The changing identity of … Portland Timbers FC

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In a cold, scientific sense, Seattle’s acquisition of Clint Dempsey shouldn’t affect the Portland Timbers any more than it affects Major League Soccer’s eight other Western Conference teams, who only feel a slightly more acute impact than the 10 teams in the East. The emboldened Sounders only affect other teams in so much as they keep them from achieving their goals. With Dempsey in Seattle, each team is a little less likely to win against the Sounders and ever so slightly less likely to make the playoffs.

Portland’s relationship with Seattle is neither cold nor scientific. Even more so than the teams’ link to fellow Cascadia rival Vancouver, the Sounders and Timbers are judged relative to each other. As Seattle succeed in their first three seasons, they set an implicit benchmark for the Timbers. When Portland claimed last year’s Cascadia Cup, they dealt a significant blow to the playoff-bound Sounders. When the Timbers succeeded at the beginning of 2013 while Seattle struggled, the dynamic between the two northwest neighbors subtly began to shift.

[MORE: In pictures: Clint Dempsey, Seattle celebrate Deuce’s arrival.]

That’s why, after considering Seattle’s side of the Dempsey equation, people naturally looked to Portland, asking a series of questions: What will the fans think of this? How could the Timbers let this happen? Were they in the picture to get Clint? What happened to the allocation order?

How will Timbers owner Merritt Paulson react?

You can’t be familiar with soccer in the northwest without imagining Paulson’s reaction to this news. He’s never shied away from the rivalry, and in bringing Caleb Porter, he took a big step toward gaining a foothold in it. For much of the season, Portland was the right track team, Seattle was the wrong. But with one signing, Seattle has completely reversed that momentum, whether the standings reflect that or not.

Did Adrian Hanauer’s coup take Portland by surprise? If so, who’ll bear the brunt of the blame? Or was Portland, like so many around MLS, in tune with the whispers and just unable to compete with the Sounders’ financial might?

And if that’s what’s happened in some form, you couldn’t blame Portland if they tried to turn their cheek, go about their business, and golf clap their rivals in front of clenched teeth. Yet judging by their fans’ reaction, that’s easier said than done. Hardcore Timbers supporters across social media were incredulous as to how the allocation order was bypassed to allow Seattle to sign Dempsey. Even after MLS attempted to clarify the standing of Designated Players relative to allocation, there was the feeling that something other than Seattle ingenuity saw Dempsey land on Puget Sound.

[MORE: The changing identity of … Seattle Sounders FC.]

To those fans, the balance that was starting to be established between the Sounders and Timbers has been thrown off by forces beyond Cascadia. After two inconsistent years, Portland’s own ingenuity had led them toward the top of the Western Conference. At the same time, Seattle was having a down season. Now somebody else has greased the wheels to give the Sounders another leg up. Combine a supporter’s intensity with the conflict in Major League Soccer’s published rules, and the fans’ anguish makes sense.

During the normally raucous atmosphere of Saturday’s Cascadia Derby, you could almost sense something was off. With Vancouver employing a physical approach early, the game’s style may have fostered that perception. Or maybe the feeling was pure confirmation bias. Regardless, when Portland unveiled their “ML$ TRANSPARENCY = LEGITIMACY” banner in the second half, you knew not even a visit from the rival Whitecaps could take Dempsey off the Timbers’ Army’s mind.

There’s the potential here to cause a bit of an identity crisis; at least, in comparison to the identity Portland had cultivated from March through July. Then, the Timbers’ were one of Major League Soccer’s 2013 darlings. Now, not only is there the potential for the Timbers to be pushed back into Seattle’s shadow, climbing out is even more difficult. If Seattle is your rival, and like it or not you are defined in terms of their relative success, then how do you realistically top the acquisition of the captain of the U.S. Men’s National Team? Try to sign Landon Donovan when his deal expires this winter?

[MORE: The changing identify of … Major League Soccer.]

