THE SOCCER REPORT

Back-to-back Clásicos, MLS opening weekend highlight upcoming schedule

The Houston Dynamo are back at BBVA Compass Stadium with two matches this week.

Different story lines and renewed rivalries await as another busy week of soccer begins with a midweek dose of Premier League beginning on Tuesday. Real Madrid will host FC Barcelona twice this week in two different competitions, capturing the eyes of millions in one of the world's most heated sports rivalries. Finally, MLS is back with it's 24th season kicking off on Saturday.

UEFA Champions League

The first leg matches of the Round of 16 are in the books with plenty to play for when the second leg matches begin next week. In these latter matches, Atletico Madrid grabbed the biggest headlines for their 2-0 home win over Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus.

Round of 16 - first leg results:

  • Roma 2-1 Porto
  • Manchester United 0-2 PSG
  • Tottenham 3-0 Dortmund
  • Ajax 1-2 Real Madrid
  • Lyon 0-0 FC Barcelona
  • Liverpool 0-0 Bayern Munich
  • Atletico Madrid 2-0 Juventus
  • Schalke 04 2-3 Manchester City

UEFA Europa League

Round of 32 - second leg results:

  • Sevilla 2-0 Lazio (3-0 agg.)
  • Red Bull Salzburg 4-0 Club Brugge (5-2 agg.)
  • Eintracht Frankfurt 4-1 Shakhtar Donetsk (6-3 agg.)
  • Villareal 1-1 Sporting CP (2-1 agg.)
  • Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 Plzen (4-2 agg.)
  • Zenit 3-1 Fenerbace (3-2 agg.)
  • Valencia 1-0 Celtic (3-0 agg.)
  • Napoli 2-0 Zurich (5-1 agg.)
  • Arsenal 3-0 BATE (3-1 agg.)
  • Genk 1-4 Slavia Praha (1-4 agg.)
  • Inter Milan 4-0 Rapid Vienna (5-0 agg.)
  • Leverkusen 1-1 Krasnodar (1-1 agg., Krasnodar wins on away goals)
  • Benfica 0-0 Galatasaray (2-1 agg.)
  • Real Betis 1-3 Rennes (4-6 agg.)
  • Chelsea 3-0 Malmo (5-1 agg.)
  • Dynamo Kiev 1-0 Olympiacos (3-2 agg.)

English Premier League

Manchester United and Liverpool played to a nil-nil draw at Old Trafford but the biggest headlines this weekend came from two sides not in league action. Manchester City and Chelsea played the final of the English Football League Cup, known also as the Carabao Cup, in a 0-0 draw that had to be decided in penalties. Drama ensued in extra time as Chelsea goalkeepeer Kepa Arrizabalaga grabbed all the headlines by refusing to sub out prior to penalty kicks. City won 4-3 on penalties.

Top six: 1. Liverpool (66), 2. Manchester City (65), 3. Tottenham (60), 4. Arsenal (53), 5. Manchester United (52), 6. Chelsea (50)

Scoring leader: 17 - Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) / Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Assists leader: 10 - Eden Hazard (Chelsea FC)

Spain's La Liga

Highlights Sevilla FC vs FC Barcelona (2-4) www.youtube.com

Lionel Messi continues to have a spectacular season, this week putting up a hat-trick against formidable foes Sevilla. Messi leads the league in goals and assists while Barcelona sit comfortably at the top of the standings.

Top six: 1. FC Barcelona (57), 2. Atlético Madrid (50), 3. Real Madrid (48), 4. Getafe (39), 5. Sevilla (37), 6. Alaves (37)

Scoring leader: 25 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

Assists leader: 11 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

German Bundesliga

Top six: 1. Dortmund (54), 2. Bayern Munich (51), 3. Monchengladbach (43), 4. RB Leipzig (42), 5. Wolfsburg (38), 6. Eintracht Frankfurt (37)
Scoring leader: 15 - Luka Jović (Eintracht Frankfurt

Assists leader: 10 - Jadon Sancho (Dortumund) / Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)

Italian Serie A

Top six: 1. Juventus (69), 2. Napoli (56), 3. Inter Milan (47), 4. Milan (45), 5. Roma (44), 6. Lazio (38)

Scoring leader: 19 - Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)

