Portland vs. Real Salt Lake: Another Timbers boogeyman to kill

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Most of Caleb Porter’s post-match press conferences are pretty boring, and in that way, he’s no different than almost every coach in Major League Soccer (if not the entirety of professional sport). Occasionally you work with coaches that seem to love a microphone more than the training ground, but the Timbers’ boss isn’t one of them. He’s polite, confident, talkative and direct, but he’s not an entertainer. And he’s not somebody that’s going to reveal anything he doesn’t have to.

Yet in the wake of Portland’s Sunday win over the rival Seattle Sounders, Porter used a moment’s digression to reflect on the Timbers’ rise, recalling an anecdote from last year to highlight the change he seeks in the Timbers-Sounders dynamic.

From Sunday’s post-match press conference:

One of the things I realized today, prior to the game, is that a year and a week ago, I was sitting on the couch, (and) a couple months prior I had been named head coach. I was getting ready to watch the Timbers play Seattle at Seattle. Alexi Lalas texted me — and I hadn’t made any comments; I hadn’t been [presented as head coach] officially — and he said “Do you have anything to comment on about the game?”

I said one thing. I said “the Portland Timbers will no longer be inferior to the Seattle Sounders.” That was no disrespect to Seattle, and it really wasn’t about the game that day. It was about the future.

There’s no reason why we would be inferior. There’s no reason why we should be the little brother. We should a legitimate contender. We should be capable of beating the Sounder and [it not] being a miracle.

So it think it’s very satisfying a year later here we are, getting results and getting points against the Sounders. I think it says everything about how far we’ve come as a club.

It’s a great clip, and it speaks to the unique dynamic between the Pacific Northwest’s epicenter and its fiercely independent sibling to the south. But it also slightly mischaracterizes the dynamic between the teams. After all, Portland did go 1-1-1 against Seattle in 2012, the same record they have this year. That’s not exactly dark into light stuff, there. Portland won Cascadia Cup last season.

If there is a team the Timbers have particularly struggled with, it’s the one that’s visiting JELD-WEN on Saturday – the team that will fight Porter’s side for supremacy in the West (and potentially the Supporters’ Shield). Now with 53 points, the Timbers are one ahead of Real Salt Lake, a team they haven’t beaten since 2011:

  • That year, Portland’s first in Major League Soccer, they defeated RSL 1-0 on Apr. 20 at JELD-WEN Field, ending an 18-game regular season unbeaten streak Jason Keis’s team carried into that match. Kenny Cooper volleyed home a Kalif Alhassan cross to give the Timbers what’s become and outlying. Though the Timbers would get a 1-1 result to close the year in Utah, that spring victory remains Portland’s only win over RSL.
  • Last year, RSL’s March 31 win in Portland exacted some revenge, with late goals from Jonny Steele and Kyle Beckerman dramatically overcoming a Darlington Nagbe double to give the visitors a 3-2 win. RSL would go on to post 3-0 and 2-1 wins in Sandy to sweep the season series.
  • This year, Real Salt Lake’s dominance has persisted, albeit in a less-overwhelming fashion. During an August stretch that saw the teams play three times in 24 days, RSL won twice and drew once. They knocked the Timbers out of U.S. Open Cup and posting four goals in a game where injuries and suspensions saw Caleb Porter counter Kreis’s diamond midfield with a 3-6-1 midfield overload. Final aggregate score across those three games: 9-6, RSL.

Three years, eight games, and Portland’s won once. They’ve conceded 19 times with a -9 difference. If there’s any team that’s pushed the Timbers around, it’s RSL, not Seattle.

source: Getty Images
Caleb Porter has Portland at the top of the Western Confernece, but he still hasn’t solved the Timbers’ Real Salt Lake problem. The franchise is 1-4-3 against RSL since joining Major League Soccer in 2011. Porter has gone 0-2-1 against them this season. (Photo: Getty Images.)

