MLS Cup 2015 preview: Columbus Crew SC vs. Portland Timbers


Columbus Crew SC vs. Portland Timbers
When: Sunday, 4 p.m. ET
Where: MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Live updates:

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This. Is. It. On Sunday, nine months to the day from when the LA Galaxy and Chicago Fire kicked off the 2015 Major League Soccer season, Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers will do battle for the 2015 MLS Cup trophy at MAPFRE Stadium, putting to bed the 20th MLS season. Two decades of soccer, over just like that.

We’ve already talked at great length about who’s the favorite in Sunday’s showdown (READ HERE), what winning a championship in their first MLS Cup appearance would mean for the Timbers (READ HERE), and the challenges Crew SC pose to one of the league’s stingiest defenses all season (READ HERE).

On one side you’ve Crew SC, led by Kei Kamara‘s 22 goals during the regular season (three more during the playoffs, including series-winners in each of the conference semifinals and conference finals), and Ethan Finlay’s 13 assists (5th-most in the regular season) and 12 goals. Federico Higuain (8 goals, 9 assists) and Justin Meram (6 goals, 5 assists) round out one of the most potent attacking quartets in all of MLS. Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani, arguably the best midfield duo in MLS, provide the foundation for everything from deep in midfield. Don’t mistake full backs Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful for wingers, though they’ll spend a good chunk of Sunday’s game overlapping into the final third. Michael Parkhurst and Gaston Sauro are the men in the middle of defense, with Steve Clark in goal.

[ MORE: Men in Blazers — MLS Cup preview special with Borchers, Kamara ]

For the Timbers, Fanendo Adi is the main man, with 16 goals during the regular season and two more during the playoffs. From there, it’s a massive drop-off in production, but not quality — Darlington Nagbe (5 and 5), ever the enigma, and Diego Valeri (8 and 2) check in with a combined 20 goals scored and assisted. Rodney Wallace (1 and 7) and Dairon Asprilla (1 and 2 during the regular season; 1 and 3 during the playoffs) provide the width and service for the big Nigerian striker. It’ll be Diego Chara on something of an island deeper in midfield, counted on to shield the center backs, Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell, who’s expected to be available after a calf injury forced him to miss the second leg of the conference finals, from the Crew SC quartet of attackers. Jorge Villafana and Alvas Powell are the full backs who, like their counterparts, will be all-action up and down the flanks all game long. MLS Save of the Year-winner Adam Kwarasey is the man between the posts.

There will be wide-open soccer; there will be lots of chances for both sides; there will even be a handful of goals on Sunday — it won’t be like the typical cagey affair in a Cup final where both sides spend forever feeling each other out and are afraid to make a mistake. Forcing mistakes and pouncing on them is the name of the game for both of these sides.

Regular season: Crew SC 1-2 Timbers — Sept. 26 (Goalscorers: Kamara, Adi – x2)
Injuries: CLB — QUESTIONABL: Kristinn Steindorsson (knee), Romain Gall (hip) | POR — QUESTIONABLE: Ben Zemanski (knee), Liam Ridgewell (calf)

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons another stadium site, plan ]

Prediction: Crew SC 3-1 Timbers — Too much offensive firepower, paired with a rabid defensive approach, from Crew SC will too much for the Timbers to handle. It’s nigh impossible to imagine a world in which Kamara doesn’t score a goal (or two) in this game. There’s also multiple set-piece goals waiting to be scored in this one.

Luis Enrique to return as Spain boss five months after resigning

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Luis Enrique will be named manager of the Spanish national team on Tuesday, five months to the day after stepping down from the same position to care for his nine-year-old daughter as she battled bone cancer.

[ MORE: Van Dijk leaves Netherlands squad for “personal reasons” ]

Robert Moreno is set to step aside to make way for Enrique. Moreno was previously an assistant on Enrique’s staff and had initially been put in charge of La Roja through the 2020 European Championship.

Enrique’s daughter, Xana, passed away in late August after a five-month battle.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

Moreno managed the team during Monday’s 5-0 thrashing of Romania to complete an unbeaten EURO 2020 qualifying campaign, but the 42-year-old was seen leaving the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in tears after the game. Neither Moreno nor any of the players spoke to the media.

He previously said that he would step aside should Enrique find himself able to return. Moreno insisted that friendship came first, above all else.

Preview: USMNT’s must-win Nations League finale v. Cuba

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The scenario is simple for the U.S. men’s national team ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Cuba (7:30 p.m.ET): Gregg Berhalter’s side will finish top of Group A with a victory, and only a victory. Period. It’s as simple as that.

