THE SOCCER REPORT

Ronaldo, Messi take the spotlight before international break

FC Cincinnati defeated the Portland Timbers in front of 32,250 present for their first MLS home match. Courtesy: FC Cincinnati.

Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick performance against Atletico Madrid to help Juventus advane to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals and Lionel Messi's hat-trick in league play against Real Betis where the performances that stood out this week. Leagues around the world will now take a break for the International fixtures that will feature matches like USA vs. Chile next Tuesday in Houston.

UEFA Champions League

The Round of 16 concluded in Europe with no lead safe as Atletico Madrid became another side that fell apart in the second leg, much like Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain in the previous week. In the two series where everything was left to play for, it was Liverpool and FC Barcelona who prevailed at FC Bayern Munich and vs. Lyon, respectively.

Round of 16 - second leg results (updated):

  • Real Madrid 1-4 Ajax (3-5 agg.)
  • Dortmund 0-1 Tottenham (0-4 agg.)
  • Porto 3-1 Roma (4-3 agg.)
  • Paris 1-3 Manchester United (3-3 agg., Man Utd advance on away goals)
  • Manchester City 7-0 Schalke 04 (10-2 agg.)
  • Juventus 3-0 Atletico Madrid (3-2 agg.)
  • Bayern Munich 1-3 Liverpool (1-3 agg.)
  • FC Barcelona 5-1 Lyon (5-1 agg.)

The quarter-final draw happened on Friday, setting up the next round of matchups with Manchester United vs. FC Barcelona leading the headlines.

UEFA Europa League

Extra time was needed as Czech side Slavia Prague outlasted a potential Sevilla comeback to win their Round of 16 series at home. Besides that upset, Arsenal found it's way back from a 1-3 deficit against French side Rennes as the rest of the "favorites" march on to the next round.

English Premier League

Every goal from Premier League Matchweek 31 | NBC Sports www.youtube.com

Liverpool are back to the top of the standings, at least momentarily, as they pick up three points against Fulham. Manchester City did not feature in league play this week, instead advancing in the FA Cup with a 3-2 quater-final win against Swansea City. Mexican National Team star Javier Hernandez also took headlines this week with a brace to help West Ham to a 4-3 win over Huddersfield.

Top six: 1. Liverpool (76), 2. Manchester City (74), 3. Tottenham (61), 4. Arsenal (60), 5. Manchester United (58), 6. Chelsea (57)

Scoring leader: 18 - Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Assists leader: 11 - Eden Hazard (Chelsea FC)

Spain's La Liga

Highlights Real Betis vs FC Barcelona (1-4) www.youtube.com

FC Barcelona continue plowing through their La Liga competition as Messi put up three in the 4-1 win at Real Betis. The Argentine superstar commanded an ovation from the home fans thanks to his must-see goal in the hat-trick performance. Second-place Atletico Madrid lost 0-2 at Athletic Bilbao while Zidane's Real Madrid picked up a 2-0 win over Celta Vigo in the French Manager's comeback.

Top six: 1. FC Barcelona (66), 2. Atlético Madrid (56), 3. Real Madrid (54), 4. Getafe (46), 5. Alaves (44), 6. Sevilla (43)

Scoring leader: 29 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

Assists leader: 12 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

German Bundesliga

Top six: 1. Bayern Munich (60), 2. Dortmund (60), 3. RB Leipzig (49), 4. Monchengladbach (47), 5. Eintracht Frankfurt (46), 6. Bayer Leverkusen (42)

Scoring leader: 18 - Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

Assists leader: 12 - Jadon Sancho (Dortumund)

Italian Serie A

Top six: 1. Juventus (75), 2. Napoli (60), 3. Inter Milan (53), 4. A.C. Milan (51), 5. Roma (47), 6. Lazio (45)

Scoring leader: 21- Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria)

Assists leader: 9 - Dries Mertens (Napoli)

French Ligue 1

Top six: 1. PSG (77), 2. Lille (57), 3. Lyon (53), 4. Marseille (47), 5. Saint-Étienne (46), 6. Stade Reims (46)

Scoring leader: 24 - Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

Assists leader: 10 - Angel Di Maria (PSG)

Dutch Eredivisie

Top three: 1. PSV Eindhoven (67), 2. Ajax (62), 3. Feyenoord (47)

Belgian First Division A

Top three: 1. Genk (63), 2. Club Brugge (56), 3. Standard Liege (53)

Portuguese Primeira Liga

Top three: 1. Benfica (63), 2. Porto (63), 3. Braga (58)

Scottish Premier League

Top three: 1. Celtic (70), 2. Rangers (60), 3. Aberdeen (52)

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Concacaf Champions League

Only four teams remain in the Concacaf Champions League, three from Mexico and one lone USA team.

Quarterfinals - second leg results:


Major League Soccer

The story of Week 3 in MLS will be the first-ever home opener for new club FC Cincinatti, which drew a capacity crowd of 32,250 to Nippert Stadium. The home team sent fans happy with a 3-0 win over the Portland Timbers. Wayne Rooney had a hat-trick performance of his own this week to propel D.C. United to a 5-0 victory over Real Salt Lake and Alberth Elis took Team of the Week honors with Rooney after helping Houston Dynamo to a 3-2 victory over Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

East top seven: 1. D.C. United (7), 2. Columbus Crew (7), 3. Toronto (6), 4. Montreal (6), 5. NY Red Bulls (4), 6. Cincinatti (4), 7. NYCFC (3)

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

Liga MX

The two biggest teams in Mexico faced off twice, in cup and league play, as Club America took both victories over rivals Chivas of Guadalajara. Leon continues top of the table, separated from Tigres UANL only on goal difference.

