your group, and you go about doing your business. There’s no secret formulas to this stuff. Work together, take ownership in what you’re doing, treat them like responsible professional athletes, and you get on with your business.

He added, “They want to be successful. They want to play in a World Cup. Is that a recipe for success? I don’t know. I’m sure Honduras wants to play in a World Cup too.”

Arena, who took over for Jurgen Klinsmann following the U.S.’ collapse during the first two matches of the Hexagonal, is unbeaten in his first three games in charge since getting his job back with the Stars and Stripes.

Although there has been a considerable turnaround in the way the USMNT has performed in the first three matches of 2017, Arena wouldn’t stoop to comparing his style to that of Klinsmann.

“I’m not doing anything differently,” he said. “I’m not taking a survey [of the players]. I know it’s different. We lose tomorrow, there will be articles written that, ‘This a—— is letting these guys run loose.'”

“I have spent no time on the past. There’s nothing I can do about it. I kind of have a sense about things, but there’s no point in me spending time investigating what went on in the past. The idea was to get it going the right way from the start.”

Arena’s next test with the U.S. will be on Tuesday when the Yanks travel to Panama City to take on Panama.

Report: American teenager linked with Manchester United

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The U.S. Men’s National Team is always looking for more Christian Pulisic-like players, and another star-in-the-making could be on his way to Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Three keys for USMNT ahead of Panama clash ]

American teenager Will Vint is reportedly being pursued by Premier League giants Manchester United after previously having trialed with Fulham and Everton.

Vint, the 15-year-old son Everton academy director Peter Vint, has reportedly impressed the Red Devils while on trial as of late. Additionally, the teen’s Instagram page describes him as a “Footballer at Manchester United.”

The number of Americans in England’s top flight have dwindled down over recent years, however, USMNT mainstays like Geoff Cameron and Brad Guzan (moving to Atlanta United) still reside in the PL.

Chapecoense announces match against Colombia’s Nacional

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SAO PAULO (AP) Brazilian club Chapecoense will play Colombia’s Atletico Nacional on April 4 in what will be an emotional home match.

[ MORE: Aguero left out of Argentina XI to face Bolivia ]

In November, 19 members of the Brazilian team died in an air crash outside Medellin as they travelled to play Nacional in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final. Out of 77 passengers, 71 died in the incident, including players, journalists, and club officials.

Chapecoense says they will play at 22,000-seat Arena Conda in southern Brazil in the first leg of the Recopa Sudamericana.

The tragedy made Atletico Nacional pronounce Chapecoense as champions, and the South American confederation agreed.

The Recopa Sudamericana is between the champions of the Copa Sudamericana and the Copa Libertadores.