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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.

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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.

VIDEO: Thirsty goalkeeper concedes bizarre goal

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Rule number one for a goalkeeper: always pay attention to the action if you’re going to take a swig from your water bottle in the net.

Duisburg goalkeeper Mark Flekken didn’t pay attention and he will see this clip played over and over again as he conceded a bizarre goal in the German second tier against Ingolstadt.

Take a look at the video below to see the unbelievable scenes as the commentary team sum it up best with  their stunned reaction.


Mourinho on Conte feud, facing Chelsea again

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Jose Mourinho will meet Chelsea once again on Sunday as the Manchester United manager welcomes his former club to Old Trafford (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Mourinho, 55, has been involved in a public spat with Antonio Conte in recent months but the Portuguese refused to dredge up any more abuse for the current Chelsea manager ahead of this crucial top four clash.

The duo traded insults earlier this year as Mourinho suggested Conte and other managerial rivals “acted like clowns” on the sidelines, while Conte said Mourinho perhaps had “demenza senile” and Mourinho hit back with a quip about Conte’s four-month ban for not reporting alleged match-fixing in Italy. The spat ended when Conte said Mourinho was a “little man” and “fake” and said he would not forget the comments.

“The real meaning [of this game] is two of the best teams in England, two of the biggest clubs, are playing a match,” Mourinho said when asked about Conte.

Mourinho has lost three of the four games he’s played against Chelsea since he became United’s manager and in the first defeat, a 4-0 hammering in the league in October 2016, he reacted angrily to overzealous celebrations from Conte on the sidelines.

Speaking to the media about Chelsea, Mourinho played down any sentimental feelings he has for the club he led to three Premier League titles over two spells in charge.

“To play against Chelsea will mean less and less and less with the years,” Mourinho said. “So of course I left already a couple of years ago, and next season [it will be] three years ago, so step by step that feeling of: ‘I was the Chelsea manager’ or ‘I was their manager’ for them I think disappears. I have a good relation with the [Chelsea] board.

“I don’t forget how nice they were to me in a difficult period with the departure of my father. They show me in that moment they feel me as a friend that did his best for the club and always respects the club. So the board know the relation with me is always good. With the players, I don’t have any problem, any regret, any stone on my shoes, no problem at all. And the fans are fans. With many of them in the street I feel that empathy and that relation that normally should be a connection and feeling forever. When I play at Stamford Bridge some reactions from the fans are just reactions.”

Mourinho is still admired and thanked by the vast majority of Chelsea’s fanbase but there is always going to be a small contingent who hurl abuse at Mourinho simply because he isn’t their manager anymore.

Since he was fired as their boss in December 2015, the “Special One” has been complimentary of his time at Chelsea but when he managed United in 2016 at Stamford Bridge, he wasn’t subjected to chants of “you’re not special anymore!” from the home fans, to which he held up three fingers to signify how many league titles he delivered.

Mourinho isn’t talking about his spat with Conte ahead of this game, but let’s see how things play out on Sunday. If Chelsea stroll into Old Trafford and win to throw United’s top four hopes into doubt, Mourinho will likely come out swinging.

Watch Live: Leicester City v. Stoke City

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Leicester City host Stoke City on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com) at the King Power Stadium.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Leicester currently sit in eighth place in the Premier League table and have one eye on finishing in the top six, while Stoke are second from bottom in the table but are just six points from the top 10.

In team news Leicester start Riyad Mahrez with Demarai Gray and Marc Albrighton in an attacking lineup, while Stoke bring in USMNT man Geoff Cameron in midfield with Stafyldis and Martins Indi coming into defense.

LINEUPS

Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Maguire, Morgan, Chilwell, Ndidi, James, Mahrez, Albrighton, Gray, Vardy. Subs: Jakupovic, Dragovic, Fuchs, Iborra, Silva, Diabate, Iheanacho.

Stoke City: Butland; Bauer, Martins Indi, Zouma, Stafyldis; Cameron, Badou, Allen; Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting; Diouf. Subs: Grant, Pieters, Jese, Johnson, Adam, Ramadan, Campbell

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”