Top eight: 1. Leon (26), 2. Tigres UANL (26), 3. Monterrey (22), 4. Club America (19), 5. Club Tijuana (19), 6. Necaxa (18), 7. Cruz Azul (18), 8. Pachuca (17)

Scoring leader: 9 - Angel Mena (Leon) / Brian Fernandez (Necaxa)

Assists leader: 8 - Angel Mena (Leon)

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Copa Libertadores

Superliga Argentina

Top four: 1. Racing Club (55), 2. Defensa y Justicia (51), 3. Boca Juniors (47), 4. River Plate (42)

Scoring leader: 17 - Lisandro Lopez (Racing)

Assists leader: 9 - Walter Montillo (Tigre)

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Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Wednesday, Mar. 20

2:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Germany vs. Serbia (ESPN3, Univision Deportes)

2:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Wales vs. Trinidad & Tobago (ESPN3)

Thursday, Mar. 21

10:00 a.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] Kazakhstan vs. Scotland (ESPN3)

1:00 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] Kosovo vs. Denmark (ESPN3)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] Belgium vs. Russia (ESPN2, Univision Deportes)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] Netherlands vs. Belarus (ESPN3)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] Croatia vs. Azerbaijan (ESPN3)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] Austria vs. Poland (ESPN3)

7:00 p.m. - [International Friendly] U.S. Men's National Team vs. Ecuador (ESPN2/UniMas)

Friday, Mar. 22

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] England vs. Czech Republic (ESPNews)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] Albania vs. Turkey (ESPN3)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] Moldova vs. France (ESPN+)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] Portugal vs. Ukraine (UniMas, Univision Deportes)

3:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] Argentina vs. Venezuela (beIN Sports)

9:00 p.m. - [International Friendly] Mexico Men's National Team vs. Chile (UniMas, Univision Deportes)

Saturday, Mar. 23

12:00 p.m. - [International Friendly] Brazil vs. Panama (beIN Sports en Espanol)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] Spain vs. Norway (ESPNews)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier] Italy vs. Finland (ESPN+)

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Texans vs. Vikings could have fans in attendance. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Houston Texans say it's time that fans were allowed to cheer on the home team at NRG Stadium. On Thursday, the team announced extensive safety protocols that would put 15,000 fans in the stands for the Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 4.

While the Texans are awaiting permission from city and county officials to host a limited number of fans - socially distant and wearing masks – no plans have been announced how much tickets will cost, and who'll have the opportunity to buy them.

You have to love the free enterprise system: hundreds of tickets for the Oct. 4 game already are on sale on secondary market websites. Lower bowl tickets are going for $800 and up. If you don't mind sitting in the nose bleeds, tickets can be had for around $250.

So the question becomes, if you had the chance, would you attend the Texans game in early October? The tickets are big bucks, and there is a whammy – COVID-19. While the rate of COVID-19 infections is on the decline in Houston, the virus remains a major factor in our daily lives, and there's no guarantee that the pandemic won't spike here again.

Here's the rub, at least for me. Of all the sports we have in Houston, a Texans game might be lowest on my wish list of attending in person. Television does NFL games the best. There are dozens of cameras, so when a receiver catches a pass on the sidelines, we get several views, in slow motion even, to see if the receiver's feet were in bounds. We can almost feel the crunch of a quarterback sack. We get highlights of other games. You don't have to sit next to a face painter like David Puddy.

The NFL is a made-for-TV production. Which is, I suspect, part of the reason the Texans rarely open the roof at NRG Stadium. With the roof closed, the field becomes a controlled TV studio, with no worries of weather pranks.

Television doesn't do basketball or baseball nearly as well. Conversely, the experience of attending those games is terrific fun. What beats eating a couple of dogs at an Astros game? Is there even a traditional food at NFL or NBA games?

The Texans promise that strict safety rules will be enforced. And I believe them. Fans will be scattered over the 67,000-seat stadium. I'm not sure how much of a home field advantage that will be. Most of the crowd noise will come from pre-recorded tapes.

Here's one worry. Sure fans will sit apart and socially distanced. But what will happen when the game is over? Will fans file out in orderly, non-contagious single file? I flew Southwest a few weeks ago. The airline makes a big deal – we don't sell the middle seat. Passengers kept their distance during the flight. When the landed, you know how it is, everybody got up and piled into the aisle, shoulder to shoulder for several minutes.

What will happen if some goofball takes off his/her mask during the Texans game? Will there be enough security to handle each case?

Baseball is planning to have some fans attend post-season games at Minute Maid Park next month. UH Cougars, the Dynamo and Dash are playing in front of small crowds. It remains to be seen how safe – or how risky – allowing fans at sports events will be.

Will parents let their kids attend? Is waiting for a vaccine the smart play? If President Trump is right, that could be only a matter of weeks away. If scientists and doctors are right, nestle in for pandemic life another year. Even if scientists do come up with a vaccine, how many Americans will roll up their sleeve? Some believe, in the case of COVID-19, the cure may be worse than the disease. Not me, the moment Dr. Fauci says the vaccine is safe and effective, I'm sprinting to CVS.

The thinnest of silver linings, if ever there was a year worth sitting out, 2020 has been it for Houston sports fans. The Astros are scratching to stay above .500 (their present position), Jose Altuve hasn't had an extra base hit or RBI in almost a month, and Justin Verlander is throwing bullpens on his way to recovery. The Rockets are searching for a new coach, and possibly another team willing to take Russell Westbrook in a trade. The Texans season could go either way, we'll know if a few short weeks.

Why the rush to fill stadiums? The NBA is thriving in a bubble. Why not baseball and football? There's a fine line between safe and sorry.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo already has safety plans for next year, including masks and distancing. That will be interesting. Good luck controlling crowds pushing and shoving for corn dogs and funnel cakes.

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