MLS Preview: LA Galaxy at Portland Timbers

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  • Teams tied for third in Western Conference
  • Portland’s 15-match unbeaten run snapped last week
  • Donovan out, Johnson unlikely to play

Caleb Porter and the Portland Timbers appear to have taken their streak-snapping result in stride, their 1-0 defeat in Columbus putting an end to their 15-game unbeaten run. Though they were four games short of history, Portland had yet to become preoccupied with their streak, all of coach and players insisting the run wasn’t a point of conversation within the team.

That they played last Saturday’s game down a man for nearly 80 minutes made the loss that much easier to take.

“It’s not a bad thing to taste defeat,” Porter explained, “we haven’t in 15 games. We’ve had a great run of results, and now that it’s midseason, it’s not all that bad to get bloodied and taste defeat. This team will respond positively from defeat, like good teams do, and I’m looking forward to seeing their response [this] week.”

There is no better test than the defending champs, with the teams meeting Saturday night (11:00 p.m. Eastern) at JELD-WEN Field. Even with Landon Donovan away at the Gold Cup, LA serves as a type of de facto standard. They’re still the team you’d least want to see when they’re in big game mode, as FC Dallas found out on Sunday. If Bruce Arena asks his team to hit fifth gear, the Timbers will face their stiffest test of the season.

Last month, Porter got his first glimpse of the defending champs, Portland getting a 0-0 draw in Carson on June 19. Omar Gonzalez was still away with the U.S. national team, though it didn’t matter. The teams played to a relative stalemate, the Galaxy able to offset the Timbers’ possession game while creating the match’s best chances.

You’d think things would improve for Portland in the snug surroundings of JELD-WEN’s field, but without Will Johnson, the Timbers will be missing their best player. The Timbers captain was back in Portland on Friday, no longer with Canada at the Gold Cup, but he along with Frédéric Piquionne, back from duty with Martinique, look unlikely to play (Rodney Wallace remains with Costa Rica). That means another start for Ben Zemanski beside Diego Chará in midfield, the duo tasked with protecting a central defense that will be without the suspended Pa-Modou Kah.

It’s more opportunity than Robbie Keane, our mid-season MVP, needs to be effective. He and Gyasi Zardes could be more than Futty Danso and Andrew Jean Baptiste can handle, if Portland loses the midfield battle. And with Marcelo Sarvas (who missed the teams’ first meeting) and Robbie Rogers seemingly getting better as their summers progress, LA should be even more formidable through the middle than they were at StubHub Center.

If that midfield holds up and LA gets their second straight win in Portland, the Timbers will have their first major setback of the season – a result that will be a clear indicator of where Porter’s project sits in the Western Conference’s pecking order. A Timbers win, however, will provide validation for the streak they lost, giving them a valuable three points against the standard-bearers in Major League Soccer.

More: LA and Portland each have 30 points, four points behind Real Salt Lake for first in the Western Conference … The Timbers have played one fewer game … Of LA’s seven losses this season, six have come on the road.

Guardiola: I’m staying at Man City and I love this challenge

Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images
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This year’s managerial merry-go-round tells us that nothing should surprise us, and there are few high-profile jobs that feel safe from changes at any given time.

Manchester City is one of them, but upheaval at old club Bayern Munich and uncertainty at Barcelona have had many linking Pep Guardiola with an early exit from the Etihad Stadium.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

But as Chuck D warned us so long ago, don’t believe the hype; Guardiola says he’s very happy at Man City and not quitting on the project or the season.

“We don’t have a joker in our pocket,” he said. “I know, all around the world, people are saying the Premier League is done.”

“But if people think I am going to resign for these results, they don’t know me. I like this challenge. I love to be in this position. If the club wants me next season, I want to be here 100 percent.”

Few would be surprise if Man City went on a wild run of wins, especially once Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane return to the team. The reason folks think the Premier League is over is the idea that Liverpool would lose nine more points than City seems so unlikely (though they do meet again).

Milan hoping to woo “great champion” Zlatan next week

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Serie A mainstays AC Milan are trying to woo Zlatan Ibrahimovic back to the San Siro.

The full-court press makes sense, as it will take some financial sacrifices for Ibrahimovic to join the side given Financial Fair Play problems in Milan.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

Coach Stefano Pioli called Zlatan “a great champion” while admitting he has to focus on the table and not transfers, while former AC Milan CEO Adriano Galliani issued a glowing call for the Swede to return to town.