Assists leader: 8 - Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) / Suso (A.C. Milan)

French Ligue 1

Top six: 1. PSG (68), 2. Lille (51), 3. Lyon (46), 4. Saint-Étienne (43), 5. Marseille (41), 6. Stade Reims (41)

Scoring leader: 22 - Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

Assists leader: 8 - Nicolas Pepe (Lille) / Angel Di Maria (PSG) / Kenny Lala (Strasbourg)

Dutch Eredivisie

Top three: 1. PSV Eindhoven (58), 2. Ajax (56), 3. Feyenoord (43)

Belgian First Division A

Top three: 1. Genk (58), 2. Club Brugge (50), 3. Standard Liège (46)

Portuguese Primeira Liga

Top three: 1. Porto (57), 2. Benfica (56), 3. Braga (49)

Scottish Premier League

Top three: 1. Celtic (63), 2. Rangers (55), 3. Aberdeen (50)

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Concacaf Champions League

#SCCL 2019 Weekly Recap www.youtube.com

The Houston Dynamo got their season to a successful start with a 1-0 away victory against Guatemalan side CD Guastatoya. For a few takeaways from that match, click here.

Round of 16 - first leg results:
  • Deportivo Saprissa 1-0 Tigres UANL
  • Independiente (Panama) 4-0 Toronto FC
  • Guastatoya 0-1 Houston Dynamo
  • Atletico Pantoja 0-2 New York Red Bulls
  • Talleres Cordoba 2-2 Palestino
  • Marathon 2-6 Santos Laguna
  • Alianza 0-0 Monterrey
  • Sporting KC 3-0 Toluca FC
  • Herediano 3-1 Atlanta United

Major League Soccer

Major League Soccer's 24th season kicks off Saturday with a total of 24 teams now that FC Cincinatti joins the league. The league will also feature a new playoff format where the top seven teams in each conference advance to the playoffs.

Liga MX

Top eight: 1. Tigres UANL (19), 2. Monterrey (18), 3. Leon (17), 4. Santos Laguaa (14), 5. Chivas Guadalajara (14), 6. Pachuca (14), 7. Club Tijuana (13), 8. Club America (12)

Scoring leader: 7 - Rogelio Funes Mori (Monterrey) / Angel Mena (Leon) / Brian Fernandez (Necaxa)

Assists leader: 6 - Angel Mena (Leon)

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Copa Libertadores

Third round - first leg results:

  • Melgar 2-0 Caracas FC
  • Talleres Cordoba 2-2 Palestino
  • Defensor Sporting 0-2 Atletico Mineiro
  • Libertad 1-0 Atletico Nacional

Superliga Argentina

Top four: 1. Racing Club (48), 2. Defensa y Justicia (45), 3. Boca Juniors (38), 4. Atletico Tucuman (36)

Scoring leader: 16 - Lisandro Lopez (Racing)

Assists leader: 7 - Walter Montillo (Tigre)

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Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Feb. 26

2:00 p.m. - [Premier League] Newcastle vs. Burnley (NBC Sports)

7:00 p.m. - [Concacaf Champions League] Houston Dynamo vs. CD Guastatoya (YahooSports.com)

Wednesday, Feb. 27

2:00 p.m. - [Premier League] Chelsea vs. Tottenham (NBC Sports)

2:00 p.m. - [Copa del Rey] Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona (beIN Sports)

Thursday, Feb. 28

2:00 p.m. - [Copa del Rey] Valencia vs. Real Betis (beIN Sports)

Friday, Mar. 1

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Augsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund (FS2)

Saturday, Mar. 2

6:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Tottenham vs. Arsenal (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Nuremberg vs. RB Leipzig (FS1)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Frankfurt vs. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (FS2)

9:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester United vs. Southhampton (NBC Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] West Ham vs. Newcastle (NBC Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Bayern Munich (FS2)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona (beIN Sports)

5:00 p.m. - [MLS] Houston Dynamo vs. Real Salt Lake (KUBE57)

Sunday, Mar. 3

6:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Watford vs. Leicester City (NBC Sports)

8:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Fulham vs. Chelsea (NBC Sports)

10:15 a.m. - [Premier League] Everton vs. Liverpool (NBC Sports)

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Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

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