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Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco grew up together; now they’re MLS Cup hopefuls 6,800 miles from home

The distance between Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Portland, Oregon, is more than 6,800 miles. The flight time is approximately 17 hours and 15 minutes, and that’s if you manage to fly direct. Driving is practically impossible — the Darien Gap on the border between Colombia and Panama is basically impenetrable, a 55-mile break in the Pan-American Highway that runs from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to the southern tip of Chile. Should they ever find a way to pave that bit of swampland, Buenos Aires to Portland would take you something close to 200 hours by car.

For Timbers teammates Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco, who have known each other since they were boys playing for the same youth academy in the southern suburbs of Argentina’s biggest city, the metaphorical distance is even more yawning than that.

Would they ever have imagined, when they first started playing together on Lanus’ senior squad in 2006, that they’d end up here, of all places? In Portland, Oregon, in the MLS Western Conference finals vs. Sporting Kansas City (second leg Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), the two most important players in a small-market team battling for its second league championship in four years?

“No,” Valeri said from a bench at the team training facility in Beaverton last week. “Never.“cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Blanco agreed: “Impossible.”6

The Timbers were a minor league team in 2006. Providence Park was still predominantly a baseball stadium. Both Valeri and Blanco harbored dreams of one day leaving their hometown for a bigger country, but those musings were murky and undefined. Before signing with the Timbers in 2017, Blanco had been to the U.S. only once, to Miami, and he pictured New York skyscrapers, not “Portlandia.“cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“We never thought about this,” Valeri told ESPN FC, with a smirk that was borderline patronizing, gesturing at the facility around him, on a lovely autumn Northwest day. “We never imagined.”

Blanco, again: “The opportunity for what’s happening is incredible.”

Valeri and Blanco were aware of one another almost from the start of their respective soccer careers. Although they both came up through Lanus’ system, Valeri is two years older, so they played at different age levels before finally linking up in the first team.

To belabor the mileage imagery just one more time to underscore how small-world all of this is: Their childhood homes were less than 3 miles apart, about a 15-minute drive without traffic. Where they come from, the bordering neighborhoods of Lanus and Lomas de Zamora, very few residents ever even relocate elsewhere in Buenos Aires, let alone outside the country, and fewer still outside the continent.

Neymar wasn’t ‘100 percent’ for PSG’s Champions League win against Liverpool

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar said he was “not 100 percent” after his team beat Liverpool 2-1 in Champions League Group C on Wednesday to go second ahead of the final round of fixtures.

The Brazil international, who scored the second goal for Thomas Tuchel’s men, had picked up a knock in a friendly last week and fought to be fit enough to feature this midweek along with Kylian Mbappe, who was also hurt in a friendly for France over the international break.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

“I was not 100 percent but this was an important match,” said the 26-year-old. “Injured or not, there was no way I was missing it.5

“This was a real battle. I am very happy that we won — we showed great spirit, which was crucial to our victory. We showed everyone that we are determined to go as far as possible in the Champions League.”

Neymar is now the all-time top Brazilian goal scorer in Champions League history with his 31st continental strike to overtake Kaka, which he recognised as something special.

“It is a source of great joy,” the former Barcelona man said. “I am very proud, and I hope to keep scoring.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

PSG coach Thomas Tuchel was pleased with Neymar and his teammates for the performance that they managed to produce under significant pressure.

“This was our chance to match a team like Liverpool,” said the German manager. “We have incredible mentality and we had to show fight and play good football — we had waited for that and did just that.

“We were energetic and worked hard as a team. Our attitude and work ethic were great. We won an intense and important game.”

Josh Donaldson hopes to spend rest of career with Braves

“We were looking for a middle-of-the-order bat,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said after a news conference at SunTrust Park less than 24 hours after the team announced the signing of catcher Brian McCann. “We had to find a way to get it done.”

Donaldson was looking for a team that would pay him big bucks while giving him a chance to show he’s healthy after three injury-plagued seasons. He’ll make the same salary he received this past season, while setting himself up for a much more lucrative deal if he returns to MVP form.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

Plus, he gets to play with his favorite team from childhood. Donaldson is a native of Pensacola, Florida, and he played his college baseball at Auburn, about a two-hour drive from SunTrust Park.6

“I was a huge Braves fan coming up,” he said. “My very first favorite player was Ron Gant. It’s a very full circle from coming to my very first Braves game, my first major league baseball game, when I was about 12 years old to now being 32 years old [next week], being able to wear this jersey and wear it with pride.”

