THE SOCCER REPORT

Juventus, PSG clinch league titles; MLS announces expansion to 30 teams

Juventus, PSG clinch league titles; MLS announces expansion to 30 teams
Minnesota United FC, who debuted their new stadium earlier this month, were one of the latest MLS expansion teams. (Credit: Minnesota United)

Every week brings us closer to the climax of leagues around the world as we also make our way to a summer full of interesting international story lines. Scroll down to catch up on the week in soccer with a watch list of important matches awaiting you at the end.

Top stories:

  • Liverpool/Egypt forward Mohamed Salah and Orlando Pride/USA forward Alex Morgan named to TIME's 100 Most Influential list
  • UEFA Champions League semifinals: Spurs vs. Ajax; Liverpool vs. Barcelona
  • UEFA Europa League semifinals: Arsenal vs. Valencia; Chelsea vs. Frankfurt
  • Concacaf Champions League finals begins Tuesday
  • Copa Libertadores group stage resumes on Tuesday
  • MLS announces expansion to 30 teams; Academies seek solidarity payments

UEFA Champions League

Juventus, Manchester City, Manchester United and Porto were the latest casualties after failing to advance to the Champions League semifinals. Cristiano Ronaldo's Juve were taken down at home by young Ajax while both Manchester clubs failed to get past Barcelona and Tottenham. Liverpool, who carried a 2-0 first leg win ended up demolishing Porto in Portugal 4-1 for a 6-1 aggregate score. The closest encounter was between Manchester City and Tottenham, a back and forth affair that was decided by video replay in stoppage time.


UEFA Europa League

The race also continues in Europe's secondary competition to crown a champions, and award with it the coveted Champions League spot for next season. With Arsenal and Chelsea not assured a top four spot in the Premier League, this trophy could serve as insurance.


English Premier League

The race for the title continues between Liverpool and Manchester City while the last two spots for the Champions League are being disputed by four teams.

Top six: 1. Liverpool (88), 2. Manchester City (86), 3. Tottenham (67), 4. Chelsea (67), 5. Arsenal (66), 6. Manchester United (64)

Scoring leader: 19 - Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) / Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) / Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)

Assists leader: 13 - Eden Hazard (Chelsea FC)

Spain's La Liga

Top six: 1. FC Barcelona (77), 2. Atlético Madrid (68), 3. Real Madrid (64), 4. Getafe (54), 5. Valencia (52), 6. Sevilla (52)

Scoring leader: 33 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

Assists leader: 13 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

German Bundesliga

Top six: 1. Bayern Munich (70), 2. Dortmund (69), 3. RB Leipzig (61), 4. Eintracht Frankfurt (53), 5. Monchengladbach (51), 6. Hoffenheim (50)

Scoring leader: 21 - Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

Assists leader: 13 - Jadon Sancho (Dortumund)

Italian Serie A

After weeks of prolonging the inevitable, Juventus clinched their 8th straight Italian league title and 37th over all with 2-1 home win over Fiorentina. In the process, Cristiano Ronaldo became achieved a feat made by no other player in becoming the first to win the league in England, Spain and Italy.


Top six: 1. (C) - Juventus (87), 2. Napoli (67), 3. Inter Milan (61), 4. Milan (56), 5. Atalanta (56), 6. Roma (55)

Scoring leader: 22 - Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria)

Assists leader: 10 - Dries Mertens (Napoli)

French Ligue 1

PSG finally crowned themselves champions of this season after being denied for three weeks straight. Mbappe delivered a hat-trick in the 3-1 win over Monaco as Neymar made his first appearance in return from injury. It is PSG's 8th Ligue 1 title and 6th out of the last seven seasons.

Top six: 1. (C) - PSG (84), 2. Lille (65), 3. Lyon (59), 4. Saint-Étienne (56), 5. Marseille (54), 6. Montpellier (51)

Scoring leader: 30 - Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

Assists leader: 12 - Teji Savanier (Nimes)

Dutch Eredivisie

Top three: 1. Ajax (77), 2. PSV Eindhoven (77), 3. Feyenoord (59)

Belgian First Division A

Championship Round: 1. Genk (44), 2. Club Brugge (38), 3. Antwerp (35), 4. Standard Liege (33), 5. Anderlecht (27), 6. Gent (26)

Portuguese Primeira Liga

Top three: 1. Benfica (75), 2. Porto (75), 3. Sporting CP (67)

Scottish Premier League

Championship: 1. Celtic (78), 2. Rangers (69), 3. Aberdeen(58)

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Concacaf Champions League

The champion of the region awaits to be crowned in a battle of crosstown rivals, and the region's two most expensive teams when Tigres UANL and Monterrey will face off in a home-and-home series over the next two weeks.