So what’s the secret to RSL’s success? Since John Spencer’s no longer coaching Portland, we shouldn’t read too much into 2011 and 2012’s results. Those were limited, flawed, and mistake-prone teams (as most first and second-year squads are). Perhaps Real Salt Lake’s depth, strength in the middle, and adherence to a consistent approach leaves them particularly predisposed to exploiting those kinds of teams? They know how to execute when opportunities present themselves.

This year, however, it’s more likely the Timbers are on the wrong end of a like-for-like, part of the reason Porter may have been willing to try a six-man midfield in their last meeting. Though the teams’ set-ups are different, their stylistic approaches are similar, meaning if Portland’s well-drilled scheme plans to leverage possession, movement and pressure to gain an edge, they’ll in part have to beat a more-talented team at their own game.

The good news for Portland: They’ve generally been close enough to where a few breaks could turn these results. At least, this year they have. They’re also playing at home on Saturday, where they got their only point of the season against RSL. And while Portland’s squad may not grade out as well if we coming up with ratings for FIFA14, players like Will Johnson, Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso and Michael Harrington have been transcending that perception all season. If the Timbers play well, the talent gap could be irrelevant.

Still, RSL has become a boogeyman for Portland, one that’s gotten results out of JELD-WEN before. This Saturday, they’re not only looking for a result. They’re looking for the West’s top seed.

AT HALF: Manchester United trails, 10-man Brighton loses goal to VAR

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We’ve got goals. We’ve got red cards. We’ve got fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

All four Premier League 10 a.m. ET Saturday kickoffs have reached halftime. Here’s your primer to select which second half to stream live.

Watford 1-1 West Ham United

Chances and entertainment for days at Vicarage Road, where Mark Noble‘s early penalty was quickly offset by Andre Gray‘s emphatic finish of a Will Hughes through ball.

Brighton and Hove Albion 0-0 Southampton

Florin Andone has been sent off for the hosts after a gnarly challenge on Yan Valery, and further insult for Brighton came when VAR spotted a clear foul on Lewis Dunk‘s headed goal.

Sheffield United 0-1 Leicester City

Jamie Vardy may not tire of throwing parties, and James Maddison sure designs delightful invitations.

Manchester United 0-1 Crystal Palace

Possession doesn’t matter much if you can’t handle a 70-yard goalkeeper pass, and Victor Lindelof‘s lost header to Jeff Schlupp allowed Jordan Ayew as much time as he needed to slot past David De Gea.

United probably should be up a man after Gary Cahill chopped down Anthony Martial, but only a yellow arrived at Old Trafford.

Lampard, Abraham react to first Chelsea win, goal

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Frank Lampard was all business in being asked about his first Premier League win as Chelsea boss.

Coming on the heels of a loss and draw heading into Saturday’s 3-2 defeat of Norwich City, Lampard was ready to talk about the big picture (especially considering the Blues dealt with a pre-match injury to Pedro).

[ MORE: How did Pulisic perform? ] 

With a lot of young players and a tricky transfer ban, Lampard has to walk a fine line between the expectations of Chelsea and the reality of working with a side he hasn’t been able to improve through the transfer window. From the BBC:

“We want to compete. We know this year is difficult on different levels. We’ve had a tough start, and yep, we needed a win. It helps confidence.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Tammy Abraham, who has no qualms whatsoever with his first Chelsea goal in the Premier League.

“I didn’t even know how to celebrate so I just ran over to the management and the staff. It always gives confidence to me and the young boys when the coach believes in you.”

Sheffield United is next, a real chance for the Blues to round into form even if the Blades have been plucky early in their Premier League return.

Watch Live: Four Premier League games at 10am ET

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Four Premier League games kick off at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, as Matchweek 3 is in full swing.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Man United host Crystal Palace, Southampton head to Brighton, Watford and West Ham do battle and Leicester travel to Sheffield United.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all four games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Man United v. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton v. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Leicester – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford v. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Pulisic watch: How did USMNT star perform for Chelsea at Norwich?

