MLS match preview: Portland Timbers at San Jose Earthquakes

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Portland’s undergone so many changes since last year, it’s useless to leverage any past experience to prepare for Caleb Porter’s new-look Timbers. And since their style’s so different from any other team in Major League Soccer, opponents don’t have a deafult plan to contain that type of approach. In a league short on stylistic diversity, Porter’s possession-hogging style can catch opponents by surprise, particularly on first impression.

That’s a theory that has a flip side. If a pass-happy Portland is benefiting from opponents being caught off guard, they’re likely in for some regression the second time around the league. Once a team’s been exposed to the Timbers’ venom, they can start developing some resistance. Eventually, somebody will come up with an antidote. (Not that this metaphor doesn’t describe the entire history of soccer tactics.)

Sunday night, we’ll see if San Jose’s built any resistance. One week after falling at JELD-WEN Field, the Supporters’ Shield holders welcome the Timbers to Buck Shaw, the second of the team’s back-to-back meetings.

The first proved eventful, though not always for the right reasons. Setting aside Alan Gordon’s transgression, San Jose used their physicality to try and slow down the their hosts, a plan that may have worked were it not for Will Johnson’s game-winning, 78th minute direct kick. The 1-0 win was not only Portland’s second-straight victory; it extended San Jose’s winless run to three.

Now the Earthquakes, a team that’s only scored more than one goal in a game once this season, will be without Gordon (suspended for four games). They should also be without Jason Hernandez in central defense, though for a San Jose that’s had to deal with major injury concerns throughout the season, there is some good news. Marvin Chavez, last year’s team leader in assists, declared himself ready-to-go on Wednesday, while right back Steven Beitashour played 45 minutes in a reserve match on Monday. If both play, San Jose will be as healthy as they’ve been all season despite the absences of Gordon and Hernandez.

But the Earthquakes biggest advantage may have nothing to do with their squad and everything to do with where Sunday’s game will be played. Through their first two-plus years in the league, Portland has only won three road games, a terrible “success rate” that’s yet to change under Porter. While the Timbers have drawn both their road games this season (at Seattle and at Colorado), they fell behind each time, giving up early goals in matches then never led. With Portland employing noticeably different approaches in their two road games (compared to what they’ve done at home), Porter’s yet to show this team can shake their Jekyll and Hyde ways.

The return of Diego Valeri might help. The Timbers’ Argentine playmaker missed last Sunday’s game. Portland elected to exercise caution while adhering to concussion protocol. This week, Valeri’s set to return, an addition which could help the Timbers convert their possession advantage (64.7 percent last week) into more shots on goal (only two).

For San Jose, Gordon’s absence could be a blessing in disguise. While it goes limit Frank Yallop’s options at forward, it almost assures the Earthquakes will play Chris Wondolowski up top, something that didn’t happen in Portland. At JELD-WEN, Yallop elected to use “Wondo” at right midfield while starting Gordon and Steven Lenhart at forward, a deployment that limited Wondolowski’s influence. With Chavez back a Gordon out, Wondolowski should return to the forward role that allowed him to win last year’s Most Valuable Player award.

Regardless of who starts, San Jose will need to come up with another way to slow down Portland. Last week, the Timbers responded to being roughed up, and given Yallop’s tactical preferences, we’re unlikely to see the kind of formation change that would help offset the Timbers’ advantages through the middle.

San Jose needs a new trick, but whatever approach Yallop employs, its success will likely hinge on the simplest thing: Can the San Jose’s team just play better?

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’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 C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world

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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

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

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.