Major League Soccer

East top seven: 1. D.C. United (14), 2. Toronto (13), 3. Philadelphia (13), 4. Columbus (13), 5. Orlando (11), 6. Montreal (11), 7. Chicago (9)

West top seven: 1. LAFC (22), 2. LA Galaxy (18), 3. Seattle (16), 4. FC Dallas (16), 5. Houston (13), 6. Minnesota (10), 7. Real Salt Lake (10)

Scoring leader: 10 - Carlos Vela (LAFC)

Assists leader: 5 - Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto) / Mark-Anthony Kaye (LAFC) / Carlos Vela (LAFC)

Liga MX

Top eight: 1. Leon (38), 2. Tigres UANL (33), 3. Monterrey (29), 4. Cruz Azul (26), 5. Necaxa (25), 6. Pachuca (25), 7. Club America (23), 8. Puebla (23)

Scoring leader: 14 - Angel Mena (Leon)

Assists leader: 9 - Angel Mena (Leon)

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National Women's Soccer League

Standings: 1. North Carolina Courage (4), 2. Portland Thorns (4), 3. Houston Dash (4), 4. Utah Royals (3), 5. Washington Spirit (3), 6. Chicago Red Stars (2), 7. Seattle Reign (2), 8. Orlando Pride (1), 9. Sky Blue FC (0)

Scoring leader: 3 - Crystal Dunn (North Carolina) / Christine Sinclair (Portland)

Assists leader:2 - Meghan Klingenberg (Portland)

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Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Apr. 23

1:45 p.m. - [Premier League] Tottenham vs. Brighton (NBC Sports)

1:45 p.m. - [Eredivisie] Ajax vs. Vitesse (ESPN+)

1:45 p.m. - [German Cup] Hamburg vs. RB Leipzig (ESPNews, ESPN Deportes)

2:30 p.m. - [La Liga] Alaves vs. Barcelona (beIN Sports)

5:15 p.m. - [Copa Libertadores] Libertad vs. Gremio (beIN Sports)

9:00 p.m. - [Concacaf Champions League] Tigres UANL vs. Monterrey (YahooSports.com, Univision Deportes)

Wednesday, Apr. 24

12:30 p.m. - [La Liga] Atletico Madrid vs. Valencia (beIN Sports)

1:45 p.m. - [German Cup] Werder Bremen vs. Bayern Munich (ESPNews, ESPN Deportes)

1:45 p.m. - [Coppa Italia] Milan vs. Lazio (ESPN+)

2:00 p.m. - [Premier League] Manchester United vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

5:15 p.m. - [Copa Libertadores] Palestino vs. River Plate (beIN Sports)

Thursday, Apr. 25

1:45 p.m. - [Coppa Italia] Atalanta vs. Fiorentina (ESPN+)

2:30 p.m. - [La Liga] Getafe vs. Real Madrid (beIN Sports)

Friday, Apr. 26

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Augsburg vs. Bayer 04 Leverkusen (FS2)

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

Saturday, Apr. 27

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

8:30 a.m. - [Budesliga] Borussia Dortmund vs. FC Schalke 04 (FS2, UniMas)

9:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Fulham vs. Cardiff (NBC Sports)

9:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Southampton vs. Bournemouth (CNBC)

9:15 a.m. - [La Liga] Atletico Madrid vs. Real Valladolid (beIN Sports)

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

11:30 a.m. - [Budesliga] VfB Stuttgart vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (FS2)

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

2:30 p.m. - [MLS] FC Dallas vs. San Jose Earthquakes (Twitter, Univision)

7:30 p.m. - [MLS] Houston Dynamo vs. Columbus Crew SC (KUBE57)

Sunday, Apr. 28

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

8:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Burnley vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

10:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester United vs. Chelsea (NBC Sports)

11:00 a.m. - [Budesliga] Nurnberg vs. Bayern Munich (FS2, FOX Deportes)

12:30 p.m. - [MLS] Minnesota United FC vs. D.C. United (FS1)

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

2:30 p.m. - [MLS] Seattle Sounders FC vs. LAFC (ESPN)

5:00 p.m. - [NWSL] Houston Dash vs. North Carolina Courage (YahooSports.com)

Monday, Apr. 29

2:00 p.m. - [La Liga] Real Betis vs. Espanyol (beIN Sports)

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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