Real Salt Lake Man of the Match: Javier Morales

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There were lots of great, potential Man of the Match choices around the park for Real Salt Lake, which took a nice, long stride in the direction of the 2013 MLS Cup final with its commanding performance over a potentially staggered Portland Timbers.

But when Javier Morales put his head on a late corner kick, supplying Real Salt Lake with a crucial fourth goal in the opener of this highly attractive first-leg Western Conference final, the veteran Argentine playmaker sealed the deal.

It looked like Morales had bequeathed his team a seriously intimidating three-goal advantage in the series, although Freddie Piquionne’s late, bullet header for Portland changes things a bit as this one reaches “halftime.”

Still, Morales had so very much to say about an enormous night at Rio Tinto Stadium, one that started with a surprising nervousness, but unfolded about as well as it possibly could from there for Jason Kreis’ team. Morales had a goal and two assists, but his equally important imprint was in helping the home team rule the midfield.

RSL had just 36 percent of the possession over the game’s first few minutes, a really shocking number considering how strong RSL generally is in possession, especially at Rio Tinto.

But there was Morales to calm the choppy waters. When the team’s younger midfielders in the RSL diamond, Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez, settled down – and they were both very good in two-way work over 90 minutes – Portland had very little going.

Morales didn’t just assist his team in retaining possession; his passes almost always kept the team moving forward. And that kept Portland pinned in for long stretches. When Portland tried to press, Morales was there to help RSL reliably break the pressure. And when Portland sat back, Morales guided his team in picking apart the visitors’ scrambling back line, spraying timely balls out wide to be pinged back in front of Timbers’ goal.

Morales’ early corner kick found Chris Schuler for the critical equalizer. Later, Morales helped spring Robbie Findley as RSL rookie Devon Sandoval got into the scoring act. And finally, that deflected header that gave Portland is fourth.

And this part was less noticed on Morales’ big night of attacking and steely ball handling:

On RSL’s other goal, who was it chasing all the way back, assisting Gil in defense along RSL’s right side as RSL won the ball and quickly moved the other way? That was Morales, helping to claim possession before Findley was off and running, pressuring Portland’s back line and creating the home team’s second goal.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE