Drilling down on: Los Angeles 5, at Portland 3

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Man of the Match: Two goals, one assist, and a night that will be remembered in the legend of David Beckham. The two goals were ones for the highlight reel, even if they’ll be hard to distinguish from his other memorable goals. Still, years from now people you’ll hear the refrain: “I once saw Beckham hit two bombs, back-to-back in Portland. Two goals in the first 25 minutes.”

Beckham opened his account in the 19th minute, when confusion between Portland midfielders left him an uncontested chance from 26 yards. It was too easy to curl an equalizer into the left-side netting.

Five minutes later, a dead ball at 24 yards out proved just as easy to convert, with teammates crowded into Portland’s porous wall helping Beckham give LA the lead.

In the 64th minute, another display of distinctly Beckham skill created LA’s final goal. A ball played back to him was hit first time from the center line past Portland left back Steven Smith, Beckham curling it onto the foot of the streaking Sean Franklin. Three touches later, Robbie Keane gave Los Angeles their final goal.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Portland came out in a new-look 4-2-3-1 with Lovel Palmer and Jack Jewsbury teaming in deep midfield behind Darlington Nagbe. It didn’t work:
    • Lovel Palmer’s positioning was poor throughout the half he played. On Beckham’s first goal, he was seen pointing to the spot he wanted Jewsbury to be in (while Jewsbury was marking another man). It wasn’t the first time Palmer disagreed with a teammate on his positioning. By the 46th minute, Palmer’s night was done.
    • Darlington Nagbe played too high in that playmaker’s role and didn’t do enough to show for the ball. As a result, Jewsbury was the player on the ball the most for the Timbers, and although he performed well, the formation is designed to play to Nagbe’s strengths. It didn’t.
  • Los Angeles’s midfield, by contrast, performed well despite potentially being outnumbered. Beckham had the luxury of being allowed to sit in defense and play deep in attack. Marcelo Sarvas put in admirable work picking up runners from midfield as well as playing to the edge of the box in the attacking phase.
  • All of which explains why Los Angeles was able to take control of the game after Portland’s opening goal, a clever finish by Kris Boyd off a Kalif Alhassan cross. From then on, Beckham was able to orchestrate from deep while Landon Donovan applied pressure in the final third.
  • After a Kosuke Kimura foul gave Donovan a penalty to convert for the third goal, pressure from the Galaxy captain created LA’s last goal of the half in the 28th minute – their fourth goal in 10 minutes. Donovan continued Steven Smith’s MLS struggles by beating him on the right flank before playing a ball across the six. Robbie Keane’s easy finish gave Donovan his 100th career MLS assist.
  • Kimura made up for his error with a goal, bringing his new team within one before half. The former Rapid took advantage of a ball spilled Josh Saunders, making it 4-2. Kris Boyd’s direct kick skidded to Saunders from 23 yards out. LA’s `keeper holds that most nights, but in Portland, it gave the Timbers hope 11 minutes before intermission.
  • Portland started the second half strong, but with the Timbers unable to get what would have been a crucial early goal, the match quickly evened out. Soon LA had restored their three-goal lead, Beckham starting the attack that culminated in Keane’s second goal.
  • To their credit, the Timbers maintained their intensity throughout the second half, though aside from Boyd’s second goal – a direct kick that beat Saunders along the ground, inside his left post – there weren’t many signs Los Angeles would give this game up. Long passes beating Portland’s high line make it more likely the Galaxy would score again, with Landon Donovan missing one breakaway chance on Troy Perkins.
  • After the game, new Portland coach Gavin Wilkinson said his team “gets a pass,” alluding to a week that saw the dismissal of John Spencer. Individual errors, he said, were responsible for Portland’s terrible first half, though he declined to name names. Lovel Palmer, however, was singled out by his substitution, and Steven Smith lost a crucial battle with Landon Donovan on the fourth goal.
  • It was a resounding victory for Los Angeles in a place few teams have won. Within 28 minutes, LA had posted four in a venue that’s played as a fortress throughout much of Portland’s MLS existence. Although it remains to be seen where this Timbers team will land, the win was as convincing a sign of LA’s resurgence as we’ve seen since the defending champions shook off their opening season slump.
  • For Portland, it was a terrible way to move out of the Spencer era. The one thing the Timbers had was Jeld-Wen, where they were coming off back-to-back wins over the Sounders and Earthquakes. Within 30 minutes, LA hinted Portland’s home field may not be so special anymore. Without it, what leg does Portland have to stand on?

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

Scott Heavey/PA via AP
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A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

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Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”