Johnson, Valeri, Danso goals vault Portland Timbers into MLS’s Western Conference finals

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Vancouver Whitecaps may have won this year’s Cup, but after Thursday night at JELD-WEN Field, the Portland Timbers are the kings of Cascadia – and until two late, desperation goals, it wasn’t particularly close. After carrying a 2-1 lead out of Saturday’s first leg in Seattle, Portland saw goals from Will Johnson, Diego Valeri and Futty Danso give them a 5-1 lead by the 47th minute. Late Seattle goals from DeAndre Yedlin and Eddie Johnson closed the gap, but come full time, Portland had seen their Pacific Northwest rivals out of Major League Soccer’s playoffs, advancing to the Western Conference final with a 3-2 (5-3, aggregate) win.

There the Timbers will face Real Salt Lake, with Jason Kreis’s team eliminating the two-time defending champions Los Angeles Galaxy earlier Thursday evening. Goals from Sebastian Velazquez and Chris Schuler gave RSL a 2-0 win after extra time, setting up a conference final between the Western Conference’s top two seeds.

For Seattle, it is the third year in a row the team has suffered a road collapse in the playoffs. In 2011, the Sounders opened the conference semifinals with a 3-0 defeat at Real Salt Lake. Last year, the opening leg of their Western Conference final against Los Angeles also ended 3-0. Although this year’s final result looks better on the surface, at one point in the teams’ two-legged match, Seattle was down four goals, a fact that will not be easily forgotten by a fanbase growing wary of postseason disappointment.

source: AP
Left to right, Diego Valeri, Futty Danso, and Will Johnson were Portland’s goal scorers in the Timbers’ 3-2 win over Seattle. (Photo: AP.)

The start was an ominous one for Seattle, who gave up a an open chance to Rodney Wallace to in the third minute. The Costa Rican international, left open after work from Ryan Johnson and Diego Valeri collapsed the Sounder defense, put his shot into the side netting.

As the half continued, Portland was consistently able to find attackers running through Seattle’s defense, the Sounders play reminiscent of their 5-1 and 4-1 October losses to Colorado and Vancouver. In the 14th minute, Diego Chara was sent through on goal only to see Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s last ditch challenge prevent a chance, and in the 19th minute, a poor attempted clearance at the back allowed Wallace another crack from near the penalty spot. An aggressive move off his line allowed Michael Gspurning to block the try.

In the 28th minute, however, Portland broke through. Play off a throw-in deep on Seattle’s left saw Jack Jewsbury draw a penalty on Sounders’ left-center back Djimi Traoré. Running onto a ball laid off by Wallace at the edge of the penalty area, Jewsbury’s attempted chip behind the defense saw Traoré make contact with his left arm, leading to Will Johnson’s opener from the spot.

Fifteen minutes later, Portland broke through the left side of defense again, this time taking advantage of a turnover by Adam Moffat to eventually put Diego Valeri into the six-yard box. His sliding right-footer beat Gspurning into the left side netting, giving Portland a 2-0 (4-1) lead at halftime.

Lethargic coming out of halftime, Seattle gave up a third goal within 90 seconds of kickoff, with their slow reaction to a quick restart allowing Futty Danso to get in front of Traoré on a Wallace cross. The central defender’s header into the left of goal gave Gspurning no chance to prevent Portland going up four.

source: AP
Sigi Schmid saw his team give up three goals in 47 minutes on Thursday, the Sounders down 5-1 on aggregate shortly after halftime. (Photo: AP.)

After bringing Obafemi Martins and Mauro Rosales off the bench (surprise starter at forward Shalrie Joseph brought off before Adam Moffat), Seattle was able to cash in on their desperate pursuit. In the 74th minute, a long throw from the left by Brad Evans was flicked through the six-yard box to Yedlin, who slammed home Seattle’s first goal. Two minutes later, a cross from Yedlin found Eddie Johnson even was the far post, the U.S. international’s header bringing Seattle within two.

Ultimately, Johnson’s goal was a wake-up call, the Timbers’ intensity picking up after near-30 minutes of playing with a four-goal lead. Brought back into the match by Seattle’s late surge, Portland was able to kill off the game, recording their first playoff series win in franchise history.

The result allows their dream season to continue, the eighth-place finisher in last year’s Western Conference now one series away from an improbable MLS Cup final. It’s a level the rival Sounders have never attained, and a season that started with great expectations concluded with one win in 10, big changes may be in store.

