Circling back on Kris Boyd’s place under Caleb Porter

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Despite missing eight games last season, Kris Boyd was the Portland Timbers’ leading scorer, albeit with a modest seven goals. And while that status is augmented his place as the club’s highest paid player, the former Rangers star finds himself out of his team’s plans before his first training session with new head coach Caleb Porter, the situation creating a quandary for both player and club.

At least, that’s the situation the sides find themselves in after a surprisingly blunt assessment during Porter’s introductory press conference.

The 29-year-old striker was signed as a Designated Player during last year’s preseason, his $1.5 million total compensation dwarfing the salaries of a team whose next-highest 2012 earner made $356,250 (Danny Mwanga). For that, the Timbers expected a player who would be among the league’s leading scorers. Instead, they got a striker who failed to have a consistent impact on games, head coach John Spencer unable to forge a connection between his countryman and Darlington Nagbe.

By the time Gavin Wilkinson stepped in for Spencer at the beginning of July, Boyd was losing his place in the team. Bright Dike started seeing the bulk of time as the Timbers started auditions for Porter’ eventual arrival.

With their formation shifting from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, Boyd no longer fit. He finished the year injured and out of the team.

In that respect, it’s not surprising Boyd doesn’t seem to be in Porter’s plans. What is surprising is the nature in which the news was revealed.

During his Tuesday introduction, the tone seemed to change when a reporter asked about Boyd. Porter paused, seemed to consider how blunt he wanted to be, and then offered a euphemism before laying the truth bare, providing a startlingly frank assessment that gave the room pause.

Here’s the full question and response:

Q: Coach, can you tell me how Kris Boyd fits into your plans?

A: Kris Boyd is obviously contracted to be a member of the Portland Timbers. But what I will say is after watching him play quite a bit — and I have watched this team play quite a bit — Kris Boyd is a player that I think will have a hard time playing the way that we want to play.

That’s no knock on Kris. He would fit in a lot of different systems, but with what I want out of my strikers, it’s going to be very difficult for him to offer what I’m looking for in that position.

At the same time, if he comes back and proves that he can offer those things, then certainly he’ll be given the chance to play like anybody else. But based on what I’ve seen, based on certainly what he’s shown as a player, it’s going to be difficult for him to fit in.

Later, Porter was asked to describe what he looks for from his strikers:

Q: What do you need out of your striker?

A: I like … (my strikers) to score goals.

Q: But there are things that lead to that, obviously.

A: Yes. The striker, to me, is more than that, actually – than (just) scoring goals. They need to fit into the team. They need to be the first line of pressure when we’re defending. They need to be obviously a guy that can also be a linking player when we’re playing through them. They help with our connection with the midfielders in combination play. They need to be a guy first and foremost who’s threatening to the back line.

Ultimately, I prefer a bit more pace-y, athletic, powerful, presence in the striker position. But ultimately, they need to score goals, too.

I’m of two minds about how this went down. There’s no doubt Boyd doesn’t fit in Portland. He didn’t fit under Spencer or Wilkinson, and he’s even less likely to fit under Porter. He hasn’t contributed anything beyond his modest goal total, has none of the qualities Porter wants in a striker, and seemed an inferior option to Dike, a player who spent part of the summer in USL Pro. Boyd just wasn’t very good, and with one of Major League Soccer’s few million dollar salaries, he’s practically untradeable.

Still, there is an element of message-sending to Porter’s response that’s disconcerting. An introductory press conference seems a poor venue for singling out spare parts, particularly considering Porter has yet to meet or train with his full team. The coach said he has been in touch with almost all of his players, but he’s still a week away from his first practice.

source: Getty ImagesThis hugely expensive asset, this player that’s “contracted to be a member of the Portland Timbers” – Porter hasn’t evaluated him in person, yet. While Portland’s new coach eventually said Boyd will have a chance to impress him, the comment seemed more a concession than legitimate opportunity.

But judging Boyd is not the problem here. Porter has also passed judgments on Will Johnson, Michael Harrington, Ryan Johnson, and Diego Valeri – the new Timbers who will to help where Boyd could not. Nobody can begrudge a coach’s right to evaluate somebody outside of practice, regardless of whether those evaluations are positive or negative.

