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.

Transfer rumor roundup: Donnarumma to Man United; Clarke to Spurs

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The Premier League transfer window is officially open again and that means one thing: transfer reports are going to start kicking up a few notches.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…


It appears replacing David De Gea is one of Manchester United’s main aims this summer, as the Spanish goalkeeper has just one year left on his contract and Real Madrid are lurking after Thibaut Courtois struggled in his debut season at the Santiago Bernabeu and Keylor Navas is leaving.

United have already been linked with a move for Barcelona’s Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, but a new report from Calcio Mercato says that Gianluigi Donnarumma is their new target to replace DDG. Per the report, if AC Milan do not reach the Champions League this Sunday via a top four finish in the league — third place to six in Serie A is separated by just three points with AC currently in fifth — he could leave as his yearly wage of $6.5 million would be tough for AC Milan to pay.

Even with United not in the Champions League next season, they could pay those wages and the transfer fee of around $80 million would be worth it for a player with his potential.

Donnarumma, 20, has been a starter for AC Milan for four seasons and will take over from Gianluigi Buffon in goal for the Italian national team. His agent is, you guessed it, Mino Raiola, who has several clients at United with Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku the biggest names and Henrikh Mkhitaryan previously at Old Trafford.

De Gea, 28, put in a string of poor performances at the end of last season and many are suggesting that was due to uncertainty over his long-term future. The report says that De Gea has turned down United’s final contract offer as he wants to be paid the same amount as top earner Alexis Sanchez, but despite being named United’s player of the year in four of the past five seasons the Red Devils aren’t willing to pay him over $565,000 per week.

Similar to when DDG arrived at United, Donnarumma is young and may take some time to get used to the Premier League. But after those early hiccups we all know how good De Gea has become, and Donnarumma has the added bonus that his frame is much stronger than De Gea’s was at his age.


Tottenham Hotspur is looking to sign another young English star from the lower leagues, as Leeds United winger Jack Clarke is reportedly in their sights.

The Daily Mail says that Spurs will bid around $13.5 million for teenager Clarke.

Clarke, 18, starred for Leeds United in the Championship during the 2018-19 campaign which saw them lose in the playoff semifinals against Derby County as their dream of getting back to the Premier League was dashed for another year.

His boss at Leeds, Marcelo Bielsa, is close friends with Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino and it is likely Tottenham know all about Clarke. The Englishman scored twice and added two assists this season, as he sprung onto the scene in the second half of the campaign. After a brief health scare after coming off during a game at Middlesbrough, Clarke has emerged as a top target for several PL clubs due to his pace, size and ability to play on either wing.

Off the back of signing Dele Alli as a teenager from third-tier MK Dons and nurturing him into one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, signing Clarke would be yet another smart move by Spurs and Pochettino. They are not a club who can spend huge transfer fees or pay big wages, but bringing in the best young talent to improve continues to work out really well for them.

PSG president targeted by French corruption probe

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has been placed under investigation for corruption as part of an inquiry into the bidding process for the 2017 and 2019 track world championships, a judicial official said Thursday.

The official told The Associated Press the preliminary charge of “active corruption” was filed against the beIN media group chairman in mid-May in a case focusing on the payment of $3.5 million to an IAAF official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

The official said Al-Khelaifi is suspected of corruption “in regards with Qatar’s track and field worlds.” Al-Khelaifi is from Qatar.

Al-Khelaifi’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment and beIN media group declined to comment on the case because it said it “doesn’t relate in any way to the company.”

The chief executive officer of beIN, Yousef Al-Obaidly, was also handed preliminary charges of corruption, while former IAAF president Lamine Diack is suspected of “passive corruption” in the same case.

According to Al-Obaidly’s lawyer, investigative magistrate Renaud Van Ruymbeke based his suspicion on documents showing that a former IAAF official received two payments totaling about $3.5 million from Qatari investors before the vote for the 2017 track world championships. Qatar eventually lost to London but was later awarded the 2019 worlds. The championships will be held in Doha from Sept. 27-Oct. 6.

The two payments from Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, an investment fund linked to the Qatari government, were made to Pamodzi Sports Marketing in October and November 2011, days before the vote.

Al-Obaidly’s representatives say the payments made by Oryx to the IAAF’s appointed agent were transparent and part of the normal bidding process. Set up to handle the sponsorship and rights for Qatar’s bid, Oryx accepted to pay $32.5 million for the event’s commercial rights, including the $3.5 million paid to Pamodzi as a non-refundable deposit. The full amount would have been paid only if Qatar’s bid had been successful.

According to the online news site Mediapart, Oryx is owned by Al-Khelaifi and his brother Khalid. Mediapart said Al-Khelaifi was questioned by the judge in March and denied any knowledge of the payments at the time.

Pamodzi was founded by one of Diack’s sons, Papa Massata Diack. A former marketing consultant at the IAAF, he has been banned for allegations of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Russian marathon runner to avoid a doping ban before the 2012 Olympics. France has issued a wanted notice for him via Interpol.

