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With the MLS season set to begin on Sunday with a rematch of the MLS Cup Final between the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew, defending champions Portland are feeling good about their chances at staying strong this season.
Nat Borchers, a veteran defender and the unquestioned leader of Portland's back line, earned his A-licence coaching badge over the offseason, and he and manager Caleb Porter think they've learned the lessons they need to keep Portland strong and competitive this season.
Being able to look at the game from a different perspective has enhanced my game a lot. Just trying to understand, 'OK, how is a coach looking at this situation? What kind of ideas is he trying to teach the players to get us to understand?'
It was a humbling experience for me getting my A license because I don't have a lot of coaching experience. To go through that process, I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot more about the game [...] and just about other ways to help other players get better at this stage of my career.
It's much harder to earn and keep that playoff spot and earn that right to fight for MLS Cup. I think there's a lot of parity in the West. From top to bottom, with the exception of a couple of teams, you've got eight really strong teams that are looking to compete for that first-place playoff spot in the West. I think that makes it very difficult when it comes down to playing each team three times in a season.
I've played for Caleb Porter for a year. I know there isn't a single day off that he takes as a coach. He's always looking for ways to improve the team and for ways to win. He definitely doesn't slack off on us, and that's what makes our team good. We're never resting on our laurels at all.
-Source: ESPN FC
It's going to be a tough road for Portland, as they face off with what looks like a much-improved Western Conference in MLS. But Borchers' enthusiasm and confidence has been infectious with his teammates in the past, and with a retooled side and Porter being able to lean on Borchers as an on-field coach, Portland might just have a shot to repeat as MLS champions.
In the news
The U.S. businessman trying to organize a European Super League thinks that the Champions League "doesn't need" teams like Leicester City. (Guardian)
Serie A's financial problems are getting worse, losing €365 million last season and seeing the league's total debt rising to €1.7 billion. (Football Italia)
This weekend's massive rivalry match between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will now be shown on cable network FX. (Fox Sports)
The Champions League Final will include the use of goal line technology. (BBC)
Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech will be out 3-4 weeks according to Arsene Wenger. (ESPN FC)
Liverpool will be missing Lucas Leiva for six weeks with a thigh injury. (Liverpool Echo)
You should be reading
Marina Hyde thinks that MLS should sell itself on its own merits, not as a "lifestyle" choice for European players. (Guardian)
Former Tottenahm midfielder Jermaine Jenas thinks his old club is finally out of Arsenal's shadow. (BBC)
Raphael Honigstein looks at the sudden title race that's sprung up in the Bundesliga, just in time for Der Klassiker. (ESPN FC)
What to watch on Friday (click for listings, all times ET)
Ligue 1: Caen vs. AS Monaco (2:30 p.m.): It's second versus fourth in France, and a win for Monaco could all but seal a second place finish for them this season.
Serie A: AS Roma vs. Fiorentina (2:45 p.m.): Roma are on a hot streak since Luciano Spalletti returned, but Fiorentina are level with them on points and will not go away quietly.
Liga MX: Club Tijuana vs. León (10 p.m.): Tijuana haven't quite enjoyed the start to their season that they were hoping for, and need to beat red-hot León to get back on track.