Early goals, toothless Crew SC send Timbers to MLS Cup coronation

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From being inches — literally, on not one, but two posts, on the same kick of the ball — away from elimination in the first round of the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs more than a month ago, to lifting the Philip F. Anschutz trophy at midfield of MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday, the 2015 postseason was one Portland Timbers fans won’t soon remember forget.

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Sunday’s triumph over Columbus Crew SC in the 2015 MLS Cup final was yet another example of a crazy, unpredictable title-decider, in that it went completely against everything we thought we could forecast for this game. That tends to happen, though, when less than 30 seconds are on the clock and one team has already scored, doesn’t it?

Timbers quickest out of the blocks

Which is where we’ll begin our anlysis tonight. Portland weren’t just quickest out of the starting blocks on Sunday; they were the quickest team on the scoreboard in MLS Cup’s 20-year history. Diego Valeri’s goal 27 seconds into Sunday’s final was a sucker-punch to the proverbial jaw of Crew SC. Such a confident team all season, free-flowing and wide open with the belief that a goal was always just around the corner, Crew SC were shell-shocked and never really recovered from the early blow. They conceded the eventual winner six minutes later.

Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter:

“I think you could see a little bit of nerves. Steve [Clark] gets hundreds of balls, thousands of balls played to him during the course of the season and he rarely makes a mistake like that and you have to live with it. We support him and mistakes are part of the game. The start wasn’t good, the start was certainly not good. What I am pleased about is that we didn’t give up.

In fairness to Portland, the early goal won’t have changed all that much about Crew SC’s gameplan — they wanted to play quickly and aggressively beforehand, so nothing debilitating there — but it did allow the Timbers to defend with numbers, rather than to engage the Black and Gold in a counter-attacking track meet.

[ FULL RECAP: Timbers top Crew SC to take home first MLS Cup ]

They helped Diego Chara — a whole lot

My biggest worry for Portland ahead of the game was that Chara would be but a lone man constantly contending with a quartet of dangerous attackers, and would eventually succumb through no real fault of his own. As a knock-on effect of the early goal, those defensive numbers aided Chara more than anyone else in Green and Gold. Darlington Nagbe (and Valeri, to a degree) sagged deeper and deeper into midfield and forced Federico Higuain into a dismal performance when his side needed him at his most sublime.

Rodney Wallace and Lucas Melano provided serious cover for the full backs, Jorge Villafana, who was absolutely immense, and Alvas Powell. In the end, it was a full-team defensive effort from Portland, when the threat of them being stretched wide and made to chase the game seemed so real prior to kickoff. Crew SC, a side that led MLS in shots on target during the regular season (5.3 per game) managed just one in the biggest game of the season. Set pieces, of which there were alarmingly few for Crew SC, also failed them on Sunday when they had been such a weapon all season long.

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

Timbers’ defensive shape picture-perfect

My other gigantic worry for Portland was that center backs Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell, neither of whom are particularly quick or athletic, would be torched when dragged out into open space to defend wingers Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram, both of whom were exceptionally poor by their standards and subbed off in the second half. The entire “why” for that duo, which combined for 18 goals and 18 assists during the regular season, being so poor was the defensive shape of the Timbers’ backline.

Villafana and Powell rarely ventured forward — thanks again, early goals! — and put in their best defensive shifts of the season. That meant Borchers and Ridgewell, 34 and 31 respectively, weren’t rushing out into space to emergency-defend against Finlay and Meram. Those two largely nullified, Kei Kamara, who scored 22 times during the regular season and three more times in the playoffs before Sunday, and he was feeding on scraps. Kamara managed just one shot all night — his goal — on 31 total touches over 90 minutes.

No deal: Willian, Wan-Bissaka bids rejected

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According to Sky Sports Chelsea have reportedly rejected $44 million bids from both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona for their Brazilian winger Willian.

Willian, 29, has just 12 months left on his current contract at Chelsea but given their transfer ban and after losing Eden Hazard to Real Madrid already this summer, the west London club are not willing to lose a player they believe will be key for them next season.

