Portland’s Merritt Paulson talks about real grass, adding terraces to Jeld-Wen Field

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Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson is clearly always thinking about two of the elements that could further enhance the Timbers brand: a real grass field and just a little more capacity for a great ground that does fall on the “limited capacity” side.

Trouble is, both are tricky, and for completely different reasons.

Speaking on the Soccer Today radio show / podcast (disclosure, a show I host along with Marc Stein), Paulson told me plans are still being explored of adding a terrace to Jeld-Wen’s North End. That would add to the 22,000-seat capacity (always packed) by several thousand.

Paulson was quite cautious in his phrasing of possibly adding natural grass (rather than the artificial turf), understanding how badly some supporters would love to see this major change. He specifically said that he doesn’t want to mislead folks on this one, but did put the chances of grass at Jeld-Wen within the next few years at “50-50.”

Even considering that Portland’s brand of faux field is the best in MLS, and even understanding that chances of real grass bliss beneath the feet are no better than 50-50, that’s still something to sit up and take notice of.

Artificial lighting could answer some of the concerns; a sunken bowl means Portland would be faced with growth issues that have dogged a few grass fields in MLS and elsewhere in the world.

But he biggest impediment, he said, are the Portland State University football games, which take place right around the same time natural grass stops growing (in the fall, of course). Paulson pointed out that his artificial turf field plays more true than some MLS grass fields once fall arrives and big American football players, plus the seasonal growth cycles, begin exacting a toll.

“Something will have to change” he said before the Portland Timbers could consider the other issue of a grass field: the shared arrangement with PSU.

Paulson had plenty to say in the wide-ranging interview, including thoughts on MLS expansion, on scheduling – and a guarded look back at the Clint Dempsey situation.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.