MLS Preview: Real Salt Lake vs. Portland Timbers

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• Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers have met twice in August so far, having not faced one another previously in 2013. RSL won the U.S. Open Cup semifinal 2-1 in Utah on Aug. 7, and the teams tied 3-3 on Aug. 21 in Portland.

• RSL head coach Jason Kreis and Timbers head coach Caleb Porter are two frontrunners for the Major League Soccer Coach of the Year award, thanks to RSL’s push for the Supporters’ Shield despite injuries and Portland’s turnaround from a poor 2012 season.

• Portland sits in fourth place in the Western Conference standings, although it has two games in hand on RSL, which is on top of both the conference and the league standings, having played the highest number of games in the league so far.

The Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake kick off this weekend’s MLS play (Friday, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN), renewing a familiarity cultivated twice this month already. Both the U.S. Open Cup semifinal and the league match at JELD-WEN Field were entertaining matches, and Friday’s encounter at Rio Tinto should be the same.

Both teams play attractive, free-flowing soccer, so it’s no coincidence that head coaches Jason Kreis and Caleb Porter (pictured) are two of the most popular choices for MLS Coach of the Year at this point. Despite losing multiple players to injury and international duty, both have sustained pushes toward the top of the table all season.

On Friday, RSL could be missing forward Alvaro Saborío, who is questionable with a calf strain (see Kreis’ quote below). On the other side of the field, the Timbers get Diego Chará back from suspension, but midfielders Jack Jewsbury, Will Johnson and Ben Zemanski are all listed as out on the injury report.

Salt Lake also comes off a week in which it played three matches (two on the road), losing to the Los Angeles Galaxy before tying Portland and defeating the Columbus Crew. The five days between matches will have provided somewhat of an opportunity to regroup — or at least more than the team got in the previous week.

Portland played three times in eight days during the same period, also winning, losing and tying one each: the Timbers defeated FC Dallas, tied RSL and lost to Seattle Sounders FC in a heated Cascadia Cup matchup.

What they’re saying

Timbers head coach Caleb Porter breaks down his team’s luck on set pieces: “I was just looking at the stats this morning because I’m always reflecting on how we can be better. We’ve given up 26 goals, which stacks us up pretty well. Fourteen of the 26 are restart situations. Four of the 14 are PKs, so you kind of wash those out, which means 10. Of those 10, two are free kicks over the wall, so obviously that’s not marking or anything. One is a long throw-in, which to some extent is box defending. And then we have two corners and five free kicks wide. So really, you’re looking at eight moments — eight situations — in 25 games where we’ve gotten beat with poor marking.”

RSL head coach Jason Kreis on striker Alvaro Saborío’s injury: “We were really hopeful it would be a short-term injury. We’re hopeful that he’ll be available for Friday. I think, right now, it’s 50-50 still.”

RSL defender Nat Borchers, in the locker room after 4-0 win over Columbus Crew, on the short turnaround in games: “I feel pretty good right now. I think that when you keep the ball like we did tonight, there’s less running for us in the back because there’s less opportunity for them to counter. Every time they counter, it’s an 80-yard sprint to goal. We didn’t have to do that much tonight.”

Prediction

The fact that these teams have two of the best coaches in the league should come out on Friday. Both teams will be tired from a long previous week, missing multiple players through injury (perhaps Portland more than RSL) and in need of points to keep pace at the top. It should be another thrilling encounter with multiple scoring opportunities at both ends. Another high-scoring draw is not out of question, but Real Salt Lake rarely does anything but win at home.

The halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world (video)

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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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 its unlucky national team

AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
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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.

Queiroz: Iran has one “match point” left in World Cup group stage

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Iran manager Carlos Queiroz isn’t going to let his tournament be defined by one win or one loss, especially with a massive moment on the horizon.

Iran fell 1-0 to Spain on Wednesday, days after defeating Morocco in its World Cup opener. Team Melli was denied its equalizer despite VAR review thanks to an offside, and failed in several other bids to level the score.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Now Queiroz and his men need a win over Portugal to qualify for the first knockout stage in its five World Cup history.

“We showed that we were ready to suffer and ready to compete. I felt we deserved a better result. There’s no doubt Spain play wonderful, stylish football but I thought we deserved more for the way we played.

“But congratulations to Fernando Hierro and Spain. We will learn a lot from this game. If you think of it like tennis, we had one match point today and we will have another against Portugal. Everything is still open. We are still alive and still dreaming.”

What chance do you give Iran of getting over on Portugal, who only topped a dominant Morocco side via a terrific designed play executed to perfection by Cristiano Ronaldo?

The odds are in Portugal’s favor, if only for its experience in tight games on massive stages. Well, perhaps the better “if only” would be to say if only for Ronaldo. Either way…

Spain gets win after Iran sees equalizer ruled out

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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  • Spain goal: Costa (54′)
  • Iranian goal disallowed
  • Next: Spain-Morocco, Portugal-Iran

Iran had an equalizer taken away via Video Assistant Referee and Spain picked up its first win of the 2018 World Cup with a 1-0 win in Kazan on Wednesday.

Diego Costa scored Spain’s goal, as La Furia Roja joined Portugal atop Group B on four points. Iran has three, while eliminated Morocco has yet to get a result.

Team Melli lost their chance to sit atop the group when Saeid Ezatolahi rebound was ruled to have come after an offside touch from a teammate.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Spain certainly had its chances in the first half hour, capped off by an attempted overhead kick from David Silva.

Man City’s 32-year-old attacker had a great deal of chances in the contest, and would see a deflected rip bound wide of the goal during three minutes of first half stoppag time.

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

After Gerard Pique missed an in-tight chance to start the second half, Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand made an outstanding punch save on Isco before punching away the rebound bid.

Iran found its first true chance of the match in the 53rd minute, with Karim Ansarifard lashing into a shot from 15 yards that tore into the outside of the goal.

It was moments later that Spain went ahead, Costa getting a goal when a clearance bounding off his shin and into the net.

Mehdi Taremi flicked a header wide of the goal, and Iran thought it had an equalizer through Saeid Ezatolahi only for VAR to step in and call offside on the previous Iranian to touch the ball.

It was off, but only just.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Beiranvand was again on the scene for a 70th minute goal mouth scramble following a drawn-up corner kick by Spain.

Taremi pounded a header over the goal after a Vahid Amiri nutmeg of Pique led to a back post cross.