MLS Playoff Preview: Timbers look to finish off rival Sounders

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  • Portland won series opener in Seattle, 2-1
  • Timbers are unbeaten at home since March
  • Sounders expect injured Yedlin, Martins to be available

PORTLAND, Ore. — Maybe we’re over-thinking this. Seattle has been a consistent postseason participant and have an absolutely loaded squad, but they’ve also won one of their last nine games, and traveling to JELD-WEN Field on Thursday, they’re facing a Portland team with all the indicators in their favor: nine games unbeaten; two straight wins over Seattle; 15 games unbeaten at home; the league’s best goal difference; only five losses in 35 games. Between two teams tending in opposite directions, is there any reason to believe Seattle can knock off the Timbers on Thursday?

Of course there is. Seattle shouldn’t be considered favorites, but with weapons like Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey, they certainly have a puncher’s chance. A clicking Osvaldo Alonso is the best defensive midfielder in Major League Soccer, Brad Evans has gone from massively underrated to finally appreciated, and on Saturday, Mauro Rosales showed he can still influence a game. The Sounders have enough weapons to land a punch, especially if an inexperienced Timbers team proves willing to expose their chin.

Watch the game tonight at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN or watch it on NBC Sports Live Extra

There are, however, a few reasons to think Seattle will be better than Saturday and, by inference (they only lost by one), capable of getting a result in Portland:

  • Seattle should be significantly healthier. Right back DeAndre Yedlin, who turned his ankle in the Sounders’ first round game against Colorado, will almost certainly play, and the team is optimistic Obafemi Martins will return from a groin injury. Each could provide an upgrade on Thursday, be it as a starter (Yedlin’s most likely role) or off the bench (Martins, who could yet start).
  • The Sounders could switch formations, going away from the narrow diamond midfield that cost them on Saturday. A move back to their typical 4-4-2 could allow them to move Rosales into the starting lineup, moving Evans to the left and Clint Dempsey up top. With Lamar Neagle suspended (yellow card accumulation), the decision could come down to whether Martins is able to start.
  • Seattle will have also learned from Portland’s tactics, with people now starting to realize the possession-dependent Timbers that’d been adored throughout the season disappeared two months ago. Against a Timber team willing to cede possession, the Sounders must be willing to play the extra pass and try to create better chances. On Saturday, they should have chosen quality over quantity.

But whereas Seattle will institute some of those tweaks, Portland’s not hard to predict. The only lineup question ahead of Saturday’s game was who would start at striker. But with Ryan Johnson getting on the scoresheet in Seattle, the Jamaica international seems likely to get the call on Thursday, particularly given the Sounders are unlikely to make any changes in central defense.

[MORE: MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on the Seattle Sounders ahead of Thursday’s visit to Portland]

“We felt his strength in the air, his physicality, ability to hold the ball up, his athleticism, his pace and power was a good matchup against [Sounders defenders Jhon Kennedy] Hurtado and [Djimi] Traore,” Caleb Porter explained, asked for the reasons he selected Johnson Saturday night.

source:  Even if Portland stays with the same XI, one change is guaranteed: The crowd. The over-20,000 who’ll sellout JELD-WEN will strive to impress against their regional rivals, Seattle’s fans having had their chance to do the same on Saturday. Then, the Sounders’ Emerald City Supporters’ weekend tifo featured a large skull beneath a banner reading “WELCOME TO YOUR NIGHTMARE” (right). The Timbers Army will certainly try to outdo their rivals in support.

But beyond personnel and lineup choices, changing tactics or shifting venues, the implicit question people seem to be asking is whether Portland’s for real. Their final standing in the West says one thing, as do all the underlying numbers, but having never made it this far before (and having undergone such a steep and unexpected rise to get here), people are understandably incredulous. Not only has Portland never won before, but we’ve never really see a team like this — a collection of disparate parts assembled under a neophyte boss — succeed in MLS. Until that happens, people will compare them to the Los Angeleses, Real Salt Lakes, and Seattles of the world, teams they’re used to seeing in the postseason, and wonder whether they can get it done.

[MORE: MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on the Portland Timbers ahead of their visit from Seattle]

On Thursday, Portland will either continue all the trends or justify the doubts, but given those doubts have been proven wrong throughout the season, it might be best to acknowledge the data, see a team that’s lost only five times this year, and recognize Portland are probably much bigger favorites than we’re giving them credit for.

FOLLOW LIVE — Berhalter’s USMNT taking on Chile

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The U.S. men’s national team, without a pair of prominent youngsters and building blocks for the future, is set to take on Chile at BBCA Compass Stadium in Houston.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT v. Chile ]

Following the departures of Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie from camp, Gregg Berhalter has made changes up and down the squad from Thursday’s 1-0 victory over Ecuador.

Hit the link above to follow along live, and check back with PST for a full recap and player ratings after the game.

Prime minister May joins England players in calling for strong punishment

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LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday urged soccer authorities to take strong action against Montenegro after England players faced a torrent of racial abuse during a European Championship qualifying match.

UEFA charged the Montenegro Football Association over its fans’ racist behavior in Podgorica on Monday night after England players Callum Hudson-Odoi and Danny Rose complained about being targeted with monkey chants during the team’s 5-1 victory.

UEFA’s anti-discrimination group had sent a monitor to the game because there was judged to be a “high risk” of racism and their evidence will now feed into a disciplinary case that will be heard on May 16 by European soccer’s governing body.

