Takeaway messages from Portland’s Monday press conference

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers’ owner Merritt Paulson addressed local media Monday afternoon, explaining the team’s decision to move on from the only coach its MLS version had ever known. He was joined by Gavin Wilkinson, who temporarily adds interim head coach to his general managerial responsibilities.

The reason for Spencer’s dismissal: “[F]undamental philosophical differences,” according to Paulson, who initially read from a prepared statement. The duo declined to go into detail, though a few things can be inferred: the decision was not an easy one (Paulson became emotional at one point during the press conference); the team is not meeting expectations (which were to make the playoffs this year); and management feels the squad has the talent to do so (with Wilkinson saying there’ll be no major chances).

Here are the big takeaways from Monday’s press conference:

“I’ve been responsible for signing all the players. I’ve been responsible for bringing the staff on board, and they’re quality people. We all have another level we can go to. It’s a matter of finding that level.”

“I’ve been responsible for bringing all those players here. Now it’s up to me to get a little bit more out of them. ” – Wilkinson

One of the bigger questions surrounding this year’s Timbers is where John Spencer’s input ended and Gavin Wilkinson’s authority began. Spencer had always maintained he had input, and on Monday, Wilkinson affirmed that personnel decisions were a product of a meeting of the minds. Those meetings go out of the window with Wilkinson’s appointment, though Paulson made clear: “I am a strong believer in the importance of separating the coach and GM role …”

“We’ve got, initially, 10 coaches we’ll be assessing,” Paulson said. He’s targeting the off-season, hoping to have a new, long-term solution in place by the end of 2012.

Until then, don’t expect big changes.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a major overhaul,” Wilkinson said. “We’re looking at maximizing the potential, the ability of the players have – getting a little bit more out of them, getting a little more consistent … just strive to make the playoffs.”

“… I think any time you step into this you have high expectations of yourself, and you work for an organization that lives it and breathes excellence. Of course you’re going to feel a little bit of pressure.” – Wilkinson

Paulson and Wilkinson avoided any indictment of Spencer, but with Wilkinson making it clear the current team won’t be blown up, the pressure moves onto his shoulders. Whatever Spencer wasn’t providing, he’s going to be expected to give, particularly since he was one of the cooks in the kitchen. He’s keenly aware of the expectations.

First, though, he has to figure out which is the real Timbers’ team: The one that shows up at JELD-WEN, or the one that can’t win on the road.

“If anything [the players] should feel a little bit more relaxed on the road – a little bit less pressure – and more at ease and be able to express themselves greater on the field. That’s something that we’re going to continue to tick boxes and see if we can work that one out, but that’s one of the major, main tasks that I do have.” – Wilkinson

This home-road schism’s no longer a cute, expansion year joke. It’s clearly one of the issues that’s preoccupying the team, and over the last week, the divide has reached extremes. Portland has beaten San Jose and Seattle at home while losing by an aggregate 0-6 at Colorado and Real Salt Lake.

“I’ve never been in this situation where I’ve seen such a drastic difference from a team at home versus away,” Wilkinson added. It’s his problem, now.

“We can talk about any of these things until we’re blue in the face,” Paulson interjected. “I prefer to actually go out and show it … that’s something I do expect to see development on.”

“Philosophy is today what it was when we kicked off our MLS existence in 2011. The expectations are exactly the same. We talked about building through youth and athleticism. In our second year, we had the expectations of making the playoffs. By our third year, we wanted to have a team that was competing for MLS Cup.” – Paulson

Portland’s not preforming to those expectations, but they’re not too far off. While it’s hard to imagine them making the leap to title contender by next March, they’re still in the playoff picture now.

Multiple times, Paulson stressed Spencer’s dismissal wasn’t a record-driven decision; however, there must have been doubts as to whether Spencer could take the team to the playoffs. It’s hard to see Portland dismissing Spencer if they believed he would keep them on course.

“I want to have a team that does as well as it can possibly do and is a consistenly elite team in this league,” Paulson would later say. “That decision wasn’t made by looking at performance right now, but really just how we were going about certain things.”

However Portland’s going to become a title contender next season, Paulson no longer saw Spencer as the man to take them there.

“You know people talk about, in similar press conferences in sports, what a great person the departing coach is – how much we like him. This is a case where that has the added virtue of being true. There’s nothing I like more in our games than looking down at John when we score a goal, see him first pumping and looking up at me. I like him a lot. This is a very painful decision to make.” – Paulson

It sounds like something out of a “How To Fire Your Coach With Class” handbook, but before recalling Spencer’s sideline enthusiasm, Poulson started to choke up, his desire to push through compromised by a voice tightening with emotion. The words are standard. The delivery was not.

“These decisions aren’t easy,” he later added, asked about the moment. “There’s a human factor to it, and I don’t take that lightly. If I seem emotional, I guess I’m …” He paused to pick the right words. “[It was] a little bit surprising, as I was reading [the announcement].

“It is what it is.”

You only fire your first MLS coach once.

Portland Timbers’ fan blog Stumptown Footy has video of today’s press conference, in which you can see Paulson struggle toward the end of his prepared remarks.

Leagues Cup preview: MLS gets its next shot at Liga MX

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It’s not a typo; The s is very real.

The Leagues Cup — not the League Cup — is the new competition pitting Major League Soccer sides against some of the top sides from Mexico’s Liga MX.

The tournament has been expanded before it’s even seen a ball kicked in competition, as the second edition with go from eight to 16 teams.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

For now, though, we’ve got four American and four Mexican sides meeting over the next two months in a bid for North American supremacy not unlike a CONCACAF Champions League stripped of all the minnows.

Much like the CCL, the Mexican sides will be expected to triumph, even with all of the quarterfinals being staged in the United States.

Chicago Fire hosts Cruz Azul on Tuesday, followed by the LA Galaxy’s visit from Club Tijuana.

Wednesday will see the Houston Dynamo host Club America, and Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake.

The winners meet Aug. 20, while the final will be played Sept. 18 in Las Vegas.

There’s a lot of promise in this, and it gives MLS another chance to make some statements about the distance between it and Liga MX. The Mexican sides have flat out dominated the CCL, and it’s not difficult to make the same prediction for this tournament.

But, like many tournaments, it also gives success-starved clubs a chance to give their fans something big and their players a tonic. For Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s Chicago, for one, it’s a huge opportunity. And for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy, it’s a look toward another piece of silverware for one of the world’s biggest trophy cases.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.

Clark County “declines to prosecute” Ronaldo for rape

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Cristiano Ronaldo will not face sexual assault charges for a June 2009 incident in the United States, attorneys say.

An American woman filed a civil lawsuit against the Juventus superstar last year, claiming that Ronaldo forced himself upon her while she was in a prone position in his hotel room.

[ MORE: Bayern keen on Zaha ]

Ronaldo had expressed belief that he would be cleared of the claims, and claimed that graphic documents produced by German publication Der Spiegel were altered and fabricated.

Las Vegas police issued a warrant in a bid to get Ronaldo’s DNA, and the DA’s office says the woman’s refusal to name her attacker stopped them for collecting “vital evidence.” The woman reached a civil settlement with Ronaldo in 2010.

From News3LV.com:

“Based upon a review of the information presented at this time, the allegations of sexual assault against Cristiano Ronaldo cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the D.A.’s office said. “Therefore, no charges will be forthcoming.”