How that judgment was delivered is the problem. Whether he was effective or not, Boyd put forth effort for the Timbers last year. Even at the end of the season, when he’d been out of the team for some time, Boyd was reportedly willing to come back an help the team play out a string of inconsequential games. That willingness may seem obligatory given his lucrative contract, but the attitude underscored Boyd’s commitment.

In time, we may see this kind of honesty as one of Caleb Porter’s virtues. Perhaps he is intent on being open and forthright while trusting us to process the information correctly.

Even by that standard, there was still something strange about how Porter’s comments. He made it very clear the Timbers organization wants to move on from their expensive mistake. While that’s an understandable position, an introductory press conference may not have been the right platform for that message.

Mesut Ozil lauds Arsenal’s “sexy football”

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Mesut Ozil and Arsenal put on a “sexy” second half display to beat Leicester City 3-1 on Monday, as the Gunners extended their winning streak to 10 games in all competitions and seven in the Premier League.

Ozil, 30, captained Arsenal and put in a silky display as he scored an equalizer right on half time, then orchestrated a thorough dismantling of Leicester’s defense in the second half.

First, his perfect through ball found Hector Bellerin who crossed for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to make it 2-1, then moments later Ozil’s clever flick sparked a flowing move into life as he then dummied a ball into the box before using the outside of his left foot to audaciously flick it into the path of Aubameyang to wrap up the win.

Arsenal’s playmaker took to social media after the game and gave a pretty accurate assessment of what went on.

“I think we played some sexy football tonight. Proud captain of this team and this club!” Ozil said.

Unai Emery handing Ozil the captains armband seems to be a bit of a masterstroke, with the German star having a tough time off the pitch over the past few months due to his ongoing dispute with the German FA after retiring from the international game following their 2018 World Cup failure.

Ozil had a slow start to the season at Arsenal and was subbed off by Emery regularly but it appears he is know the heartbeat of the Gunners attack once again and he looks hungry to lead the team who are currently on the crest of a wave. Ozil has now scored four times in his last six games for the Gunners and after signing his new contract in the summer the former Real Madrid star looks settled under Emery.

It is still too early in the season to see whether or not Ozil and Arsenal are set to mount a serious title or top four challenge but the early signs under Emery are encouraging.

Yes, defensively they are coughing up plenty of big chances and Leicester could feel aggrieved to not be handed a penalty kick but going forward Arsenal are in fine form and Ozil is the main man behind the “sexy football” which looks sharper, quicker and more dynamic under Emery.

Bolt unlikely to agree to terms with Australian club

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Usain Bolt’s search for a professional contract may go on a bit longer.

According to the Central Coast Mariners, the Australian club he’s been training with, they have extended Bolt a contract, but conceded a deal is “unlikely” “without the financial contribution of an external third-party,”

Reports across Europe state that Bolt is looking for a $3 million contract from any team he signs with, and the Mariners appear unable to meet those demands. “We are looking at ways to do this as the club does not have the luxury to be able to do this in the Hyundai A-League,” the club said in a statement. According to a report by the Guardian, the Australian football governing body has contributed $100,000 from its marketing fund for the contract, but would add no more than that.

Bolt scored twice in a friendly last week, and he’s been training with the club for the past few weeks, but the club announced that while talks are ongoing, Bolt will not travel with the team or attend training “to ensure that there is no distraction to the Hyundai A-League squad in preparing for this weekend’s match versus Melbourne City.”

The A-League side said in the statement that while Bolt is improving, the former sprinter requires further training to become a viable professional player. “Usain has made great progression during his time on the Central Coast and we feel that he will improve further with more individual intensive training and competitive game time.”

However, the club’s head coach wasn’t so complimentary. “Do you think he’ll get in our front three? We’ve got a very good front third,” Mike Mulvey said. Central Coast sports former Leeds United, Fulham, and Aston Villa striker Ross McCormack up front, alongside 26-year-old Australian international Tommy Oar and 24-year-old Connor Pain who has one cap for the international side.

Bolt doesn’t exactly have a ton of time to improve his game, already at 32 years of age and with a full Olympic-medal-winning professional sprinting career on his legs.

