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MLS 3 things we learned: When playing LAFC, don’t blink

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With nearly the entire league playing on Saturday this weekend, the two Sunday fixtures took center stage. LAFC and the Philadelphia Union played to a wildly entertaining 3-3 draw, while the Portland Timbers topped new boys Nashville S.C. 1-0 on a goal early on.

Still, with just a few games there are plenty of lessons to be taken from the slate of fixtures, with the Philadelphia Union learning maybe the toughest one of the bunch.

1) Don’t blink

The Philadelphia Union learned the hard way that goals only last until your next defensive shift. Three times the Union scored against LAFC, and three times they were undone moments later. The Union took a lead three different times in this match, and led for a combined total of 12 minutes. They were scored on nine minutes after bagging the opener, one minute after taking a 2-1 lead, and two minutes after going ahead 3-2.

It was unfortunate too, because Philadelphia produced some absolute bangers. Take this absurd free-kick from Union defender Jakob Glesnes who delivered from an incredible 40 yards out.

The Union leave Banc of California Stadium with just a single point, their first point of the season after another disappointing result on opening day. Philadelphia should be fine moving forward, but the dropped points represent missed opportunities as other teams start establishing themselves as contenders early on.

2) Diego Rossi might be the best overshadowed player in the league

Carlos Vela’s presence on LAFC does a whole lot more than provide oodles of goals. Just by being on the field, the Mexican takes all the narrative attention away from someone who might be even more important to the squad in Diego Rossi.

The 22-year-old Uruguayan has been electric for LAFC since joining prior to its inaugural 2018 season, with a combined 28 goals and 14 assists through his first two campaigns. He is already up to snuff this season, proving critical again on Sunday with the first goal of the new season, but more importantly he was once again ruthless on the counter. Rossi’s proficiency on the break is one of the most underrated yet valuable skills in the league, giving LAFC a viciously dangerous weapon in the back pocket should they sit back and absorb pressure for a time.

To be completely honest, it’s shocking that Rossi doesn’t get more credit for the success of this expansion side. He has yet to earn an international cap for Uruguay, although with Luis Suarez on the shelf maybe that changes this month. At just 22 years old, it’s likely that Rossi – called the “quarterback” of this LAFC club last season – makes a marquee European move at some point in the near future, so LAFC fans should appreciate him while he’s around. Carlos Vela takes all the spotlights so Rossi can provide the spark.

3) If you feel the need to park the bus, go for it

A year after making the playoffs, the Portland Timbers sat back and defended against new expansion side Nashville SC. It worked. After Valeri scored just 12 minutes in with a scrappy volley that found the inside of the right side-netting, the Timbers had seen enough up front. They generated just three shots all night to Nashville’s 14, but it didn’t matter as the hosts grinded out all three points.

It was a lesson for Nashville above all else that early goals can really hurt, but the Timbers also learned something valuable, and that is they can defend against an offensively inferior side for nearly a full 90 minutes without being breached, something they could take with them moving forward. After capitulating defensively to Minnesota United in a 3-1 opening day loss, the clean sheet is valuable for Portland and will give them confidence moving forward. Early in the season, that can be just as valuable as the three points.

Timbers squeeze out victory, Nashville continues to await first MLS win

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The game in 200 words (or less):  By no means did the Portland Timbers put on a show – at least not the type of show that would keep one intrigued –  on Sunday against Nashville SC. But they got the job done, squeezing out a 1-0 victory against one of MLS’ two newcomers. For the majority of the game, the Timbers, for a lack of better words, parked the bus on Nashville, clogging their third of the field with Timber-white shirts. It worked: despite generating a total of 14 shots, Nashville were unable to crack the code. How did the Timbers manage to win if all they did was park the bus? Well, they didn’t just bunker; they galvanized forward periodically. And out of all the three shots that Giovanni Savarese’s men generated throughout the night, one fell in the 12th minute. Diego Valeri’s screamer was, at the end of the day, all Portland needed to edge Nashville, who still don’t know what it’s like to celebrate an MLS win.

Three moments that mattered

12′ – It’s early, but Valeri is on pace for 34 goals this season— This right-footed volley has to be in Valeri’s top 20:

69′ – Godoy… — Anibal Godoy was Steve Clark’s fingertips away from making Nashville SC history.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage | Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Steve Clark

Goalscorers: Valeri(12′)

FOLLOW LIVE: Two games top off MLS Week 2

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With 11 games already in the books, MLS wraps up week 2 of it’s 25th season with two must-see bouts.

[ FOLLOW: MLS scoreboard ]

The defending Landon Donovan MVP award winner, Carlos Vela, and LAFC look to extend their perfect start to the new season against the Philadelphia Union. Sunday’s game is the Supporter’s Shield winners’ last before the first leg of their quarterfinal CONCACAF champions league series against Cruz Azul on Thursday.

Action, however, kicks off in Oregon, as the Portland Timbers look to bounce back after a season-opening loss to Minnesota United. Nashville SC, who dropped three points in their league debut, will experience their first taste of Providence Park’s hostile environment.