Ultimately, the answer is to beat Seattle on the field, which was the goal all along. With Dempsey up north, that becomes more difficult, but he’s only one player. Particularly if the Timbers keep adding Diego Valeri-esque talents, that gap can disappear.

What can’t disappear is Portland’s connection to Seattle, one which may have become more difficult to reconcile on Saturday night. After the Sounders made one of the most notable acquisitions in league history, the Timbers are left with a bunch of questions. To the extent the answers change perceptions of the team remains to be seen.

Jimenez leads stunning Wolves comeback

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Wolves were 2-0 down at half time at Southampton on Saturday and won 3-2.

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Jan Bednarek and Shane Long had put Saints in a comfortable position but then Pedro Neto made it 2-1 and Mexico’s Raul Jimenez scored a penalty kick and a winner to send the Wolves fans wild.

The win was Wolves’ first in six games in all competitions, while Southampton saw their six game unbeaten run in all competitions come to an end in dramatic fashion.


3 things we learned

1. Saints implode at key moment: In truth, Saints were a little fortunate to be 2-0 up at half time in an even game. But after the way they’ve surged up the table with six wins in their last nine, you could see they were brimming with confidence. That is now gone. After beating Tottenham, Leicester and Chelsea spirits were high but Ralph Hasenhuttl will have to pick his team up from a shocking defeat. This feels like another key moment in their season as they now sit six points off the bottom three but a win or draw would see them much closer to the top six battle. Fine margins decide games and Long’s header hit the post moments before Wolves made it 2-1. Saints’ season can now go either way.

2. Wolves continue to rally from slow starts: They have conceded the first goal in a league-high 16 PL games this season and it is now seven in a row. But they keep fighting and they showed incredible spirit with Jimenez and Traore leading the charge, once again. Imagine where Wolves would be in the table if they actually started games well?

3. Top four now on for Santo’s battered side: They are five points behind Chelsea and in the top four hunt now. Wolves have such a small squad and Santo wants to add to it, so expect them to do business with the Europa League knockout rounds and a possible top four push coming up. They are down to the bare bones with injuries to Vinagre, Boly and Jota hitting them hard but they are getting the job done in remarkable fashion.

Man of the Match: Raul Jimenez – He missed a few chances in the first half but was always a threat and finished his chances in the second half. Clever hold up play and pulled Southampton’s defense all over the place.


Wolves looked dangerous early on as Adama Traore’s deflected shot flew just wide but then Saints struck with their first attempt of the game.

James Ward-Prowse‘s free kick caused havoc and Bednarek cleaned up at the back post to slot home calmly and make it 1-0.

Saints should have doubled their lead as Cedric‘s header at the back post was a poor one, while Raul Jimenez went close on a couple of occasions.

After Jimenez flashed another shot wide Saints did double their lead, as Cedric’s cross was finished clinically by Long for his first goal in 19 games.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Long hit the post with a header as Saints threatened to run away with things at the start of the second but moments later Wolves started their comeback.

Adama Traore surged down the right and crossed for Neto who controlled well then finished to half the deficit.

Wolves were level soon after as Jonny ran into the box and was brought down by a combination of Cedric and Jack Stephens in the box, as a penalty kick was awarded via VAR and Jimenez slotted home from the spot.

Nathan Redmond then went on an incredible run and smashed a shot from distance which clipped the crossbar and then Neto drilled over from a great position as it was end-to-end stuff in the closing stages.

Saints went close to scoring a winner as Jack Stephens couldn’t hook home from close range as Wolves somehow cleared, and then Jimenez finished after great work from Traore to make it 3-2 and seal the stunning comeback.

Stephens and Sofiane Boufal missed chances for Southampton to nick a point as Wolves, who are short on players as injuries pile up, pulled off an amazing comeback win.

Holgate, Pickford save Everton in draw with West Ham

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Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Issa Diop traded goals in Everton’s 1-1 draw with West Ham United at the London Stadium on Saturday.