The treatment of England players was debated in the House of Commons between discussions about the Brexit deadlock and there was an intervention from May’s Downing Street office.

“The abuse England players were subjected to last night was disgusting and completely unacceptable,” said James Slack, the prime minister’s spokesman. “It is right that UEFA are now investigating. We urge them to do this quickly and to take strong and swift action.”

In a sign of the extent of the racism problem in European soccer, UEFA announced a separate investigation on Tuesday into abuse aimed at Hudson-Odoi while playing for Chelsea. UEFA said it appointed an inspector to assess a complaint by Chelsea that the 18-year-old winger was targeted with racist insults by Dynamo Kiev fans during the London club’s 5-0 win in Ukraine in the Europa League.

“It is a disaster,” UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said of racism in European football. “I cannot believe these people still exist.”

In the Montenegro incident, the Fare network which monitors discrimination at games in Europe will provide evidence which could lead to a partial or full stadium closure for the team’s next Euro 2020 qualifier in June against Kosovo.

“We had an observer present who picked up evidence of racial abuse,” Fare said in a statement. “Our monitoring team have been compiling the evidence we have before presenting it to UEFA.

We commend the reaction of the England players involved, no human being should have to face abuse and vilification for their race or identity, something that many Montenegrins will understand from the divisive and bloody recent history of the Balkans.”

In one unsavory incident, England winger Raheem Sterling cupped his ears after scoring England’s fifth goal and Montenegro fans responded with jeers before an object — reportedly a lighter — was thrown onto the field. It was picked up by Hudson-Odoi.

“All of us know what skin color we are,” Sterling said after the game. “It’s not like you are telling us anything new.”

Hudson-Odoi, in another post-match interview, mimicked the monkey chants he and Rose heard.

“We hope that UEFA will act decisively, the sanctions that could be applied for an offense of this kind range from a partial stadium closure to full stadium closure,” Fare said in a statement. “These sanctions are being applied regularly for offenses in UEFA competitions, often against resistance from supporter groups and football stakeholders.

“The challenge of tackling racism and other forms of discrimination in European football however remains an ongoing issue. The societal change and education that is the ultimate solution is slow to take place. Even in the countries of Western Europe where there has been investment and focus on these issues, discrimination remains a stain on football.”

The Football Association of Montenegro said it was only “alleged” there was “racist behavior of few spectators” but committed to identifying anyone deemed responsible and banning them from all matches in the country.

“At the matches played by our respective national teams until now, we have not had any incidents related to religious, gender or racial discrimination and we are fully convinced that there will not be any such incidents in the future,” the federation said. “In a multicultural and multiethnic society as Montenegro is, there is not any space for such conduct, which was the feeling most intensively experienced by our guests from England during the previous two official matches they played in Podgorica.”

The English Football Association said much work is required to eradicate racism across the game.

“The issues we saw last night are not isolated to any specific country, and despite progress English football still has its own incidents of discrimination,” the FA said.

“Our experience is that by combining both sanctions and education, whilst working alongside campaigners such as Kick It Out, real progress can be made.”

Inter and Milan close to announcing plans for new stadium

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MILAN (AP) Inter and AC Milan are close to announcing a joint project for a new stadium, casting aside potential renovations to the San Siro.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

Inter CEO Alessandro Antonello tells the Gazzetta dello Sport the clubs agree the best way forward is to build a new stadium next to the city-run San Siro then tear down the old stadium.

Antonello says, “Inter and Milan are working together. We still have work to do but the time is right. Soon we will inform the city of our shared choice. Milan needs a stadium worthy of the top European cities.”

The San Siro, officially named Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, opened in 1926 and has already had several renovations. Modernizing the San Siro again could take more time and money than building a new stadium – plus would require Inter and Milan to play elsewhere during construction.

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

Young American undergoing cancer treatment to meet her Huddersfield hero

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A seven-year-old girl from Dallas, Texas will be meeting her hero in Huddersfield.

Bella has lost her hair during treatment for Medulloblastoma, a form of child brain cancer, and took comfort in watching shaved headed Aaron Mooy play for Huddersfield Town in the Premier League and at the World Cup for Australia.

After undergoing radiation treatment throughout the summer, Bella and her father spent plenty of time on the couch watching soccer as she rested from the intensive treatment.

The young American now has a Huddersfield kit with Mooy’s name and number on the back of the shirt, and the club came across her story on social media.

Bella and her father will now travel to the UK as guests of the club and will meet Mooy and watch him and the Terriers take on Leicester City on Saturday Apr. 6 at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Huddersfield Town’s commercial director Sean Jarvis revealed that Mooy and the club — with the help of local company PAXMAN who have a base in Texas for their caps which help with chemotherapy-induced hair loss — are delighted to welcome Bella to a PL game in April.

“Everyone at the club is looking forward to welcoming Bella over for her special trip in early April. Her story, and bravery, are extraordinary and she thoroughly deserves what should hopefully be a very special experience. The fact that she relates to Aaron’s shaved head is really beautiful and as soon as Aaron heard, he shared our desire to do something special for Bella and her family.”

As her mother Lauren explained, they hope Bella is coming towards the end of her treatment as they now wait for her immune system to recover.

In the meantime, she enjoys watching Mooy play via the FIFA World Cup video game or elsewhere, and she will now get the chance to meet him and watch him play in real life.