Goals

Portland – 29′ Will Johnson, 44′ Diego Valeri, 47′ Futty Danso

Seattle – 74′ DeAndre Yedlin, 76′ Eddie Johnson

Lineups

Portland: Donovan Ricketts; Jack Jewsbury, Futty Danso, Pa Modou Kah, Michael Harrington; Diego Chara, Will Johnson; Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, Rodney Wallace

Seattle: Michael Gspurning; DeAndre Yedlin, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Djimi Traoré, Marc Burch; Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Adam Moffat, Clint Dempsey; Shalri Joseph, Eddie Johnson

Watch Live: Saints v. Liverpool headlines five PL games

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Five Premier League games are coming up at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, as the second Matchweek of the new campaign comes roaring at us.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Southampton and Liverpool clash at St Mary’s in the main game at 10 a.m. ET, while two new boys have their first home games back in the PL.

Aston Villa host Bournemouth at Villa Park, while Norwich host Newcastle at Carrow Road. Elsewhere, Everton host Watford and West Ham travel to Brighton.

[ 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 five games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Southampton v. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Bournemouth – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton v. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton v. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Norwich v. Newcastle – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Classy Arsenal beat Burnley

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Arsenal beat Burnley 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday to make it two wins from two to start the new season. It is the first time in 10 years Arsenal have won their opening two games of a Premier League season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

The Gunners took the lead early on through Alexandre Lacazette but a stubborn Burnley wouldn’t go away and Ashley Barnes equalized in a somewhat fortuitous manner before the break.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the winner as Dani Ceballos dazzled on his full debut in the Premier League.

Up next for the Gunners is a trip to Liverpool followed by a north London derby against Tottenham. It is then we will see just how good this Gunners side really is.


3 things we learned

1. Ceballos is the real deal: The Spanish midfielder worked so hard defensively and oozed class on the ball. He is the replacement for Aaron Ramsey and was absolutely sensational. If he keeps playing like this, Arsenal may not be able to afford to buy him permanently next summer…

2. Defensive issues remain: There were a few shaky moments at the back for the Gunners. David Luiz‘s first start saw him take a few risks on the ball, while Bernd Leno flapped at a few crosses. Arsenal looked better defensively with Guendouzi in front of the defense, but they are far from being a solid outfit.

3. Burnley were Burnley: Sean Dyche‘s side didn’t have much of the ball but they created dangerous chances from set pieces and as long as they were only one-goal down, they were always a threat.

Man of the Match: Dani Ceballos – He will become a firm fans favorite at the Emirates Stadium. Silky on the ball, the Spaniard dug deep defensively and dictated the tempo of the game. A fine home PL debut for the Real Madrid loanee, who whipped in the corner for Lacazette’s goal and then won the ball back to create Aubameyang’s goal.


Arsenal were rampant early on and after Lacazette’s header was denied by Nick Pope, the French striker wriggled free from the resulting corner and made it 1-0.

Ashley Barnes flashed an effort just wide soon after as Burnley responded well to going behind with several high balls into the Arsenal box causing the Gunners defense problems.

Before the break Ceballos, who was running the show, orchestrated a fine counter attack which ended in Pope denying Matteo Guendouzi. Moments later Burnley were level as Dwight McNeil‘s deflected shot found Barnes and he bundled the ball home under pressure from Guendouzi to equalize against the run of play.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Arsenal thought they’d retaken the lead right on half time but Nacho Monreal was flagged for offside as he pulled the ball back for Reiss Nelson to smash home. VAR checked the decision and no goal was given.

Nicolas Pepe came on at half time as Arsenal cranked through in the second half, with the home side dominating the play and Pope making several saves.

Ceballos, once again, was the heart of their game-winning goal as he won the ball back in a dangerous area and Aubameyang raced towards goal before curling home at the near post.

VIDEO: Lacazette scores superb solo goal

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Alexandre Lacazette is off and running for the new Premier League season.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

The Frenchman, fresh from his return from injury, wriggled free at the near post and somehow snuck his shot home to put Arsenal 1-0 up at the Emirates Stadium against Burnley.

Watch his superb strike in the video above, as the Gunners looked solid and dangerous with Dani Ceballos pulling the strings.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Burnley

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Arsenal host Burnley on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as both teams aim to stay perfect after wins to open up the new season.

The Gunners won 1-0 at Newcastle last week, while Burnley hammered Southampton at home, and Unai Emery’s men are red-hot favorites to make it two wins from two as their attacking stars start to find their groove.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

In team news Arsenal start David Luiz and Dani Ceballos, while Alexandre Lacazette returns from injury. Henrikh Mkhitaryan drops to the bench and club-record signing Nicolas Pepe is also named as a sub. Mesut Ozil misses our through illness.

Burnley start with the same team that beat Southampton 3-0 last weekend, as Jay Rodriguez and Aaron Lennon are handy attacking options to have on the bench.

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