THE SOCCER REPORT

NWSL kicks off 7th season; UCL, UEL semifinalists to be decided

Houston Dash defender Amber Brooks was honored before the season opener for becoming the 22nd player to feature in 100 league matches. (Photo credit: Jose Castellanos)

The National Women's Soccer League kicked off a historic 7th season and the European competitions got one step closer to crowning their champions in this week's soccer happenings. As always, skip down to the end of this article for a schedule of the top upcoming matches.

Top stories:

  • UEFA Champions League semifinalists to be decided Tuesday and Wednesday
  • UEFA Europa League semifinalists to be decided Thursday
  • MLS opens newest soccer-only stadium in Minnesota
  • Houston Dynamo look to remain unbeaten Friday at LA Galaxy
  • Houston Dash open season with 1-1 draw, play away on Saturday
  • Groups announced for this summer's Gold Cup and African Cup of Nations

UEFA Champions League

After this week, only four teams will remain in the hunt for the title of European Champion. Last Tuesday, Tottenham picked up a narrow 1-0 win over City in the first UCL match at the new Spurs Stadium while Liverpool handled Porto with a 2-0 win at Anfield. On Wednesday, Barcelona came away with a 1-0 win at Manchester United while Juventus drew 1-1 at Ajax.


UEFA Europa League

Arsenal, Chelsea and Valencia all picked up key wins in their search for this year's Europa League trophy and the coveted Champions League qualification that comes with it. The talk of the week, however, was about 19-year-old Portuguese forward João Félix who scored a hat-trick in Benfica's 4-2 win over Frankfurt.

Benfica 4-2 Eintracht Frankfurt: Europa League Recap with Highlights, Goals and Best Moments www.youtube.com


English Premier League

Top six: 1. Liverpool (85), 2. Manchester City (83), 3. Tottenham (67), 4. Arsenal (66), 5. Chelsea (66), 6. Manchester United (64)

Scoring leader: 19 - Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) / Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Assists leader: 12 - Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) / Eden Hazard (Chelsea FC)

Spain's La Liga

Top six: 1. FC Barcelona (74), 2. Atlético Madrid (65), 3. Real Madrid (61), 4. Sevilla (52), 5. Getafe (51), 6. Valencia (49)

Scoring leader: 33 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

Assists leader: 12 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

German Bundesliga

Top six: 1. Bayern Munich (67), 2. Dortmund (66), 3. RB Leipzig (58), 4. Eintracht Frankfurt (52), 5. Monchengladbach (51), 6. Hoffenheim (47)

Scoring leader: 21 - Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

Assists leader: 13 - Jadon Sancho (Dortumund)

Italian Serie A

Top six: 1. Juventus (84), 2. Napoli (67), 3. Inter Milan (60), 4. Milan (55), 5. Roma (54), 6. Atalanta (53)

Scoring leader: 22 - Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria)

Assists leader: 10 - Dries Mertens (Napoli)

French Ligue 1

PSG's 2-2 draw against Strasbourg means the defending champions will have to wait one more match to celebrate their newest league championship.

Top six: 1. PSG (81), 2. Lille (64), 3. Lyon (56), 4. Saint-Étienne (53), 5. Marseille (51), 6. Montpellier (48)

Scoring leader: 27 - Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

Assists leader: 11 - Nicolas Pepe (Lille) / Teji Savanier (Nimes)

Dutch Eredivisie

Top three: 1. Ajax (74), 2. PSV Eindhoven (74), 3. Feyenoord (56)

Belgian First Division A

Championship Round: 1. Genk (41), 2. Club Brugge (37), 3. Antwerp (34), 4. Standard Liege (31), 5. Anderlecht (26), 6. Gent (25)

Portuguese Primeira Liga

Top three: 1. Benfica (69), 2. Porto (69), 3. Sporting CP (61)

Scottish Premier League

Top three: 1. Celtic (77), 2. Rangers (66), 3. Kilmarnock (58)

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Concacaf Champions League

Liga MX top spenders, and crosstown rivals, Tigres UANL and Monterrey will face off later this month in the final series to determine the new club champion of Concacaf.


Major League Soccer

East top seven: 1. D.C. United (14), 2. Columbus (13), 3. Montreal (11), 4. Toronto (10), 5. Philadelphia (10), 6. Orlando (8), 7. Cincinnati (8)

West top seven: 1. LAFC (19), 2. Seattle (16), 3. LA Galaxy (15), 4. Houston (13), 5. FC Dallas (13), 6. Minnesota (10), 7. Sporting KC (9)

Scoring leader: 8 - Carlos Vela (LAFC)

Assists leader: 5 - Carlos Vela (LAFC)

Liga MX

Top eight: 1. Leon (35), 2. Tigres UANL (32), 3. Monterrey (26), 4. Necaxa (24), 5. Pachuca (24), 6. Club America (23), 7. Cruz Azul (23), 8. Tijuana(22)


Scoring leader: 12 - Angel Mena (Leon)

Assists leader: 9 - Angel Mena (Leon)

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National Women's Soccer League

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

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African Cup of Nations


Concacaf Gold Cup



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Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Apr. 16

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

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] FC Barcelona vs. Manchester United (TNT, UniMas/Univision Deportes)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Juventus vs. Ajax (B/R Live, Galavision)

Wednesday, Apr. 17

12:00 p.m. - [Ligue 1] Nantes vs. PSG (beIN Sports)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Manchester City vs. Tottenham (TNT, UniMas/Univision Deportes)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Porto vs. Liverpool (B/R Live, Galavision)

9:00 p.m. - [MLS] Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. LAFC (ESPN+)

