Three things to take from Portland’s win over FC Dallas

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In a brilliantly exciting match that featured 37 shots, it was the most unlikely one that picked up the huge three points for Portland.

Darlington Nagbe’s turn-around shot smashed the top corner of the net, and Dallas could do nothing to bring it back level, seeing their lead in the Western Conference sit at just one point.

Despite just the one goal, the match was entertaining to say the least, with goalkeeping at a world-class level and dangerous set-pieces dotting the landscape.

So what did this delightful two hours learn us?

1) Portland is peaking at the right time

It probably should have been more than just a one-goal gap between the teams as Diego Chara was stoned twice by Raul Fernandez and stuck a one-on-one chance wide, but the Timbers absolutely deserved the three points.

The new Western Conference leaders haven’t lost since March 9. It’s a real accomplishment that their unbeaten streak, which now sits at 13 matches, is still going strong – they’ve beaten the teams they should by scorelines they should (Portland 3-0 Chivas USA), salvaged gritty draws with tough opponents on the road (A surging Chicago 2-2 Portland), and picked up clutch wins against top teams when given the chance (Portland 1-0 FC Dallas, Kansas City 2-3 Portland).

With three straight away league matches before tonight, they picked up 5 points.  The home shutout streak is up to over 480 minutes now, and even the most potent offenses can’t find an answer to Donovan Ricketts and his gang in front of goal.

Portland are in the middle of a stretch where they have to face 4 playoff-position teams in 6 matches, and the other two are in 6th place, plus Chicago.  So that’s 6 top-6 clubs in 6 matches, plus Chicago. “They” always say peak at the end of the season, but by playing their best soccer yet during this stretch, it’s playing out perfectly for the Timbers.

2) Anyone is vulnerable when a team is missing players

Dallas’s “Big 3” at the top were missing, and it showed.  With Blas Perez on international duty with Panama and Kenny Cooper few home to take care of a family emergency, Eric Hassli only lasted 8 minutes before his back injury took its toll.  That left David Arturo Ferreira and Je-Vaughn Watson to roam the attacking third, and it didn’t work out so well.

Let’s not take away from what Donovan Ricketts did between the sticks, as he was a major part of Portland’s win, stopping what chances the replacements were able to muster.  But the Dallas buildup was seriously lacking at the front end, and it showed.

3) It’s the Western Conference’s season to lose

The top 3 clubs in the Western Conference this season have picked up 20 points from 13 matches against the East.  The top 3 clubs in the Eastern Conference have just 15 points in 11 matches.  That’s not a huge difference, but if it weren’t for Montreal, they’d have just 5 points in 7 matches.

The Western Conference has beaten up on each other, but this is their season to drop the ball.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

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Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

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“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

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Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

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New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.