THE SOCCER REPORT

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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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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