[ MORE: Brazil beat Mexico to win U-17 World Cup (video) ]

Friday’s victory over Canada righted the wrongs of last month’s defeat north of the border and laid the foundation for the Americans to reach the semifinals in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League, provided they take care of business in George Town, Cayman Islands, in what is set to be the final game of Berhalter’s first calendar year in charge. Despite trailing Canada (+6 goal differential)  by three points heading into Friday, the Yanks (+8) already have the tiebreaker in their favor.

Jordan Morris, Gyasi Zardes (twice) and Aaron Long scored to give the USMNT its 4-1 triumph over their northern neighbors. More importantly, it was a largely dominant display after going 1-0 up inside two minutes and carrying a 3-0 led into halftime.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

The USMNT will once again be without Christian Pulisic (hip injury), leaving the attacking options on the roster quite thin. Morris, who got a goal and an assist against Canada, will likely start on the left again, with Sebastian Lletget and Paul Arriola playing centrally and on the right respectively. Zardes is the presumed starter up top, unless Berhalter opts for the youthful inexperience of Josh Sargent in a must-win game.

Berhalter appears to have settled on a pretty consistent backline, with Sergiño Dest and Aaron Long manning the right side and John Brooks and, at least on Friday, Tim Ream on the left. Weston McKennie’s place deep in midfield has been cemented for quite some time, but he’s partnered close to a half-dozen players alongside him this year alone. The 21-year-old Schalke midfielder was stellar against Canada, frequently starting counter-attacks and carrying the ball into the final third.

Projected USMNT lineup


Dest —— Long —— Brooks —— Ream

McKennie —— Roldan

Arriola —— Lletget —— Morris


Man Utd debt climbs to $500m as club spends to halt decline

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United’s attempt to strengthen its underperforming squad has proved costly with debt rising more than 55 percent in a year to $498 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

The cost of signing Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James ahead of the new season in the first quarter of the financial year was around 140 million pounds.

Although United reported record revenue last season of $812 million, the New York Stock Exchange listed business is now expecting the 2019-20 figure to drop to between $725 million and $750 million.

That is due to United missing out on Champions League television and prize money after finishing sixth last season. United could miss out again with the side in seventh place, nine points behind fourth-placed Manchester City after 12 of the 38 games.

[ MORE: Van Dijk leaves Netherlands squad for “personal reasons” ]

“Our ultimate aim is to win trophies, play fast, fluid, attacking football, with a team that uses graduates from our academy along with world-class acquisitions,” United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said. “We know this will not be achieved overnight, however we have made investments across the club that we believe will set us on the right path.

“We know our academy is a strong competitive advantage and an area we will continue to invest in as it is at the heart of the club.”

EURO 2020: Spain, Sweden finish top; Norway, Romania reach playoffs

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MADRID — Spain finished its qualifying campaign for the 2020 European Championship with a 5-0 rout of Romania in what could have been the farewell match for coach Robert Moreno on Monday.

Moreno did not show for the post-match interview and there were widespread reports in Spanish media he would not continue at the helm of “La Roja.”

The Spanish soccer federation did not immediately say why the coach did not talk to the media. It said a news conference was scheduled for Tuesday.

Moreno took over the job after Luis Enrique resigned in March to take care of his sick daughter. Moreno had been Luis Enrique’s assistant until then.

Gerard Moreno scored twice for the hosts, who had already secured a spot in the tournament but needed the victory to be among the top-seeded teams in the draw this month.

Spain also got on the scoreboard through Fabian Ruiz, Mikel Oyarzabal, and an own-goal by Romanian defender Adrian Rus.

“It was important to finish with the three points in front of our crowd,” said Ruiz, who scored his first goal with the national team. “We need to keep this same dynamic going into the Euros next year.”

Spain ended as the Group F winner with eight wins and two draws, at Norway and Sweden. “La Roja” finished five points in front of second-placed Sweden.

Romania, which had already been eliminated, ended in fourth place with four victories and two draws in 10 matches.

Spain, coming off routing Malta 7-0 in Cadiz, outscored its opponents 31-5.

It was in control from the start on Monday, with Romania threatening only a few times in front of a crowd of 36,198 at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, including many Romanians.

Ruiz opened the scoring from close range in the eighth minute, and Moreno added his goals with a header in the 33rd and strike from the six-yard line in the 43rd.

Rus found his own net while trying to intercept a cross into the area in first-half stoppage time, and Oyarzabal closed the scoring with a left-footed shot from outside the box in second-half injury time.

It was the second Spain match at Atletico’s Metropolitano stadium, the other a 6-1 rout of Argentina ahead of last year’s World Cup.