MLS Season Preview: Portland Timbers

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Odd to say about a team with a “genius” coach, the fewest losses in MLS and the best goal differential, but it’s hard to get a confident read on the Portland Timbers. Caleb Porter clearly knows how to coach up a team, and the Timbers cleaned up at the MLS Awards, but who were they really in 2013? And who might they be this year?

The reason to put it that way is the Timbers tied a remarkable 15 matches last season. That’s nearly twice as many as any playoff team and four more than the club with the second-most ties (FC Dallas).

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In a Western Conference where their first place point total was just six points higher than the San Jose club that missed the playoffs, Portland may have very well been the best team in the entire league… or just another squad. Their 15 ties are the highest in two entire seasons of MLS play, so were they a goal away from the Supporters Shield or a couple goals away from missing the playoffs entirely?

Likely the former (See: the playoffs), but something to keep an eye on before we go all gushy on a team loaded up for 2014. Darlington Nagbe, Will Johnson and company will have their say yet again this year, but how loud will they roar?

Transfers In: Gaston Fernandez (transfer from Estudiantes de La Plata), Norberto Paparatto (transfer from Tigre), Steve Zakuani (Re-Entry draft), Jorge Villafana (trade from Chivas USA), Andrew Weber (free), Schillo Tshuma (MLS SuperDraft), Taylor Peay (MLS SuperDraft)

Transfers Out: David Horst (option declined), Ryan Johnson (out of contract), Andrew Jean-Baptiste (traded to Chivas), Sal Zizzo (trade to Sporting KC), Milos Kocic (retired), Mikael Silvestre (contract terminated), Brad Ring (out of contract), Jose Valencia (loaned to Club Olimpo)

Key Player: Diego Valeri

How will the reigning MLS Newcomer of the Year improve on a 11-goal season (10 regular season, 1 playoff)? That’s the big question, and I’d expect to see Valeri be even more a playmaker than a finisher this season. Yes, it’s nice to see Nagbe move in tight spaces and the Akron family reunion (Zakuani, Zemansky, Porter) will likely pay dividends, but Valeri slots in just above Will Johnson in position and importance as to whether the numbers go the way of PDX.

source: AP
Caleb Porter (right), with Timbers owner/president Merritt Paulson (Photo: AP.)

Manager: Caleb Porter

He’s got all the tools you’d like in a manager, plus the brash attitude to reshuffle his deck at will. Remember the incredible flipped roster of last season? Well, Porter’s brought in a big center back in Paparatto and slick Fernandez from Argentina. He continues to make the right moves in the Pacific Northwest.

Outlook:

I’ll admit to having my concerns about the Timbers repeating their success, but the numbers say that Porter and Portland should challenge for the Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup. In fact, if Porter is who many think he is, this could be the season where he starts getting whispers for jobs even “bigger” than the one supported by the wonderful world of Timbers Army.

MLS Best XI unveiled with awesome foosball video

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Major League Soccer, wow, this is terrific #content.

MLS released its Best XI on Monday with a dynamite video of the players passing the ball from Zack Steffen in goal to Josef Martinez up top… via a virtual foosball table.

[ VIDEO: An unprecedented goal ]

The XI is set in a 3-4-3, with the New York Red Bulls, DC United, and Atlanta United leading the way with a pair of players each.

My predictions? Well, I only got six correct. Whoops. The only absence that really surprises me is Graham Zusi, and Sporting KC not having representation at all. I guess that explains why SKC manager Peter Vermes is going to be announced as the next USMNT– Wait, what’s that? Oh. I’ll stop talking.

2018 MLS Best XI

Goalkeeper: Zack Steffen (Columbus)

Defenders: Kemar Lawrence (RBNY), Aaron Long (RBNY), Chad Marshall (Seattle)

Midfielders: Miguel Almiron (Atlanta), Luciano Acosta (DC), Ignacio Piatti (Montreal), Carlos Vela (LAFC)

Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy), Josef Martinez (Atlanta), Wayne Rooney (DC)

WATCH: Striker scores potentially unprecedented goal while helping teammate

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“Look, I know you’re injured, but I’m gonna be right back. Got a goal to score for us.”

Maccabi Petah Tikva forward Habib Habibou scored what can only be described as an unprecedented goal — at least in terms of being captured on video — Israel this weekend.

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Habibou, 31, and his club were locked in scoreless tussle with Maccabi Netanya on Saturday when one of his teammates was injured in the box.

The CAR striker, formerly of Zulte Waregem and Royal Charleroi, was taking care of said teammate when he spotted an 87th minute spilled rebound.

What was he gonna do, really, other than dart onto the loose ball, score the match-winner, and then return to his ailing mate?

Petah Tikva won 1-0.

Juventus executive: Bring season Serie A game abroad

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Juventus chief revenue officer Giorgio Ricci likes La Liga’s idea of taking a regular season match outside of its domestic borders.

Ricci would like Serie A to explore a similar move, saying Italian soccer can only benefit from putting its brand in other markets.

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Serie A lags behind other top European league in TV money, which has hindered its ability to recruit top end talent relative to its competitors.

Ricci says if American sports see value in bringing their top leagues to Europe, it holds that the reverse would be true. From the BBC:

“If we look at some other more developed leagues in terms of commercial strategy; the NBA and NFL, they are exporting one or two of their matches abroad, to the UK or elsewhere in Europe. I think it is a good strategy. It is a way to export something that is not an exhibition.”

Would a regular season match bring any more eyes or attention than the International Champions Cup, at least enough to offset the sacrifice of atmosphere? It seems doubtful, but the money is the key here. Italy wants to catch up with Spain, Germany, and England.

FC Cincinnati switches crest ahead of MLS debut

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FC Cincinnati has unveiled its crest for 2019’s maiden voyage in Major League Soccer.

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Sticking with the orange and blue color combination which has served them since inception, the shield has FC in the top left corner, Cincinnati running diagonally left-to-right in blue script on white, and a winged lion holding a sword as the primary icon.

FCC will draft up to five current MLS players in the Expansion Draft on Dec. 11. Teams will announce their protected lists on Dec. 10.

Cincinnati will play in the Eastern Conference. It won the USL regular season championship under coach Alan Koch in 2018.