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The draw has David Moyes‘ West Ham a point outside the drop zone, while 11th place Everton moves seven clear with 29 points.


Three things we learned

1. Toffees bailed out by Holgate, Pickford: Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford‘s last few weeks have been as good as he’s played since his Sunderland days, and he made a pair of incredible saves for the Toffees. But his young center back Mason Holgate was the star, with an assist on Calvert-Lewin’s goal and a key block to go with seven clearances and much more (See MOTM, below).

2. Calvert-Lewin sums up Toffees’ uneven play: The tempestuous young striker got another goal, but Everton’s point came mostly through Pickford and Holgate. Calvert-Lewin got his headed goal but also as many fouls (3) as chances created. His quick post-match comments really fit the bill.

“I thought today we under-performed. It was disappointing not to play to our strengths. We got ourselves back into the game but should have gone on from there and won it. I am happy to get on the scoresheet and get the point but I thought we could have performed better.”

3. Snodgrass is class: The 32-year-old Scot continues to turn back the clock for West Ham, providing power and craft in producing three goals and three assists this season. All of those score sheet moments have come in the Irons last 13 matches.

Man of the Match: Holgate’s assist was great, but how about seven-for-seven in ground duels, two blocked shots, a goal line clearance, and four interceptions. Fantastic stuff.


Tom Davies was stripped at midfield, leading to in-form Robert Snodgrass curling a shot to Jordan Pickford.

Snodgrass set up Pablo Zabaleta for a classy chest trap and volley, but Mason Holgate blocked the shot wide of the near post.

Lucas Digne gave the ball away to Mark Noble, who sent Sebastien Haller through the goal. Pickford made a fine leg save as Haller aimed to go low and near post.

Theo Walcott blew a chance to make it 1-0 when Digne spotted the ex-Arsenal star, who flubbed a ball right to Darren Randolph.

The Irons got their deserved lead through an Issa Diop header of Snodgrass’ free kick in the 40th, but Calvert-Lewin got one of his own from a Digne corner kick moments later.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Pickford made an incredible save in stoppage time to keep it 1-1, reaching low to paw away a point-blank Irons chance.

The English keeper than slapped a deflected shot wide in the second half.

Late drama galore as Palace hold Man City

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Crystal Palace scored a 90th minute equalizer to draw 2-2 at Man City on Saturday.

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Cenk Tosun had given Palace an early lead and it looked like that would be enough but Sergio Aguero struck twice in the final 10 minutes to put City 2-1 up, then Wilfried Zaha‘s run and cross was bundled into his own net by Fernandinho as the Eagles snatched a point.

With the draw Man City momentarily close the gap on Liverpool at the top of the table to 13 points but Liverpool have two games in hand. Palace sit in ninth place on 30 points.


3 things we learned

1. City’s set piece problem: Palace’s first goal summed up the issues City are having each game due to their lack of fit and in-form defenders. Gary Cahill rose above City;’s defense and Tosun was left unmarked to head home his header. For all of City’s stunning play on the ball, defensively they always look vulnerable from set piece situations. That is why they are so far off Liverpool.

2. Zaha leads Palace: Over the last few months Zaha has been superb and he really is taking games by the scruff of the beck. Palace have lost just one of their last 10 and are tough to beat and Zaha and his teammates never give up. Saturday was the perfect example of that as his probing run and cross set up the equalizer and he was a constant threat.

3. Title race will be over on Sunday: Anybody who had a slight feeling that City could get themselves back in the title race will now be feeling otherwise. Liverpool are 13 points clear of second place City and have two games in hand. Liverpool have been superb but City are dropping so many needless points.

Man of the Match: Wilfried Zaha – His running, passing, crosses and general play was just stunning. Maybe he’s playing for a move away? Maybe he’s finally settled after a unsettled summer.