With Pedro and Christian Pulisic also around in the wide midfield positions, the fact that Callum Hudson-Odoi is recovering from a long-term injury also means that Willian is needed at Stamford Bridge.

He turns 30 soon and he has been linked with a move to Barca in the past. That said, his experience and quality will be needed for this young Chelsea squad and with Hazard gone he can now step up and be the main man cutting inside and scoring goals.


Another London club have turned down a bid, as Crystal Palace have brushed aside an offer of $44 million up front plus another $19 million in add-ons from Manchester United for right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

The 21-year-old was Palace’s Player of the Season in 2018-19 and excelled in his first full season as a professional.

Man United are desperate to bolster their defense, with right back and center back key areas where they want to strengthen this summer.

Wan-Bissaka is currently away with the England U21 squad for the European Championships in Italy and Palace know it will be tough to hang on to both him and Wilfried Zaha this summer as the latter has reaffirmed his desire to challenge for trophies and play in the UEFA Champions League.

Sky Sports believe that a straight offer of $65 million would be accepted, and United will likely return to pay what Palace want for one of the most promising right backs in the Premier League.

Watch Live: 2019 Women’s World Cup – Day 11

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The first double headers of the 2019 Women’s World Cup has arrived, as Groups A and B come to a close on Monday.

Hosts France are already through to the last 16 of the tournament but they face Nigeria who are aiming to finish in second place as they have three points from their first two games, and so do Norway who face South Korea in the other Group A finale.

[ MORE: Women’s World Cup news

Germany are already through from Group B and a win against South Africa, who sit bottom of the standings, will see them top the group. The real drama will be in the game between Spain and China as both teams have three points heading into their final group game.

You can watch every single game from the tournament live online in Spanish via Telemundo Deportes and via the NBC Sports App. All you have to do is click on the links below.

[ LIVE: Watch every single 2019 Women’s World Cup game ]

Here is your full schedule for Monday, June 17 at the Women’s World Cup.


2019 Women’s World Cup schedule

Group B: China v. Spain – 12 p.m. ET – STREAM LIVE
Group B: South Africa v. Germany – 12 p.m. ET – STREAM LIVE

Group A: Nigeria v. France – 3 p.m. ET – STREAM LIVE
Group A: South Korea v. Norway – 3 p.m. ET – STREAM LIVE

USWNT: “We have best team and second best team in world”

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Well, I’m sure this will calm down the folks who believe the USWNT are overconfident and a tad arrogant after scoring 16 goals and conceding zero in their opening two games of the 2019 Women’s World Cup…

Via Andrew Keh from the New York Times, defender Ali Krieger believes that such is the incredible depth of Jill Ellis’ U.S. women’s national team, they actually have the best team on the planet and also the second best team.

“We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world,” Krieger said of the no. 1 ranked team on the planet.

Alex Morgan added that the USWNT have “two starting lineups” and the fact that Ellis made seven changes from the team which beat Thailand 13-0 and the U.S. then beat Chile 3-0 on Sunday says a lot.

All 20 of the USWNT’s outfield players have now played at the World Cup, and ahead of their Group F showdown with Sweden on Thursday for top spot it is likely the U.S. will continue to rotate its starting lineup.

In a month-long tournament, having such a large squad of talent to call on is enviable and Ellis knows it.

The USWNT toned down their goal celebrations from the 13-0 hammering of Thailand to the relatively run-of-the-mill victory against Chile, but their confidence levels haven’t dipped at all.

Just as the fresh legs will take them far in this tournament, so too will a whole squad brimming with confidence after getting valuable minutes at a World Cup.

It will be intriguing to hear what France, England and Germany think about these claims that the USWNT’s reserve squad is better than they are…

How does Sarri’s exit impact Chelsea, Pulisic?

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USMNT fans will have been thinking about one thing after Maurizio Sarri left as Chelsea’s manager to take charge of Juventus on Sunday.

How does this impact Christian Pulisic?

