ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Player of the Week: Portland Timbers’ midfielder Will Johnson

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On the one hand, you look at Real Salt Lake’s young, talented midfield and you understand why they would need to make such a painful choice, to cut ties with well-liked midfielder Will Johnson and his relatively high, veteran salary. That happened late last year.

On the other hand, this man is flat out getting it done these days for the Portland Timbers, a two-way force that seems utterly indispensable for new manager Caleb Porter and his ongoing style makeover around Jeld-Wen Field.

Never was that more evident than Saturday, when Johnson’s leadership as well as his two strikes were so essential in a huge result in the Timbers’ young season.

Colorado had a two-goal lead at home in the 48th minutes. Two goals. On the road. Generally speaking, that is that. Most visitors begin licking their wounds at that point, conserving energy for better chances ahead to collect points.

Johnson scored on goal to get his side within strike distance. Then the Canadian international confidently slammed home a penalty kick to complete the comeback in Portland’s 2-2 tie.

What the Timbers’ veteran midfield man said about going down 2-0 on the road:

It was a bigger hole than we thought that we were going to have to climb, a bigger mountain. When those things happen, they happen so quickly that you don’t have time to analyze it, and get down, and say, “now we need two”. You just have to focus one goal at a time. 2-0 is I think the most dangerous lead in soccer because as soon as you get one, you’re flying, and you’re coming right down their throat, and the other team usually can’t handle it. We knew if we were able to get the first one, that that was the hardest one, and that we’d be able to get a second.”

Other Timbers performed well enough in the draw, but Johnson clearly was The Man according to Timbers fans. In online voting through Facebook, he received 80 percent of the check marks for Portland Man of the Match.

And the clevers from Stumptown Footy obviously recognized Johnson’s potent contributions as the Timbers remained undefeated on the road (over just two matches, but still …).

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Team of the Week for round 5)

Uruguay reaches Round of 16 courtesy of Suarez

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The first two nations have advanced to the knockout phase out of Group A.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Uruguay reached the Round of 16 on Wednesday with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia, who has been eliminated from the 2018 World Cup.

Hosts Russia will also reach the knockout rounds with the Uruguay win, thus eliminating Egypt as well.

The Barcelona striker gave Uruguay the lead in the 23rd minute, after a poor read from Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais.

Suarez was given a wide-open finish at the far post off the corner kick for his first goal at the World Cup. The 31-year-old had scored a combined five goals during his last two World Cup appearances (2010 & 2014).

The Uruguyans dictated the tempo throughout much of the match, but Saudi Arabia’s back line held strong for the majority of the game.

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

Uruguay will close out group play against Group A leaders and hosts Russia on June 25, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt will tango that same day.

Video: Goalkeeping error grants Suarez, Uruguay gift

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Luis Suarez was clearly upset with his lack of finishing in Uruguay’s opener last Friday, but the Barcelona man is finally on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup.

[MORE: Ronaldo’s early header gives Portugal win over Morocco ]

The veteran striker gave Uruguay the lead in the 23rd minute after a close-range finish off of a corner kick.

Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais came out to try and collect the cross, however, he was slow in his reaction, allowing the ball to slip through to Suarez for the easy finish.

The Uruguayans will reach the Round of 16 with one match remaining if they hold on to their 1-0 lead.

NZ women’s coach placed on leave after player complaints

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) The coach of New Zealand’s women’s football team has been placed on leave pending an investigation of complaints about his conduct from members of the national team.

[ MORE: Senegal holds off late Poland charge for Group H win ]

The complaints centered around tactics Andreas Heraf used in a recent home international against Japan and his comments to media after that match. Players reportedly objected to the defensive nature of Heraf’s tactics in the 3-1 loss.

New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin said at a news conference on Wednesday that his organization had received a letter from the New Zealand Professional Footballers Association, containing letters of complaint from 13 national team members.

Defending his approach at a news conference after the match, Heraf said the New Zealand players would never have the “quality” to compete with a team of Japan’s ability and might have lost 8-0 if they had not adopted a defensive style.

Further reports have emerged of player concerns about Heraf’s behavior, including allegations of bullying.

Martin was repeatedly questioned at the news conference about when New Zealand Football first had notice of the players’ concerns about Heraf. He insisted he was not aware of any problems until the letter from the NZPFA containing the players’ complaints was released on Monday.

In a statement, New Zealand Football Chairman Deryck Shaw said player welfare was “of utmost importance.”

“We hold player welfare as a matter of utmost importance and that is why we are conducting a thorough, independent review. We want to ensure we better understand these issues in an objective review. There is no place for inappropriate behavior of any kind with New Zealand Football.”

Ronaldo’s early tally gives Portugal win over Morocco

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It was far from a convincing performance, but manager Fernando Santos and Co. came away with their first win at the World Cup and now sit in the drivers’ seat in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Portugal earned a narrow 1-0 win over Morocco on Wednesday, after Cristiano Ronaldo’s early header proved to be the difference.

Santos’ group now sits atop Group B with four points, while Morocco is eliminated after losing its first two matches.

It took just four minutes for Portugal to break the deadlock, with Ronaldo once again at the center of the Portuguese attack.

The Real Madrid man brilliantly latched onto a header at the near post off of a corner kick, giving Ronaldo his fourth goal at this World Cup (seventh goal overall).

Morocco did well to insert its presence in the match following the early goal, but various chances from Medhi Benatia and Hakim Ziyech weren’t enough to break past Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

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

The African side also had a legitimate appeal for a penalty kick in the first stanza, however, referee Mark Geiger opted to play on despite the Moroccan protest.

Morocco continued its pressure in the second half, and Patricio was forced to make an incredible save in the 57th minute when Younes Belhanda headed a cross towards the far corner.

Portugal will close out Group B play on June 25 against Iran, while Morocco takes on Spain