Thursday, Apr. 18

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Napoli vs. Arsenal (B/R Live, Univision Deportes)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Chelsea vs. Slavia Prague (B/R Live, Galavision)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Valencia vs. Villarreal (B/R Live, UniMas)

Friday, Apr. 19

2:00 p.m. - [La Liga] Alaves vs. Valladolid (beIN Sports)

1:45 p.m. - [Ligue 1] Nantes vs. Lyon (beIN Sports)

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

10:00 p.m. - [MLS] LA Galaxy vs. Houston Dynamo (Twitter, UniMas)

Saturday, Apr. 20

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

8:30 a.m. - [Budesliga] Bayern Munich vs. Werder Bremen (FS1, Univision Deportes)

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

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

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

11:30 a.m. - [Budesliga] Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. RB Leipzig 05 (FS1)

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

3:00 p.m. - [MLS] Atlanta United vs. FC Dallas (ESPN)

5:00 p.m. - [NWSL] Sky Blue FC vs. Houston Dash (YahooSports.com)

7:00 p.m. - [Liga MX] Cruz Azul vs. Pumas (Univision)

9:00 p.m. - [Liga MX] Chivas vs. Puebla (Univision)

Sunday, Apr. 21

7:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Everton vs. Manchester United (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Budesliga] Freiburg vs. Dortmund (FS1, Univision Deportes)

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

10:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Cardiff vs. Liverpool (NBC Sports)

3:00 p.m. - [MLS] D.C. United vs. New York City FC (ESPN)

6:00 p.m. - [MLS] LAFC vs. Seattle Sounders FC (FS1)

Monday, Apr. 22

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

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Framber Valdez injured his ring finger on Tuesday. Composite image by Jack Brame.

That sure escalated quickly. The news on Framber Valdez went from bad to vastly worse for the Astros with the fractured ring finger on his pitching hand concerning enough that season ending surgery is on the radar. Valdez is/was no sure thing to have been a first time quality full season starting pitcher, but seemed a decent bet after his maturity-driven albeit short season breakout 2020.

37-year-old Zack Greinke is the only member of the Astros' starting rotation to have thrown even 130 innings in a big league season. Greinke showed notable slippage in 2020. A by-product of the funky short season, or Father Time making a move? If Greinke further erodes, uh oh. It's all question marks behind him.

Lance McCullers got to the big leagues in 2015. Six years later McCullers has zero seasons under his belt in which he both pitched well and stayed healthy. If he hits that exacta in 2021 it's great for the Astros of course, greater for McCullers with free agency arriving at season's end. Particularly confounding with McCullers is that over his career he's been outstanding at Minute Maid Park, and basically sucked on the road. Career earned run average at MMP: 2.51. Career ERA everywhere else: 4.99. That's absurd. It's certainly not as if MMP is some great pitchers' park.

"Crafty" is typically applied to left-handed pitchers. Jose Urquidy seems a crafty right-hander. But since missing the 2017 season recovering from Tommy John surgery Urquidy has topped 100 innings worked once. Cristian Javier has some electric stuff and showed very well as a rookie. Javier has never thrown 115 innings in a professional season.

The odds are long against McCullers, Urquidy, and Javier all pitching well and staying healthy all season. Valdez didn't come close to making it to Opening Day. The best internal candidates to replace Framber (or anyone else) are Luis Garcia and the extremely-hyped thus far dud but still just 23 years old Forrest Whitley.

Woeful Rockets

It certainly isn't paying homage to James Harden that has the Rockets on a 13 game losing streak as they mercifully take their All-Star break. They're just that bad. Watching them is like watching a helpless fly tossed into a spider web game after game. Out of the break the Rockets play at Sacramento Thursday. The Kings are no good, but the Rockets are worse. A loss there all but guarantees matching the Houston Rockets' longest ever losing streak of 15 since the following night they play at Utah. If you care about them the Rockets are painful to watch. Hapless, helpless, hopeless. Their best shot at accelerating what might be a years long path back to relevance is to keep on stinking. The Rockets have the third worst record in the NBA. The three worst teams have equal chances at getting picks one through four in the draft. It's a 14 percent shot at number one, a 52 percent shot of being in the top four. The fourth worst team has a 48 percent chance of picking in the top four. If the Rockets are not in the top four, they lose their pick to Oklahoma City as a payoff of the awful Chris Paul-Russell Westbrook trade.

Watt signs with Cardinals

J.J. Watt could have least acknowledged "Of course the money the Cardinals offered had plenty to do with me picking them!" Off an 8-8 season in which they faded down the stretch the Cards have an interesting squad with some serious upside, especially if Kyler Murray makes a leap in his third season at quarterback. But no way are the Cardinals presently a first tier Super Bowl contender. We don't know for certain who Watt's other "finalists" were and what they offered. Seems a lock that none of them offered 23 million dollars guaranteed or two years 31 million total. Money is another scoreboard and J.J. is a huge winner on it. No one should ever blame a player for going for every dollar he can get. But Watt can't honestly say the best shot at a Super Bowl was his top priority then sign with a team which last had a winning season in 2015 and in Kliff Kingsbury has a guy who has accomplished nothing meaningful as a Head Coach at either Texas Tech or Arizona. Doesn't mean it can't happen in the desert, but there had to be better teams interested if a ring shot was of paramount importance.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Les Miles, what a slimeball. LSU, what a slimy institution in its handling of serial sexual misconduct in its football program

2. NBA All-Star Game Sunday. In 1993 more than 22 million people watched. Last year, 6.8 million. Not sure 5 mil watch Sunday.

3. Greatest ever NFL free agent signings: Bronze-Packers, Reggie White Silver-Buccaneers, Tom Brady Gold-Saints, Drew Brees

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