MLS Preview: Portland Timbers at LA Galaxy

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  • Portland on a 13-match unbeaten run
  • Galaxy have allowed eight goals in their last two games
  • LA took nine of nine points from Portland last season

Remember that one time Caleb Porter lost a Major League Soccer game? Unless you’re a Timbers or Montréal Impact fan, you might not, because that single loss came in the season’s second round, before narratives around the league’s two most surprising teams became entrenched. But now, three-and-a-half months into the season, that March meeting at JELD-WEN looks like one of the more important games of the young season. The East-leading Impact remain the only team to derail Portland, while the Timbers have a 13-match unbeaten run.

If Portland’s to catch FC Dallas’s record of 19 without a loss (set in 2010), they’ll have to navigate a six-match stretch that includes four road games and two meetings with the defending champion Galaxy. But for a team that’d only won two road games in their MLS history coming into the season, games away from JELD-WEN suddenly pose surprisingly few fewer concerns. The Timbers have MLS’s only unbeaten record away from home (2-0-6).

The Galaxy games, however, could reintroduce an element Portland hasn’t dealtwith since the beginning of their run: Doubt. Coming into the year, the Timbers needed to prove their new coach’s concepts would lead to results, something that became evident by the middle of April. Since then the team has pushed on, become a confident, efficient team that’s as capable of opportunistic wins as impressive results. Yet although the Timbers have proved themselves against conference leaders (FC Dallas), league stalwarts (Dom Kinnear’s Houston), and some of the league’s most talented squads (Sporting Kansas City), the one true benchmark remains.

There is something different about the Galaxy. Two-time league champions, managed by the league’s best coach of all time, possessing transcendant talents like Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, Los Angeles is a unique challenge no matter the circumstances. The MLS embodiment of Atreyu’s mirror, LA engender doubts in anyone, not just the Timbers. Even without Omar Gonzalez, away on national team duty, the Galaxy are capable of presenting a greater challenge than any team in Major League Soccer. Even if they only sit fifth in the West, if LA decides tonight meeting in Carson’s a big game, recent history says they’re likely to win it.

Whether the Galaxy are capable of flipping the switch right now is a point of concern. Two weeks ago, the team was routed in New England, an embarrassing 5-0 loss that failed to serve as a wakeup call ahead of last week 3-1 defeat in Utah. Without Gonzalez, the team’s allowed eight goals in two games, terrible form to carry into a match against one of the league’s best attacks.

Unfortunately for the Timbers, their weaknesses play into LA’s greatest strength. Depleted by injuries at the back (having lost and Mikael Silvestre and David Horst while Futty Danso left Saturday’s win over Dallas), Portland will be particularly susceptible to a league best counter attack that’s buttressed back-to-back titles. Will Johnson and Diego Chara have done a great job protecting their center backs from other team’s counters, but other teams don’t have Donovan pulling the strings, Keane making the runs. Particularly away from the snug confines of JELD-WEN Field, Portland could see their vulnerabilities exposed.

There is, however the case to be made for Johnson and Chara. As well as the help they get from Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri, the support they receive as an outlet from Michael Harrington, as well as the disaster insurance that is right back Jack Jewsbury. Look beyond the drawbacks of Pa Modou Kah and Andrew Jean Baptiste and you see a complete picture that explains why a defense that was seen as a preseason liability has yet to pose a significant problem. The pieces around the men in the middle are compensating for the issue.

And against an LA central midfield that’s failed to assert itself this year — one that will be without Marcelo Sarvas (suspended, yellow card accumulation) — Portland may be able to claim another result. Without his partner, Juninho will need to find the form he carried through the middle of last season. Given his talents, that only seems like a matter of time, but unless he can pick up his game against a Timbers system that sends numbers at opponents with each change of possession, the Galaxy will have a difficult time springing those nightmare-inducing counters.

Regardless of who wins, we’re like to learn something tonight at StubHub Center (10:30 p.m. EDT kickoff). If Portland wins and climbs to the top of the West, they’ll send another notice to the rest of the league, claiming as validating result against the league’s standard-bearers. And if LA derails a team that carries a 13-match unbeaten into Carson, it will be affirm their place as the league’s true litmus test, rendering any contenders’ progress irrelevant until they’re tested against the defending champions.

