Champions! Timbers top Crew SC to lift 2015 MLS Cup

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For the first time in club history, the Portland Timbers are Major League Soccer champions after knocking off Columbus Crew SC, 2-1, in the 2015 MLS Cup final at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday.

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Diego Valeri and Rodney Wallace will go down in Timbers lore as the scorers of the Rose City’s Cup-winning goals, 27 seconds and seven minutes into the game respectively, lifting Caleb Porter’s side to to the MLS mountaintop.

Valeri, who was named Most Valuable Player of Sunday’s final,  opened the scoring with just 27 seconds on the clock (fastest in MLS Cup history – WATCH HERE), when he capitalized on a shocking error by Crew SC goalkeeper Steve Clark inside his own penalty area. Clark let the ball run across his body in an attempt to play it out of the back, but a poor first touch saw it run behind him. He attempted to recover quickly, but Valeri sensed the gaffe and was quick to close down the space. When Clark finally attempted to boot it out wide, Valeri came in with the sliding challenge and swept the ball into the back of the net.

Portland quickly doubled their lead after another spell of poor Crew SC defending and a massively blown no-call by an assistant referee. Diego Chara played the ball out wide — too wide, in fact, as in, out of play by a two or three feet — to Alvas Powell, but the assistant referee on that side of the field didn’t signal for the throw-in that should have been given (WATCH HERE). Play continued, Darlington Nagbe weaved his way through midfield, played Lucas Melano through out wide and he crossed for Wallace at the back post, where he headed past Clark for 2-0.

[ MORE: Valeri opens the scoring with MLS Cup record-breaking goal ]

Crew SC pulled a goal back through Kei Kamara (WATCH HERE), scorer of 22 regular-season goals and three more in the MLS Cup Playoffs en route to Sunday’s final, in the 18th minute. A mad scramble inside the Timbers’ penalty area began with a failed punch by Adam Kwarasey, and finished with Kamara dancing his way around a sea of defenders and firing a low, bouncing shot past Kwarasey for 2-1.

Lucas Melano had the best chance to re-establish Portland’s two-goal lead in the 54th minute, but the Argentine newcomer dwelled on the ball far too long inside the penalty area, where he was briefly one-on-one against Clark, allowing Michael Parkhurst to recover and block the untimely shot on goal. Parkhurst came up with another massive block in the 60th minute, making a last-ditch, sliding block against Fanendo Adi.

A moment of pure madness followed on the ensuing corner kick. The ball was whipped into the Crew SC penalty area, where Parkhurst made one goal-line clearance with his forehead, then another with his left arm after the ball caromed off the crossbar. No penalty given, no red card, no yellow card, no whistle blown — nothing.

[ MORE: PST staff predicts MLS Cup 2015 — how’d we do? ]

A header by Adi went inches from doubling the lead in the 71st minute, but the big Nigerian striker could only watch helplessly as the ball hit the inside of the post and bounced back into play, catching Clark completely off-guard, hitting him in the midsection and very nearly deflecting into the goal, but ultimately only going out of play for a corner kick. Scenes. Absolute scenes.

Crew SC mustered very little late on with the game and their season on the line, with Portland effectively seeing out the game en route to lifting the Philip F. Anschutz trophy in front of more than 2,000 traveling fans clad in Green and Gold. Sunday’s MLS Cup triumph makes the Timbers the 10th different MLS franchise to win the title.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”