Man City dominated early on as Aguero’s free kick was saved by Vicente Guaita.

Kevin De Bruyne hit the crossbar from a free kick as Man City battered Palace, but the Eagles felt they should have had a penalty kick as Wilfried Zaha went down in the box. But VAR was used and said no penalty.

Palace took the lead from a set piece situation as a corner was headed across goal by Gary Cahill and Tosun nodded home his first Palace goal on his first start for the Eagles.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Sterling curled just wide as City worked hard to get back in the game, with Aguero’s shot into the ground finding Bernardo Silva but his shot was saved by Guaita.

On the break Palace almost doubled their lead as Zaha found Tosun but his shot was saved by Ederson.

A huge moment of controversy then arrived as a penalty kick was awarded for a handball against Jairo Riedewald but VAR looked at the decision and overturned it as the ball his his leg first, then deflected onto his hand.

Man City did grab a deserved equalizer as a Gabriel Jesus cross to the back post found Aguero who finished.

Late on City laid siege to the Palace goal and they went ahead. Aguero struck in the 87th minute as Benjamin Mendy whipped in a lovely cross and the Argentine nodded home his second in five minutes to complete the turnaround but more late drama followed.

Zaha raced down the left wing and crossed into the box as Fernandinho could do nothing but put the ball into his own net to make it 2-2.

Fleck artistry gets Sheffield United point at Arsenal

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John Fleck‘s perfectly lashed side volley gave Sheffield United a 1-1 draw at Arsenal on Saturday.

The Emirates Stadium saw a wasteful first hour from the Gunners give way to a resurgent Blades side and a share of the points.

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Gabriel Martinelli opened the scoring for the Gunners, who sit 10th with 29 points. The Blades move to 33 points and sit seventh.

The match was Mike Dean’s 500th Premier League match, and not without controversy. Dean neglected to award a penalty when Nicolas Pepe was chopped down in the box, but VAR stayed with him.


Three things we learned

1. Blades are for real: There’s a reason Chris Wilder is getting linked with plenty of jobs and got a new contract: Sheffield United’s men are bought into a system about as well as anyone not named Jurgen Klopp. Granted Arsenal let early United errors slide, but once the Blades took hold of momentum it rarely felt like the Gunners would score the game’s second goal

2. Aubameyang absence glaring: It’s no surprise that missing one of the world’s best scorers is a not good, but you’d peg Arsenal’s talented group of attackers to sort it out. Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette had their moments and Martinelli did get his goal, but there was an Auba-sized hole in both the aura and composure of the Gunners in the final third. That red card is stinging like a fresh cut.

3. Xhaka, Torreira steady: Mikel Arteta has found better play from Swiss hard man Granit Xhaka, while Lucas Torreira is working well with his center midfield mate. Their play allows Mesut Ozil to do whatever he wants, more or less. Throw in a fine day from Shkrodan Mustafi, and the Gunners were a Maitland-Niles 50-50 battle away from a clean sheet

Man of the Match: Give it to Fleck for the goal plus four tackles and another day of committed challenges.


Lacazette sent Nicolas Pepe down the right flank, and the Ivorian sent a terrific cross for Gabriel Martinelli. The youngster volleyed across goal and wide of the far post.

Lucas Torreira popped a dipping shot that Dean Henderson smothered in the 32nd minute.

Martinelli didn’t miss his second, punching home a 45th minute deflected cross from Bukayo Saka. The latter had a terrific first half for the Gunners.

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The Blades didn’t quit, and Arsenal was forced into a goal line clearance in the 56th.

Pepe could’ve won a penalty when he was chopped down on a dribble into the box, but VAR upheld Mike Dean’s initial judgment.

Sheffield United scored an equalizerr in brilliant fashion, Fleck slashing a bounding side volley past Leno in the 83rd minute.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles blocked a shot and Leno made a tremendous save in stoppage time to keep the hosts’ point.