From Football-Italia.com:

“It would be romantic if he returned. But I have a rule, I don’t talk about teams I’m not involved with anymore. I’m only a fan of Milan now. Still, his arrival would enrich Italian football, similar to when Cristiano Ronaldo came to Italy.”

Man, they know how to speak this guy’s language, don’t they?

Sky Sports says Ibrahimovic’s agent will meet with Milan again next week in the hopes of convincing him to take a lower wage deal, and the 38-year-old showed he’s willing to take one for the team during his stint with the LA Galaxy.

The move makes too much sense, with Milan’s 11 goals well below its expected goal number. They need a finisher, and Zlatan sure does that. And if lower wages means Zlatan gets to play mercenary for five months while proving he’s got the goods for a big wage for 2020-21, that’s an easy concession for the striker.

U.S. U-17 keeper Odunze learning from Schmeichel at Leicester City

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Leicester City’s huge secret was told to the world at the U-17 World Cup in Brazil, where imposing goalkeeper Chituru Odunze made several big saves in the United States’ quick exit from the group stage.

Odunze, who turned 17 last month, joined the Premier League outfit from the Vancouver Whitecaps last season, and is already getting some first team training time.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

This is all good news for a USMNT program which has a long history of goalkeepers shining at the top levels in Europe, including Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, and now Zach Steffen.

Odunze admits to being pleased at the tests provided by Jamie Vardy and the Leicester attackers, but says he’s learning more from the expertise on show from a trio of wise first team goalkeepers: Kasper Schmeichel, Danny Ward, and Eldin Jakupovic.

Schmeichel is a Premier League winner, Jakupovic a former regular PL starter with Hull City, and Ward helped Huddersfield Town to promotion during a loan from Liverpool. From The Leicester Mercury:

“They’re all really good role models at the club, and they sort of take you under their wing. They’ve taught me to calm down and be confident in my abilities,” Odunze said. “Of course, there are little pieces of technical information they give me while we’re training, but a lot of the lasting information I get from them is mental.”

The 17-year-old has a monstrous frame, so learning from Schmeichel and company at such a young age while getting tested by the Foxes’ electric attackers is a great combination. He is 2W-2L at the U18 Premier League level.

Premier League Preview: Manchester City v. Chelsea

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Manchester City and Chelsea both defend their slimmed title hopes when they meet Saturday at the Etihad Stadium (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

City is hoping to avoid a second-straight loss after dropping nine points behind prohibitive title favorites Liverpool last match day, while Frank Lampard‘s Blues know a loss could see them drop as many as 11 points behind the Reds.

And, of course, a win will give either side the table advantage over the other.

Ederson and David Silva are available again for Man City. Christian Pulisicis in contention to play” for Chelsea after missing the international break with the United States.

A Champions League match day follows this one, with Man City meeting Shakhtar Donetsk in Manchester on Tuesday and Chelsea in Spain to meet Valencia one day later.


Injuries/suspensions

Manchester City: OUT — Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane. QUESTIONABLE — None.

Chelsea: OUT — Ruben Loftus-Cheek. QUESTIONABLE — Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi.


Probable lineups

Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Mendy; Rodri, Gundogan, B.Silva, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Aguero.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Tomori, Zouma, Alonso; Kovacic, Kante, Mount, Pulisic, Willian; Abraham.


What they’re saying

City’s Pep Guardiola on Frank Lampard’s young managerial career: “From my experience, experience doesn’t count much. I would say that when you know the club it is a good advantage and Frank Lampard knows Chelsea perfectly and everything behind the scenes – media, fans, players – so that is good. When I arrived (at Barcelona) not many people trusted me, honestly. Few, few people. Maybe the president, sporting director and not many. “Maybe Frank was similar at Derby. It was a big club, he didn’t take results in the beginning and people said he didn’t have experience. Look now.”

Frank Lampard on being above Man City after 12 matches: “For us to be in that position is something I am pleased with, I actually want more as well. I look at ourselves and don’t consider others, only where we could have got more points too, and there are times where we could have done. At the same time it is nice to be up there and around it. It’s a great test tomorrow, head to head to see where we’re at. It won’t be the end story, anyone can go to Manchester City and lose, they are such a strong outfit. That is what Pep Guardiola and the club have built over recent years. So I won’t be making huge judgements win or lose tomorrow without a doubt.”


Prediction

Could go either way, couldn’t it, but it feels more likely we see a vintage, defiant bounce back effort from City that looks a bit too easy given Chelsea’s strengths. This is the first big league test for Chelsea since its narrow loss to Liverpool on Sept. 22. We see the six-match winning streak ending via a 3-1 final score.