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Saturday was a big day for USMNT star Christian Pulisic in the Premier League, as he played a pivotal role in Frank Lampard securing his first win as Chelsea’s boss with the Blues beating Norwich City 3-2.

Pulisic, 20, grabbed an assist and a hockey assist in the first 17 minutes as the Chelsea winger caused Norwich all kinds of problems as he drifted off the right flank time and time again.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The Pennsylvania native needed a big display with Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi both fit and fighting for his spot out wide on the left but with Pedro out injured in the warm up, Pulisic played really well on the right and went 84 minutes.

Here’s a look at how Pulisic performed against Norwich at Carrow Road on Saturday.


1st minute: Pulisic lines up on the right wing after Pedro is injured in the warm up and Ross Barkley replaces him in the lineup.

3rd minute: Launches himself into three tackles in quick succession, winning the final with a perfect sliding lunge.

4th minute: Controls a long pass across the pitch, runs at Norwich’s defense and plays in the overlapping Cesar Azpilicueta. His cross is volleyed home by Tammy Abraham to give Chelsea a 1-0 lead.

6th minute: Norwich attack down Pulisic’s side and get behind Azpilicueta, as Pukki crosses for Cantwell to make it 1-1.

11th minute: Pulisic pops up centrally but Norwich win the ball box just before he bursts into the box.

13th minute: Slides into a tackle and is getting through a lot of defensive works with Buendia drifting inside from Norwich’s left.

14th minute: Links up well with Mateo Kovacic on multiple occasions with clever passing and flicks. He is starting to drift inside a lot more.

17th minute: Pulisic pops up centrally, again, and slots in a perfect pass to Mount who slots home to put Chelsea 2-1 up. Pulisic grabs his first Premier League assist.

23rd minute: After making a surging run down the right, moments later he slips as he tries to wriggle free from a defender in the box.

29th minute: Pulisic gets on the ball and plays in Jorginho in the box. All the Italian midfielder has to do is slot home, but he makes a mess of it.

33rd minute: After Norwich’s Teemu Pukki made it 2-2, the home side have the momentum. Pulisic launches into a fine tackle on Lewis and is dropping deeper and deeper to help his team defend.

36th minute: Azpilicueta whips a cross into the box and Pulisic jumps high but the ball is just flicked away from him.

38th minute: His cross to the back post misses everyone and drifts out of play.

39th minute: Falls down in the box under pressure as he tries to control a looping pass.

44th minute: After a lovely darting run inside, Barkley picks him out and he twists and turns in the box. Eventually gets a shot off which is blocked.

45th minute + 2: Pulisic again wriggles free centrally and sets up Barkley who smashes way over the bar.

47th minute: Races free into the box and slams a shot into the side-netting with Abraham waiting for the pass. Should have done better with the finish. Didn’t look confident at all when taking the shot on.

55th minute: Tammy Abraham flicks the ball around the corner to Pulisic but Lewis wrestles him off the ball. Moments later Pulisic is tackled by Lewis.

61st minute: Cuts inside from the right and plays the ball to Mount who sets up Emerson who fires an effort right at Krul.

66th minute: Wins a foul just outside of his own box as his fantastic battle with Lewis continues.

71st minute: Loses a tackle on the edge of the box as Norwich push for an equalizer after Abraham put Chelsea 3-2 up. Godfrey hits the crossbar from a corner soon after.

75th minute: Tracked back as Buendia controlled a flashed in a dangerous cross. Good defensive work.

79th minute: Again, fine work down the right and a ball cut back to the edge of the box is dummied by Mount and Barkley’s shot is blocked.

80th minute: Pulisic is found by Kovacic in the box and his cross to Giroud is scrambled clear by Norwich.

84th minute: Subbed out and replaced by Willian. Gets a pat on the back from Frank Lampard and a warm ovation from the Chelsea fans.