Other notes: Omar Gonzalez will miss tonight’s match while on international duty. José Villarreal is also gone, with the U.S. U-20s, while Portland will be without Rodney Wallace, returning from international duty with Coast Rica … Los Angeles took all nine points from Portland last year, scoring five times in the team’s last meeting … Portland have never earned a point in Carson … Brian Rowe got the start last week in Utah. Few Galaxy fans would be upset if he keeps the struggling Carlo Cudicini on the bench … Todd Dunivant returned to full training this week. He could start only his third game in nine … Portland’s unbeaten run is the 10th-longest in MLS history … The run leaves Porter tied with Tom Soehn for the longest streak for a first-year head coach. Soehn did the same with D.C. United in 2008.

‘But hey this is MLS’: Wayne Rooney slams MLS’ travel arrangements

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Wayne Rooney is not a fan of MLS’ travel arrangements.

D.C. United lost 1-0 to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday in Canada, and had to fly back to the nation’s capital before prepping for a midweek showdown with visiting New York Red Bulls. To the 33-year-old Englishmen the trip should’ve taken six hours, not half a day.

MLS is notoriously known for the lack of charter flights it offers its teams, a mere four per season is the reported amount each team is allocated. Traveling on commercial flights has caused routine delays for a slew of team’s this season, with certain teams arriving only hours before the first whistle in some cases.

Players, however, will reportedly push for better travel in the upcoming CBA negotiations. Not only for Rooney, but for the majority of professional athletes around the world, flying charter is customary.

Upon his arrival to D.C. in 2018, Rooney turned down first-class flights offered by the Black-and-Red, among other fine accommodations. “If you are going to be part of the team, you have to be part of the team,” Rooney said on his decision to reject first-class flights and private hotel rooms. “All in and do the same things. I don’t want special treatment — I wanted to be treated the same as the players. I’m part of this team.”

Rooney, despite being on his way out of D.C. to join Derby County in January, is certainly a part of the team.

He is also now a part of the complex fight for better travel in MLS.

Vela scores 24th, LAFC clinches playoff berth

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SANDY, Utah (AP) – Carlos Vela scored his MLS-leading 24th goal of the season, Tyler Miller had four saves and Los Angeles FC beat Real Salt Lake 2-0 on Saturday night to clinch a playoff berth.

LAFC played a man down after defender Walker Zimmerman, who was shown a yellow card for time wasting in the 17th minute, was given a red for unsporting behavior in the 48th., Real Salt Lake’s Aaron Herrera, who blocked two would-be goals in the first half, was shown a straight red for denial of a goal scoring opportunity on Vela, who then converted from the spot to make it 1-0 in the 64th minute.

Vela, whose 15 assists are tied with Diego Valeri of the Portland Timbers for the league lead, broke the MLS record for combined goals and assists. Sebastian Giovinco’s had 22 goals and 16 assists for Toronto FC in 2015.

Miller has eight shutouts this season for LAFC (18-3-4), who have won four consecutive games and seven of their last eight dating to June 28.

Adama Diomande side-netted a rising right-footer to cap the scoring in the 82nd minute.

Salt Lake (12-10-4) had its six-game unbeaten streak, including three straight wins, snapped and allowed multiple goals for the first time since a 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on June 1.

Lampard: ‘We need more personality’

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Frank Lampard‘s baptism of fire as Chelsea boss continued on Sunday, as the Blue coughed up a 1-0 lead and were lucky to draw at home against Leicester City.

[ MORE: Pulisic watch. How did he do?

After being hammered at Manchester United in their opening PL game last weekend, then losing to Liverpool on penalty kicks in the Super Cup final in Istanbul on Wednesday, Chelsea started superbly against Leicester but only led 1-0 thanks to academy graduate Mason Mount scoring his first goal for the club.