Man United hosts Juventus to headline Champions League Tuesday

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The stars align at Old Trafford on Tuesday as Manchester United hosts Juventus at the forefront of the Champions League slate.

Cristiano Ronaldo returns to face his old club and his old manager, while Paul Pogba also takes on his former team as the top spot in Group H is on the line. Ronaldo is back in Champions League action since September 19 when he was controversially sent off, earning a one-match suspension he served in a 3-0 win over Young Boys.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho told the players after throwing away a late lead against Chelsea to “use the anger to motivate ourselves to play a big match.” They’ll take on a Juventus team that’s slightly banged up, missing Mario Mandzukic, Emre Can and Sami Khedira all out injured. Manchester United also has its own issues, with Alexis Sanchez unavailable with Mourinho confirming he’s “not fit” although no other injury information was given.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Manchester City travels east to take on Ukranian club Shakhtar Donetsk. Group F is crowded through two matches, with City in second a point behind Olympique Lyon at the top. Kevin De Bruyne is in the squad after returning from injury over the weekend, coming off the bench for 32 minutes of Premier League play against Burnley. They’ll look to attack a Shakhtar defense that choked away a 2-0 lead against Lyon last time out. City has Kyle Walker available as well, announced as part of the matchday squad.

Bayern Munich visits AEK Athens having returned to winning ways over the weekend with a 3-1 victory over Wolfsburg. It’s a welcome sight for Niko Kovac, who was under fire for a terrible stretch of games, but now the Bavarians have a positive result to take with them on the road. Robert Lewandowski and James Rodriguez were both on the scoresheet, with the Polish international grabbing a brace.

Ajax takes on Benfica in Amsterdam as the Dutch side looks to extend its lead at the top of Group E. They’re tied with Bayern on points, but hold a slightly superior goal differential. Since falling to PSV Eindhoven in Eredivisie play, they have blown out Fortuna Sittard, AZ Alkmaar, and Heerenveen 11-0 over their last three games. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar already has 10 goals this season across all competitions, and former Southampton attacker Dusan Tadic is right behind him with 9.

Real Madrid has its best chance to turn around the poor run of play as they host Czech club Viktoria Plzen. Madrid has not won since September 22, a run of five matches that consists of four defeats. The club broke a scoreless streak of over 450 minutes last time out in a 2-1 loss to Levante, but the pressure has only increased on head coach Julen Lopetegui.

Other matches

Young Boys vs Valencia
AS Roma vs CSKA Moscow
Hoffenheim vs Lyon

Puel, Schmeichel fume at referee after Leicester loss to Arsenal

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While the world looked on at the performance by Mesut Ozil in awe, Leicester City manager Claude Puel and Foxes goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel were left stewing after the match at a first-half decision which they believed changed the game completely.

Had the referee awarded a penalty for a Rob Holding handball in the first half with Leicester City up 1-0, the game would likely have turned out very differently. Holding, already on a yellow card, would have likely been sent off and Leicester City would have a chance from the spot to go up 2-0.

“I think [the first half was] our best half since the beginning of the season,” Puel said after the match. “We deserved to score more goals and make the difference in the first half. I didn’t understand why the referee didn’t whistle for the penalty, because in this moment it was a penalty, it was a second yellow card and so a sending off for the Arsenal player. This situation can change the finality of the game.”

Puel said that once the call was not made, and Arsenal was able to equalize before the break, Leicester City’s level of play dropped enough for the Gunners to pounce.

“I regret a little our beginning of the second half. We lost a lot of balls and we gave them the ball too easily to put us under pressure, but we have had the chances to score and to be leading in the game with the header from Ndidi. A lot of regret in this game because we showed a lot of quality and we were not lucky with the refereeing decision.”

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was in agreement with his manager about the key first-half decision. “We got no help from the official,” Schmeichel said. “I’ve never seen a clearer penalty. It’s tough to take because we were so good in the first half but in the second we’ve got to do a lot better than we did.”

At halftime, the replay showed the ball clearly hitting Holding’s forearm while above his head. However, the NBC studio crew argued that the penalty was not called because Holding’s arm was hit into the ball by the Leicester City attacker who attempted a header, and that although his arm was above his head, it was not in an unnatural position due to the natural human instinct to balance the body while jumping into the air.