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.

Tuanzebe injured in warm-ups, Rojo now in Manchester United XI

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Well then.

Manchester United’s announced XI has changed thanks to a presumed injury to center back Axel Tuanzebe.

Marcos Rojo will take the youngster’s place in a back three with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof.

Liverpool and United kickoff from Old Trafford at 11:30 a.m. ET (Watch live at on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The 29-year-old Rojo has played four times this season, but just 30 minutes in the Premier League.

Phil Jones has been added to the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Rojo, Young, Fred, McTominay, Pereira, James, Rashford. Subs: Romero, Mata, Martial, Jones, Greenwood, Garner, Williams.

Liverpool: Alisson, Robertson, Van Dijk, Matip, Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Mane, Origi, Firmino. Subs: Adrian, Lovren, Milner, Keita, Gomez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana.

Lukaku scores 2, celebrates with Conte as Inter Milan bounces back

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If this guy was still in red, Manchester United would have a lot more hope heading into today’s visit from Liverpool.

Romelu Lukaku scored his fourth and fifth Serie A goals of the season on Sunday as Inter Milan outlasted Sassuolo 4-3 at Stadio Citta del Tricolore.

[ MORE: Pulisic Watch Sargent scores ]

Lautaro Martinez also scored twice in the win, as Inter rebounded from its loss to Juventus and reclaimed second place. Inter sits a point back of The Old Lady.

Lukaku caused a bit of buzz online when he raced over to manager Antonio Conte following his second goal for a fiery embrace (It’s Conte. Fiery is his thing).

From Football-Italia:

“Conte and I are both team players, so when I score a goal, I want to celebrate with everyone. I am focused only on working and giving my best in every match.”

Inter is home to Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday in almost a must-win given its slow start to life in the Champions League.

Lukaku, who’s also scored six goals in his last four appearances for Belgium, already has a goal in a Milan Derby and a solid strike partner in Martinez.

He ranks near the top of Inter’s performance charts on WhoScored, chipping in on the defensive end as well.

Watch Live: Manchester United v. Liverpool

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Manchester United chases a notable home win over rivals Liverpool without Paul Pogba and David De Gea, as the visitors look to match a pair of Premier League records on Sunday at Old Trafford (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Liverpool can tie the standard for consecutive away Premier League wins (9) while also winning its 18th-straight league match.

There’s a place on the Manchester United bench for Anthony Martial, but there are three center backs in the forms of Harry Maguire, Axel Tuanzebe, and Victor Lindelof.

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah is not ready for any sort of return.

David De Gea and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have passed fit for United, while Divock Origi starts with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane for Liverpool.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Tuanzebe, Young, Fred, McTominay, Pereira, James, Rashford. Subs: Romero, Mata, Martial, Rojo, Greenwood, Garner, Williams.

Liverpool: Alisson, Robertson, Van Dijk, Matip, Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Mane, Origi, Firmino. Subs: Adrian, Lovren, Milner, Keita, Gomez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana.

Ederson as the league’s best? Increased action, stats make the case

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Christian Benteke rose above a pack of players, snapping a header toward the far post and, perhaps, a Crystal Palace lifeline against Manchester City.

The view from outside the 18 best tells the story of what happened next, as City goalkeeper Ederson appears from behind the fray to stop the ball from reaching its location with a remarkable save.

He had a few of those in Saturday’s win, the latest in which City’s Brazilian backstop kept a clean sheet behind cobbled together back line.

One of his makeshift center backs, Fernandinho, labeled the performance “superb,” while Pep Guardiola said the saves were “incredible.”

We’re seeing a lot more love for Ederson these days, mostly it seems because City is conceding more shots and the Brazilian has to play a bigger role.

The PL’s second place side and two-time reigning champs are one of five clubs to allow less than 10 goals this Fall, helping City stay within reasonable distance of Liverpool in a bid for a three-peat.

Brought for his skills in possession, Ederson has completed a league-high 90 percent of his passes and 65 percent of his long balls. Only three others are above 80 percent on all passes and just Kasper Schmeichel is above 50 percent on long balls.

Ederson, though, has been so much busier in dangerous spots, with his 19 saves inside the box behind only the backstops for three much weaker teams in Norwich City’s Tim Krul, Brighton’s Mat Ryan, and Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka.

[ MORE: Pulisic Watch  | Sargent scores ]

Perhaps this should then serve as a warning signal as City waits for Nicolas Otamendi to be fully fit, let alone star center back Aymeric Laporte‘s long-term return.

According to SofaScore, only the outstanding Bernd Leno and Ryan rate better than Ederson on the whole, and the incredible passing numbers take him over the top.