By committing to Donaldson for only one year, the NL East-winning Braves addressed their top priority while leaving themselves plenty of financial flexibility beyond 2019. They have some of the most talented young players in the game, led by NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr., and didn’t want to make a move that impeded their long-term progress.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

“I think it’s a win-win across the board,” Anthopoulos said. “We love Josh. We’re thrilled to have him. But it’s a one-year deal. Beyond one year, we don’t know what’s going to happen, other than we hope we’re pouring champagne over each other’s heads and he’s had an MVP year again. It would be a good problem to have.”

Donaldson was AL MVP in 2015 after hitting 41 homers and leading the league with 123 RBIs in his first year with the Blue Jays. He was acquired from Oakland in a blockbuster deal engineered by Anthopoulos, who was then Toronto’s general manager.

Lakers unable to complete comeback, but James will value great shots

Anyone that has paid attention to LeBron James’ career — whether he was dishing to Donyell Marshall when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, or Udonis Haslem when he was with the Miami Heat — should not have been surprised Sunday when, with less than 20 seconds left and the Los Angeles Lakers down by two, James passed it to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for an open 3-pointer to try to win it.

“I always got a chance at a shot,” James said of his positioning — two feet in the paint with seemingly an angle to sneak a layup by Nikola Vucevic — cheap nfl jerseys china nike when he chose to kick it out to Caldwell-Pope.

The results, of course, were a miss by his less-talented teammate and a 108-104 loss for the Lakers, their second to the middling Orlando Magic in little more than a week.5

This is how James approaches the game. This shouldn’t be a newsflash. To him, a player taking a good shot (no matter how great he is) isn’t as valuable as any player (no matter what his ability is) taking a great shot.

It did not matter that Caldwell-Pope was 1-for-5 in the game at the time — including a missed 3 from nearly the same spot on the court just about a minute earlier.

The “Is He More Michael or Magic?” debate is tired at this point. James will execute how he sees fit. And so, similarly, those taking issue with James taking a potential go-ahead 3 of his own on a step-back move prior to that Caldwell-Pope possession — wishing he would have put the ball on the floor against Aaron Gordon, who was saddled with five fouls and guarding him on the perimeter — there’s no video game controller that will allow fans to make James do what they want.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

End-of-game situations are, by their nature, consequential. It is understandable that they are scrutinized and picked apart more than other sequences in the game. And seeing James buck his recent trend of struggling with clutch free throws when he went 2-for-2 from the line to tie it 104-104 with 2:24 remaining only served to make the Lakers going scoreless from there that much more disappointing. That’s understandable too.

Manchester United scouring Asia for the next Park Ji-sung, Shinji Kagawa

Manchester United are continuing to search for the next Park Ji-sung or Shinji Kagawa, according to their East Asian scout.

Kei Tamura covers Japan and South Korea for the English giants and, after recommending a teenage Kagawa to Cerezo Osaka in 2006, the Japan-based talent spotter would love nothing more than to nike nfl jerseys cheap china take a new generation of superstars from the region to Old Trafford.

“I am looking hard for the second Park Ji-sung and the successor to Kagawa,” Tamura told Sports Seoul during a visit to watch Pohang Steelers take on Jeonbuk Motors in the K-League.6

“I keep track of players who can be as good.”

The scout added that he is part of a global network of talent-finders, tasked with hunting down players with specific characteristics that United boss Jose Mourinho is searching for.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

“We are looking for players that meet the specific criteria of head coach Jose Mourinho,” he said. “The scout team leader meets with Mourinho and is presented with detailed instructions.”

Tamura admitted that finding the next Asian superstar would not only help Manchester United challenge at the top of the Premier League, but there would also be off the pitch benefits.

“There is no doubt that signings Korean and Japanese players can have a positive effect in the Asian market,” Tamura added.

Journeyman Boateng the unlikely ‘Prince’ in Sassuolo’s Serie A fairy tale

Leave Piazza Piccola on the via Giuseppe Mazzini side and visitors to Sassuolo have two options. They can go left and view Palazzo Ducale, the duke’s palace, with its remarkable frescos and a fishpond that has to be seen to be believed. Or turn right for the Ezio Ricci stadium and see a “Prince” instead.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

A prince who would be king, judging by the title of the rap video Kevin-Prince Boateng dropped on Aug.16, the night before the Serie A season began. The video has been watched 1.7 million times in the two months it has been on YouTube; if every view is unique that’s 42-and-a-half times the population of Sassuolo!

“Of course I’m crazy happy about it, that people like it and so many people viewed it,” Boateng says, “and I want to thank the fans because it’s not normal. It’s just the way I am. I just want to do stuff. I do it and I don’t care if it goes bad or good. I just want to do it for myself because I want to look back one day and say: Yeah, I did that. I did that and I don’t regret it.”5

(All that is left to do now is organise a rap battle between “PRIN$$ Boateng” and Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini — AKA “Gollorius” — before Sassuolo play the Bergamaschi at the end of December.)