In another case, Brazilian and French authorities are trying to find out whether Lamine Diack and his son played a role in arranging alleged bribes to help Rio de Janeiro earn the hosting rights for the 2016 Olympics. Diack, who ran the IAAF from 1999-2015, has also been accused of covering up failed Russian doping tests in exchange for money.

Al-Khelaifi is a member of the UEFA executive committee, representing European clubs, and is due to take part in the body’s meeting on Wednesday in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Al-Khelaifi was selected as a club delegate, and confirmed by UEFA member federations in February, despite being the subject of a criminal proceeding for bribery in Switzerland since 2017. The Qatari television executive is suspected of bribing FIFA’s then-secretary general with use of a luxury villa in Italy to help secure 2026 and 2030 World Cup broadcasting rights in the Middle East for Doha-based beIN Sports.

PSG is also under investigation by UEFA for possibly breaking financial rules.

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Raheem Sterling hopes to play in MLS

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Raheem Sterling has been a star on and off the field this season as he led Manchester City to a stunning domestic treble in England.

The winger scored 26 goals in 51 appearances for City in all competitions and was named the PFA Young Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Association Player of the year.

During a quick offseason break to the USA, Sterling has been talking in New York City at the Wall Street Journal’s Everything Festival.

He discussed his ongoing efforts to try and combat a steep rise in racist incidents across the soccer world in recent months, with Sterling calling for UEFA and other governing bodies to increase punishments for racist abuse from fans, and has said he wants to talk to the English FA and Premier League about ways to help the growing problem.

He also spoke about his future, and even though the Man City and England star is still just 24 years old (crazy to think he has just completed his seventh full PL season, I know, mind blown…) he has plans to head to the USA this summer.

“English football has grown massively over here. It wasn’t like that in the past and it’ll continue to get bigger,” Sterling said. “I was surprised walking out of the hotel today and being recognized by one or two people. I didn’t expect that over here. This is a country I would one day love to be able to come to. Your weather is a lot better over here than ours is. Hopefully one day I can bring my family over here.”

Asked specifically about playing in MLS in the future, Sterling revealed he is pretty keen to play Stateside.

“There’s always games on our tele at the training ground, we’re either watching this or the Australian League,” Sterling said. “For sure, this [MLS] is growing in the UK, and people are really taking it in and want to come over. I hopefully want to have a career here as well.”

With Man City’s connection with New York City FC, there’s an obvious club where Sterling could head to when he fancies moving to MLS, but if it’s good weather he’s after in the winter months, perhaps a move to Inter Miami or LAFC would be a better fit?

Either way, Sterling’s comments fall in line with a growing trend of elite players in Europe now seeing MLS as a serious destination for not only the latter years of their career but during their prime. We are not saying Sterling is heading to MLS anytime soon, but maybe when he’s 30 or 31 instead of 34 or 35?

Sarri: Pulisic can be “very important” for Chelsea

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Maurizio Sarri is very happy to have Christian Pulisic at Chelsea.

[ MORE: Pulisic’s American mission ]

Whether or not the Italian coach will get to work with Pulisic next season is another matter, but Sarri was more enthusiastic about the 20-year-old USMNT playmaker this time around compared to when he spoke when the $73 million transfer was initially completed in January.

Speaking to the media ahead of Chelsea’s UEFA Europa League final against Arsenal in Baku, Azerbaijan next week, Sarri revealed he has high hopes for Pulisic.

“I spoke with him two or three months ago. Pulisic knows very well our team, our way of playing, the team-mates. He is ready to join the group,” Sarri said. “I didn’t know the deal was done when he signed but before that I told my opinion to the club. My opinion was really very positive about Christian. He is a very young player, of course, but he is very strong. I am very happy. He has the possibility to improve more. He can become a very important player for us.”

Pulisic’s style of play certainly slots in with Sarri’s philosophy, as he loves his players to have plenty of touches on the ball with quick passing and moving. Pulisic’s supreme dribbling ability will also give Chelsea an extra weapon.

The stars have somewhat aligned for Pulisic to make an instant impact at Chelsea during the 2019-20 season.

In January the situation around Eden Hazard wasn’t as clear as it is now (Hazard seems highly likely to leave for Real Madrid this summer), plus both Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have suffered serious injuries in the last few weeks and Gonzalo Higuain seems unlikely to stay at Chelsea on loan next season.

That means Pulisic, Willian, Pedro and Olivier Giroud are Chelsea’s main attackers for the start of the season and with Chelsea currently amid a transfer ban for this summer and January 2020, the USMNT star will get a chance to become a regular in the PL and Champions League for Chelsea.

Chelsea could bring back Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and several other loanees to help boost their squad, but it appears that if Sarri remains in charge, Pulisic will get a good run of games early in his Chelsea career.