Sunday’s MLS schedule

Portland Timbers v. Nashville SC — 7:00 p.m. ET
LAFC v. Philadelphia Union — 10:30 p.m. ET

2020 MLS Power Rankings, Vol. 1

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With the 2020 Major League Soccer season kicking off this weekend, here’s a (surely brilliant) predictive edition of the Power Rankings, which will be updated at the start of every month here on PST…

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann’s parting shots cause anger at Hertha Berlin ]

MLS Cup favorites
Los Angeles FC and New York City FC

We all remember what LAFC did last year, and the fact they didn’t win MLS Cup despite settling most every relevant league record will only serve as further fuel for Bob Bradley to demand even more from (inarguably) the most talented team in the league. One potential pitfall: after trading Walker Zimmerman (for a record amount of allocation money), it’s unclear who’ll start at center back, and if you think it’s clear it’s a less than ideal situation. As for NYCFC, they managed to fly under the radar last year despite finishing top of the Eastern Conference by six points. While they don’t have the household names of an LAFC or Atlanta United, Domenec Torrent’s side (now that of Ronny Deila) played every bit the attractive, fluid attacking soccer of the league’s darlings. In a week East, NYCFC could wind up Supporters’ Shield winners.


MLS Cup contenders
Seattle Sounders, Atlanta United, LA Galaxy and Toronto FC

These teams will be in the playoffs, 100 percent guarantee. (fingers are now crossed) With satisfactory answers to certain questions, they could make the leap from contenders to favorites with ease. Those questions are… Seattle: does the completely rebuilt backline come together, and how long does it take? Atlanta: will head coach Frank De Boer find the right balance between his preferred defensive slant and the roster’s natural tendency to attack at all costs? Galaxy: is the defense, which has been horrific for five or six years now, any better? Toronto: wait, why aren’t they on the “favorites” line? Ah, yes, because only one team per conference is allowed.


See you in the playoffs
Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Philadelphia Union and D.C. United

Here’s the thing about this group: the two teams from the East should finish fourth or fifth in the junior circuit (some ways back of the clear-cut top-three), but they probably wouldn’t make the playoffs in the West. By default, Philadelphia and D.C. get a bump in the tiers for the fact they’ll walk into the playoffs in the East. That is not — repeat not — to say they are as good as RSL or Dallas, who would actually push Atlanta and Toronto for second and third.


In the hunt
Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City, Minnesota United, Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo, Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution and Montreal Impact

That’s a long list of teams. As stated above, the teams from the East will be in playoff contention due to not having seven standout sides. Basically, any combination of these teams could wind up in the playoffs. Looking to the West, Portland, Sporting KC and Minnesota have the potential to climb a tier (or two) if all goes right for them, but each of those sides has a glaring, and potentially fatal, flaw. The temptation to say Colorado will actually be quite good and also a playoff team is very strong, but it goes against all human instincts when you think back to how they opened the 2019 season, before firing Anthony Hudson and hiring Robin Fraser and almost making the playoffs anyway.


Fulfilling obligations
FC Cincinnati, Orlando City SC and Vancouver Whitecaps

Barely a month into their first season (last season), Cincinnati was very clearly the worst team in the league. Somehow, the offseason has gone even worse for them. They (probably) managed to improve enough so as to not claim back-to-back Wooden Spoons, but enough to contend for a playoff place? Highly unlikely. Orlando City has never — not once in their five-year MLS history — given me, or anyone, reason to believe they are a competent organization. Until they do so for a period of six (6) months or more, they just exist for existence’s sake. Speaking of merely existing, the Vancouver Whitecaps.


Expansion teams, TBD
Inter Miami and Nashville SC

Here’s the thing about expansion teams: they aren’t to be trusted, either way. What looks good on paper can sometimes look terrible on the field, and what looks terrible on paper can sometimes look great on the field. We’ll give Miami and Nashville their first assessments after a month of games.

Timbers announced new DP striker from Legia Warsaw

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The Portland Timbers added another intriguing piece to their attack on Thursday with the unveiling of Polish striker Jaroslaw “Jarek” Niezgoda.

Niezgoda will be a Designated Player.

The 24-year-old striker joins recently-reupped Diego Valeri and new signing Yimmi Chara as key pieces of a Portland attack which also includes USMNT hopeful Jeremy Ebobisse and Peruvian international Andy Polo.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Niezgoda comes from Legia Warsaw, where he’s scored 29 times in 60 matches with the club. That includes 14 goals in 18 matches this season.

The numbers aren’t far off from one of the Polish league’s best exports: Nemanja Nikolic, who went on to a successful few seasons as a Designated Player for the Chicago Fire. Given the age and experience, this is close to an ideal MLS transfer aside from the big-name marketing appeal.

Timbers coach Giovani Savarese details a striker prepared to score plenty of goals in Major League Soccer, filling a dire need after the unfortunate exit of Brian Fernandez.

“He’s quick,” Savarese said, beginning his scouting report. “He’s a player that can sense inside the box where the ball is going to end up, and has a good knack [of finding] the ball and [scoring] goals … He’s elusive at finding space. He’s good with the head, reads the game very well.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.