There is little mystery, then, as to who sets the playlist in the Sassuolo dressing room: “I do,” Boateng says with a proud nod. His music taste is varied and not just limited to rap.

“My mum and dad used to listen to a lot of R&B and soul, so this was the way I grew up,” he says. “Hip-hop of course. But then as I grew older I started listening to everything. It comes with the moment. Sometimes I wake up and I’m a little bit grumpy and I listen to soul. Sometimes I wake up and I need some spirit so I listen to rock and roll. It depends on the mood I’m in.”

Meanwhile, no one at Sassuolo is ever in the right frame of mind for the noise blaring out of the car or headphones of goalkeeper Andrea Consigli.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

“He listens to hard techno music,” Boateng jokes. “You have to love it. We’re 25 or 26 players and it’s just him. He loves it, so he will never put music on in the dressing room.”

Eagles’ win over the Giants sets up key MNF game with Redskins

The Philadelphia Eagles are deeply flawed, but then, so is the NFC East. So they’ve got a shot.

The defending champs still have life thanks to a 25-22 come-from-behind win over the New York Giants on Sunday.

It sets up a Monday Night Football game against the Washington Redskins that, believe it or not, could pull Philadelphia (5-6) into a first-place division tie with Washington (6-5) and the Dallas Cowboys (6-5). Dallas plays the Saints next week.

“This was a big game for us, obviously, in terms of divisional standings and all that fun stuff,” quarterback Carson Wentz said, but, really mentally, to show the resilience that we did to go down early the way we did and then battle back just built a lot of confidence for all three phases of this game. To come from behind and get it done today, I think that will speak volumes about our confidence going forward.”nfl nike jerseys for cheap

It feels like the Eagles should be dead and buried. It was Groundhog Day at Lincoln Financial Field as the offense failed to score in the first quarter for the ninth time in 11 games, putting pressure on an injury-riddled defense to hold things together. A defensive unit that was missing four of its top five corners as well as its starting linebacker, Jordan Hicks, yielded 346 yards in the first half — the most the Eagles have given up since November 2015 against the Tampa Bay Bucs (355) — as the Eagles trailed at intermission, 19-11.6

But the fight that safety Malcolm Jenkins was calling for following an energy-less drubbing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints the week prior kicked in just in time. Jenkins sparked that himself with an interception at the end of the second quarter — the defense’s first since Week 6 against this same Giants team.

Saquon Barkley broke off a 51-yard touchdown the series prior, and the defense was reeling. On the sideline after that drive, Jenkins and a couple other veterans asked defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to simplify the game plan for the inexperienced secondary. Schwartz did, and the defense responded.

“I think that was a turning point, especially in that game – who knows about our season – where that could have just continued to snowball out of control,” Jenkins said of the team’s response. “But we weren’t going to allow that.”cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Michael Bennett turned the jets on in the second half, coming up with his team-leading 6 1/2 sack of the season on the Giants’ first possession to set the tone. He added a tackle for a loss later in the frame, posing with arms crossed as the volatile home crowd showed their approval. The front four increased the pressure on Eli Manning as the game wore on, allowing a decimated defensive backfield to stabilize.

‘Trash’ to treasure: Bills QB Josh Allen runs over Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey called Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen “trash” in an offseason interview with GQ, then doubled down on his assessment this week.

Allen responded by setting a team record for a quarterback with 99 rushing yards on 13 carries, including a 14-yard fourth-quarter scramble for a touchdown and another 45-yard run to help seal a 24-21 win. Allen had 101 rushing yards before two kneel-downs to end the game.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

“Josh is a baller,” Bills safety Jordan Poyer said. “They can say whatever they want to say about Josh. Jalen can say whatever he wants to say about Josh. Josh came in there and handled that defense today.”

The performance topped the franchise’s previous single-game mark of 79 yards, set by Tyrod Taylor in 2015.5

“Josh played phenomenal,” Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “I would like to see what [Ramsey] thought now, after Josh played as well as he played today. Playing physical. He ran over some of the defensive players and made some big plays. When you talk, you have to show up and show out. Josh was able to do that by just showing the way he played today.”

Allen’s efforts might not be enough to put the Bills, who improved to 4-7, back in the conversation for the playoffs. But after being sidelined for four games with an elbow injury, Allen returned to the lineup and gave the Bills promise for 2019 as they close out this season with a six-game stretch in which Allen’s development will be paramount.

Despite not having played since Oct. 14, Allen was spectacular in the first quarter Sunday. He completed 5-of-6 passes for 125 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown strike to undrafted rookie wide receiver Robert Foster in which Allen managed a strong and accurate throw despite being sandwiched by multiple Jaguars defenders. Foster, who caught passes of 47 and 43 yards from Matt Barkley in a Nov. 11 victory over the New York Jets, again led the Bills with 94 receiving yards.nfl nike jerseys for cheap

The Bills, who scored 41 points in their Week 10 win over the Jets, have scored 65 points in their past two games after managing only 96 in their first nine games, when they went 2-7.

