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Timbers, Thorns Stand Together for unique volunteer effort

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While World Cup qualifying grabs the headlines, players from the Timbers and Thorns are going to work – wielding paint brushes and shovels.

For the past six years, the Timbers organization has staged Stand Together Week, a massive volunteer effort – recognized by the city of Portland – that involves players, front office staff, supporters and anyone else who wants to join in.

Partnered with Hands on Greater Portland, the team identifies nonprofits that need help then unleashes volunteers. Scores of projects are lined up on any given day. Even Timbers organization owner Merritt Paulson helped clean and weed a park this week.

[ MORE: USMNT-T&T preview ]

Most professional sports teams and athletes do charitable work, but it’s unusual for an entire team to collectively devote an entire week and help dozens of organizations all at once. The team says that since 2012, Stand Together volunteers have devoted 12,631 hours of service at more than 163 events benefiting kids and the environment.

Paulson said the Timbers get inquiries from other pro sports teams about how it works.

“A weeklong, city-endorsed celebration with over 1,000 volunteers, and players from all three of our teams – the Timbers, Thorns and T2 – engaged in the community, it’s just unbelievably special,” Paulson said. “And it’s a huge undertaking. When we first did it I remember pushing back on my staff and asking `Are we spreading ourselves too thin?’ and `Do you think people will really turn out?’ The answer was yes, and then some. Each of these events gets filled to the brim with volunteers.”

The Timbers enjoy a unique relationship with the city that dates back to 1975, which the team joined the NASL. The Timbers have sold out 114 matches, and the Thorns have the highest average attendance (by far) in the National Women’s Soccer League.

“We didn’t do it to build a brand, we did it because it’s who we are,” Paulson said. “We take our responsibility to shine a light on areas that could use a little more help extremely seriously, as I think any sports team should. But there’s no question I think that what we’re doing and the way we’re doing it is unique.”

On Tuesday, Timbers players Diego Chara and Victor Arboleda helped out at a development being built by Willamette West Habitat for Humanity.

[ MORE: How will Arena line ’em up? ]

Chara was charged with clearing out invasive berry bushes near the home.

“I think for me it’s spending time in the community, for me that’s the key part,” Chara said. “It’s a different project (than soccer), and I think every player enjoys that.”

Later in the evening, Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri and Thorns coach Mark Parsons were among those who helped paint two visiting rooms at the Beaverton, Oregon, offices of the Department of Human Services.

As Parsons detailed a mural, a fellow volunteer asked him if he was an artist.

“Quite the opposite. I’m horrendous,” Parsons said, laughing. “But I try.”

GAME (S) OF THE WEEK: The U.S. national team plays in a pair of World Cup qualifying matches this week. First up is a match Thursday night against Trinidad and Tobago in Colorado. Then the Americans travel for a match against Mexico in Mexico City.

The United States is in fourth place in its six-team group with four points, while Trinidad and Tobago is last with three points. Mexico leads the standings with 10 points. The top three teams from the group qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

Because of qualifying games, many regular MLS players are currently with their national teams.

OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST: There are only three games up this weekend, all on Saturday: Atlanta plays at the Chicago Fire, FC Dallas visits the Timbers, and Sporting Kansas City hosts Montreal.

HONORS: FC Dallas winger Roland Lamah was named the Player of the Week for his three goals in a 6-2 victory over Real Salt Lake last Saturday. It was his first pro hat trick.

Meanwhile, Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic was voted Player of the Month by the media. He had six goals and an assist in May, while the Fire went 4-0-1.

Nikolic leads the league with 11 goals this season.

CANADIAN PRIDE: Sixteen-year-old Vancouver midfielder Alphonso Davies had a big Tuesday. Not only did his become a Canadian citizen, he got called up to the Canadian national team.

“Not many people can say they’re a Canadian citizen, knowing that it’s one of the best countries in the world. I’m very proud that I’m one of those people,” he said in a statement after passing the test. “I’m also extremely thankful to my parents for everything they’ve done throughout the years, carrying the family to this safe environment. This is our home. This is where I grew up. And now to have the opportunity to represent the men’s national team is a great honor.”

Davies will join the Canadian team for a training camp in Montreal in advance of an exhibition match against Curacao.

Davies, whose parents fled Liberia, was born in Buduburam refugee camp in Ghana. The family moved to Canada when he was 5 years old.

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win 2-0

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The game in 100 words (or less): The only thing standing in the way of New York City FC avenging their infamous 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls with a lopsided demolition job of their own, on Saturday, was an otherworldly goalkeeping performance from Luis Robles. It was the Red Bulls shot-stopper, with his four saves on the afternoon (three of them coming in spectacular fashion), who kept Jesse Marsch’s side within touching distance for more than an hour. Jack Harrison was denied early on by Robles, but got the better of him not long later for the game’s opening goal. Heroics from Robles kept the score at 1-0 for another 32 minutes, before Ben Sweat’s (accidental?) header made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, managed their first shot on target in the 80th minute. That’s three wins in a row for NYCFC, who go seven points clear of their Hudson River rivals and keep Toronto FC in sight at the top of the league table, five points ahead.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

18′ — Robles goes full-stretch to deny Harrison — David Villa’s vision and Rodney Wallace‘s hold-play created the chance for Harrison, but Luis Robles’ acrobatics denied the 20-year-old Englishman in spectacular fashion.

33′ — Harrison not to be denied this time — Sweat delivered the ball to Harrison near the top of the box, and the second-year man did everything right with what’s a really, really difficult chance to take — facing away from goal, first-time, ball traveling across the goalkeeper, upper-90 to the far post.

65′ — Sweat loops a header past Robles for 2-0 — Sweat probably didn’t mean it, but the ball hit the back of the net, and that’s all that matters. Not a bad time to score your first MLS goal, either.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Luis Robles

Goalscorers: Harrison (33′), Sweat (65′)

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.