Pulisic, 20, signed for Chelsea in January for $73 million and was then loaned back to Borussia Dortmund for the rest of last season. He is now officially a Blues player and even though Sarri was initially a little bemused about the signing, he had recently spoken positively about Pulisic’s arrival.

But now those words do not matter. Sarri is out.

Chelsea legend and a member of their coaching staff, Carlo Cudicini, has also been speaking about the high hopes Chelsea have for Pulisic as they hope he fill the considerable void after Eden Hazard departed for Real Madrid, but it all hinges on who the new manager is.

If, as expected, Chelsea legend Frank Lampard arrives as their new manager in the next few weeks, this could change things drastically for Pulisic at Chelsea.

On the face of it, Pulisic working under Lampard day in, day out would be wonderful for his development. Having one of the best attacking midfielders in history to learn from would be the perfect fit. Who better to teach Pulisic about timing runs into the box and when to shoot and pass in the final third?

But with Lampard and his assistant coach Jody Morris (former U-18 head coach in Chelsea’s academy) eager to give other youngsters from the academy the chance to shine, Pulisic could be the odd man out in some regards.

With a heavy emphasis to play youngsters next season, whoever the manager is, here’s what a Chelsea ‘young XI’ could look like post-Sarri and maybe under Lampard.


Chelsea’s young starting XI, 2019-20 season

—– Kepa —–

— Ampadu — Timori — Rudiger — 

—- James —- Loftus-Cheek —- Mount —- Emerson —-

—- Pulisic —- Abraham —- Hudson-Odoi —-


The team above would have 10 players 24 years old or younger in the starting lineup, with Rudiger the eldest at 26. The lineup above is drastic and leaves out experienced players like Cesar Apzilicueta, David Luiz and N'Golo Kante, Olivier Giroud and Jorginho, but it shows you what the future could look like at Chelsea. Not bad, right?

Of course, Pulisic’s quality on the pitch will be the determining factor of whether or not he plays regularly. But there’s a sense that if Lampard and Morris are in charge, they could favor the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek (when they are back fit) in attacking midfield positions over Pulisic. There is also the case that neither Willian or Pedro seem likely to move on this summer now that the transfer ban, barring a last-minute reprieve from the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), will be confirmed.

Throw in the likes of Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount returning from hugely successful loan spells at Aston Villa and Derby County last season, and there’s even more competition for places in the attacking lineup for Pulisic to get past.

Look, he’s been in this situation before at Borussia Dortmund and handled it pretty well. His quality is undoubted and Chelsea will give him plenty of chances to prove his worth over the next 12 months as they have to work with the squad of players they have and cannot add any new faces.

But Sarri’s possession-based style suited Pulisic’s game well. Now, that will change, and Lampard’s more direct, counter-attacking will take over if he takes charge. Pulisic can certainly launch counters and thrive on the break with his pace, trickery and direct running, but some of Chelsea’s other wide attacking midfielders have more out-and-out pace than he does. That could be a problem for him.

Regardless of what happens with Chelsea’s transfer ban this summer, just look at this lineup below and what is their strongest XI, in our opinion, for next season. Plus, the players they can have on the bench is pretty mind boggling.

Not a bad 35-man roster for a club in the middle of a managerial and transfer crisis…


Chelsea’s strongest possible XI, 2019-20 season

—– Kepa —–

—- Azpilicueta — Rudiger — Luiz — Emerson —-

—– Jorginho —– Kante —-

—- Hudson-Odoi —- Barkley —- Pulisic —-

—– Giroud —–

Rest of the squad
Willy Caballero
Reece James
Davide Zappacosta
Ethan Ampadu
Matt Miazga
Jay Dasilva
Fikayo Timori
Kurt Zouma
Andreas Christensen
Marcos Alonso
Trevoh Chalobah
Tiemoue Bakayoko
Danny Drinkwater
Lewis Baker
Marco Van Ginkel
Charly Musonda
Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Kasey Palmer
Kenedy
Willian
Pedro
Tammy Abraham
Michy Batshuayi
Izzy Brown