“I said before the Jets game that this offense is really close,” Allen said. “It showed in the last two weeks of what we’re capable of doing. Matt [Barkley] came in against the Jets and did a heck of a job. … Coach [Sean McDermott] says that this is a time for me and us to grow, and I’m doing that and trusting the guys around me.”

Celtics are going from preseason favorites to average disappointments after 20 games

To say this isn’t the way the Celtics — or frankly, just about anyone — envisioned this team looking through the opening 20 games of the season is an understatement. Yet here Boston is, floundering at 10-10 and already trailing the Toronto Raptors by six games for the top spot in the Eastern Conference — the one Boston was expected to claim for itself after LeBron James abdicated his throne atop the East by joining the Los Angeles Lakers this summer.

And, as Smart said, the Celtics find themselves saying the same thing game after game. Their offense remains inefficient, mired among the bottom 10 in the league despite a wealth of players capable of filling it up. Too often their first quarters are like the one Boston had Saturday night, as the Mavericks raced out to a 32-18 lead behind some spectacular shotmaking and playmaking from sensational Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

Even Boston’s defense, which is normally among the league’s best — and is ranked second behind the Oklahoma City Thunder in efficiency over course of the season — has slipped a bit lately. The Mavericks sliced through the Celtics time and again at that end of the floor Saturday night, knocking down 16-of-41 3-pointers (39 percent) and finding DeAndre Jordan multiple times at the rim for easy alley-oop dunks.6

“I thought we were a step slow all night,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought they put us on our heels.

“They made a ton of effort plays, they got a bunch to the rim, and then we couldn’t contain the drive … those drives really hurt us. They turned the corner, laid it in, and had a couple of and-1s, lobs … those are just killers.”

The Celtics have been on the receiving end of plenty of those kinds of moments lately. Not only did Saturday’s loss drop Boston to seventh place in the East standings, but the Celtics have now lost four of their past five, and eight of 12. Of those four wins, two came in overtime — including one miraculous road comeback against the hapless Phoenix Suns. The other two came against the equally hapless Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks.

Boston simply hasn’t looked like the team it was expected to be entering the season. So what is the issue?

Perhaps there is something to be said for the Celtics having to adjust to the feeling of being the favorite, as opposed to the scrappy underdog.nfl cheap nike jerseys

Throughout the past few seasons, Boston has been seen as a team punching above its weight — first when Isaiah Thomas was lighting up scoreboards two and three seasons ago, and then last season when first Gordon Hayward, and then Kyrie Irving, were sidelined because of season-ending injuries.

Red Sox re-sign Series MVP Steve Pearce on 1-year, $6.25M deal

“We’re thrilled to have Steve back with us for another year as we think he’s a great fit for our club,” Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “Obviously, we all saw what kind of impact he can have on the field, especially with the postseason that he had. He also provides good depth and balance from the right side for us.”

Pearce, a grinder who has bounced from team to team, was an improbable World Series MVP, hitting .333 with three homers and eight RBIs against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Each of his four hits went for extra bases, and he drew four walks without striking out, posting a .500 on-base percentage.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

In Game 4, he launched a tying home run in the eighth inning, then added a three-run double in the ninth that sent Boston to a 9-6 win.

In the clincher, he got the Red Sox rolling, connecting for a two-run homer off Clayton Kershaw in the first inning, then hitting a solo shot off Pedro Baez in the eighth.5

The 35-year-old first baseman had been a valuable role player for the Red Sox after being acquired in a June 28 trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. He batted .279 for Boston, with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in 50 regular-season games.

In early August, with incumbent first baseman Mitch Moreland slumping, Pearce powered Boston to a key four-game sweep of the Yankees by hitting four home runs, three of which came during a statement-making 15-7 rout in the opener.

In the AL Division Series against the New York Yankees, with Moreland nursing a balky hamstring, Pearce started three of four games and hit .333 for the series. In Game 3 of the AL Championship Series against Houston, with the score tied at 2 and the series tied at 1, it was Pearce’s sixth-inning homer off Astros reliever Joe Smith that seemed to tip the scales in Boston’s favor.

He’s a career .257 hitter, with 90 home runs and 294 RBIs in nine seasons.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

When Pearce joined the Red Sox — his ninth team in seven seasons — it completed a rare sweep. He has played for every club in the American League East.

In 2014 with the Baltimore Orioles, he developed a reputation as one of the game’s more underrated utility players, a dangerous right-handed bat who could play almost anywhere on the field. He was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016, and went to Toronto in 2017.