Speaking to our partners Sky Sports after the game, Lampard revealed he was not happy at all with the second half display and urged his young side to show more personality on the pitch.

“It was a really good start, fantastic, and we could’ve been two or three goals up. We were quick, bright, energetic, then we allowed Leicester back in the game and in the second half I was not very happy, we offered them too many chances on the counter attack,” Lampard said. “We can only look at ourselves. In all our matches I have been delighted in big passages of having the ball but we didn’t have enough angles or options to keep the ball moving. We have to have more personality, we saw that in midweek, but today we didn’t have that.”

The most disappointing thing for Lampard will be the way Leicester grabbed hold of the game in the second half.

Brendan Rodgers‘ side launched counter after counter as Jorginho and N’Golo Kante were overrun in midfield by James Maddison and Youri Tielemans, and both Maddison and Jamie Vardy should have won the games for the Foxes.

“You can attack, but still be in positions to not allow the counter-attack,” Lampard added. “I’m not here to play great attacking football and then concede counter-attack goals. We need to show more than we did. I was under no illusions that there would be moments like this. We have to work on the pitch on the things we can improve.”

Lampard is spot on with his assessment, but how does he change things?

The most obvious thing is that he needs his team to be more consistent. They’ve started their last three games fast but failed to make the most of big chances and have been made to pay for that with some sloppy passing in midfield.

It is still early days for Lampard in his first season as a PL boss, while many of his youngsters are also finding their feet in the top-flight. Chelsea’s fans will stay patient but the fact that have yet to grab a win shows there is plenty of work to do but the Blues have shown flashes of brilliance, usually at the start of games.

Having a consistent lineup is one thing, but Lampard now needs his players to be brave, show their personality and stand tall for the cause as he ushers in his new era. Too many of them went missing in the second half against Leicester at Stamford Bridge, which will be more than a little concerning for the Chelsea legend.

Pulisic watch: How did USMNT star perform on home debut?

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Christian Pulisic made his home debut for Chelsea on Sunday, as the USMNT star started for the Blues against Leicester City at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: What did we learn? ]

How did the 20-year-old from Hershey, Pennsylvania get on during his first start in the Premier League?

The American playmaker played 70 minutes and although he, like Chelsea, started well, it’s safe to say he faded in the second half as the west London club gave up their lead and drew 1-1 against the Foxes.


2nd minute: Pulisic follows up after Schmeichel saved Mount’s effort but the Leicester goalkeper bundles the ball wide.

3rd minute: Gets free at the near post from the resulting corner but can’t flick the ball goalwards.

15th minute: Gives away a free kick for a foul on Ricardo Pereira.

19th minute: Cuts in from the left and plays a nice pass across the pitch to start an attack.

20th minute: Works back well defensively to put Pereira off his cross.

26th minute: Starts a great move which almost sees Kante score. Flicks it out to Emerson who finds Giroud to play in Kante.

27th minute: Pulisic pops up on the right flank and tries to cross into the box but his cross is blocked and goes out for a goal kick.

29th minute: The American switches flanks with Pedro and is now on the right wing.

30th minute: Pulisic races onto a loose ball but Schmeichel slides out and gets there just before him.

34th minute: Back on the left, taken down by Ayoze Perez as he runs towards the halfway line and looks to pass. Wins a free kick.

39th minute: A few nice touches on the ball but then loses the ball on the halfway line.

41st minute: Plays a bit of a strange back pass to Kepa which puts Chelsea under pressure.

45th minute: Pulisic blocks a cross as the ball smashes him in the ankle and he goes down injured.

46th minute: He is back on his feet and sends in a cross which is deflected out for a corner.

53rd minute: Drifts in from the left and plays a nice ball inside, moment laters plays it to Pedro who loses the ball.

63rd minute: Chases down a lost cause but Caglar Soyuncu calmly flicks the ball over his head.

66th minute: Cross comes in and looks like he is winding up for a bicycle kick but is bundled to the floor. No penalty kick.

70th minute: Shortly after Leicester equalize, Pulisic subbed off and replaced by Willian. A ripple of applause from the home fans.