Soccer Recap - Dynamo fall to Vancouver Whitecaps; Atlanta draws 72,035 to set MLS record

Soccer Recap - Dynamo fall to Vancouver Whitecaps; Atlanta draws 72,035 to set MLS record
The Houston Dynamo lost their second match of the season, a 2-1 loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Victor Araiza/SportsMap

If you love the world’s game, there is plenty to talk about these days. Every major league in the world is in full swing, international competition is nearing its peak and motors rev up as the countdown to the 2018 FIFA World Cup continues.

Here are the top stories in soccer:

UEFA Champions League

Real Madrid is finding themselves in great form again. With the injury to Neymar, Real was too much for Paris Saint-Germain to overcome as PSG lost 2-1 at home to Los Blancos and exit the Champions League. Tottenham fans also had their hearts broken as they saw their team exit at home to a 2-1 loss of their own at the hands of another traditional power - Juventus.

In the other two matches this week, Liverpool drew nil-nil at home with Porto while Manchester City was beaten at home, 2-1 by FC Basel. These results mattered little as both had dominant victories in the first match of their series, making the second leg games a formality. Four more spots await to be filled this week as the Champions League narrows down to the elite eight.

UEFA Europa League

Round of 16 action in the Europa League kicked off with wins from Atletico Madrid (3-0 over Lokomotiv Moscow), Red Bull Salzburg (2-1 over Dortmund), Arsenal (2-0 over A.C. Milan), Lyon (1-0 at CSKA Moscow), RB Leipzig (2-1 vs. Zenit), Sporting CP (2-0 over Plzeň) and Marseille (3-1 over Bilbao). The only draw of the week came in Lazio’s 2-2 home match vs. Dynamo Kyiv.

Premier League

Marcus Rashford scored two first half goals to lead Manchester United to a 2-1 win over historic rival Liverpool - the only goal against being an own goal. Juan Mata almost scored the goal of the weekend with a bicycle kick that was just wide. Newcastle picked up a 3-0 win over Southampton at St. James’ Park in a match where U.S. defender DeAndre Yedlin featured for the full match. Everton, Leicester City and Burnley also picked up three points as did a trio of London clubs in Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. On Monday, Manchester City inched closer to the title in a 2-0 win at Stoke.

Top 5: Manchester City (81), Manchester United (65), Tottenham (61), Liverpool (60), Chelsea (56)

La Liga

Promoted side Girona continues to win - now up to seventh in the table - as they picked up a 2-0 win over Deportivo. Real Madrid won away at Eibar, Valencia did the same at Sevilla. Levante, Barcelona, Villareal and Betis all picked up away wins as well. Espanyol, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao were the only sides beside Girona to get home wins. Las Palmas (20), Deportivo (19) and Malaga (13) are the three sides staring at relegation.

Top 5: FC Barcelona (72), Atletico Madrid (64), Real Madrid (57), Valencia (56), Sevilla (45)


League leaders FC Bayern continue with another dominant win, this time a 6-0 victory over Hamburg. FCB’s featured a Lewandowski hat-trick and a Franck Ribery double. Meanwhile, it was not a good weekend for RB Leipzig, who continue to fall out of the top five as they tied nil-nil at Stuttgart. Dortmund picked up a 3-2 over Frankfurt win in front of their home fans as Christian Pulisic played the entire match. Schalke 04, Bayer Leverkusen, Werder Bremen, Hoffenheim and Augsburg also got wins.

Top 5: FC Bayern Munich (66), Schalke 04 (46), Dortmund (45), Bayer Leverkusen (44), Eintracht Frankfurt (42)

Serie A

The Serie A resumed after being postponed last week due to the death of Fiorentina captain Davide Astori. Tributes were seen across Italy but especially in Florence where the club dedicated their 1-0 win over Benevento to their former captain. Roma, Hellas Verona, Juventus, Atalanta, Crotone, and A.C. Milan all picked up three points. Inter Milan and Napoli was among the biggest name matches of the weekend but it delivered a scoreless draw.

Top 5: Juventus (71), Napoli (70), Roma (56), Lazio (53), Inter Milan (52)

Ligue 1

PSG returned to league dominance with a 5-nil win over Metz. Of course they lead the league by 14 points and it’s only of matter of time before they make it official. As for the rest of the Champions League spots, Monaco continues to lead in second place with a 3-1 away win. Nantes won over Troyes and is back in the top five. Seventh-place Nice picked up a 5-2 win at Guingamp ahead of next week’s encounter with PSG. Alassane Pléa stood out in that match, scoring four goals for Nice.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (77), Monaco (63), Marseille (59), Lyon (54), Nantes (43)


CONCACAF Champions League

There are three MLS vs. Liga MX series in the quarterfinals of the Champions League and all of them provided great drama. New York Red Bulls went into Tijuana and won 2-0 over Xolos - the largest margin of victory by a U.S. team on Mexican soil - to set themselves up well for the return leg at home. Toronto FC defeated Tigres 2-1 in Canada in match between the two current champions of MLS and Liga MX, respectively. Seattle Sounders FC defeated Guadalajara 1-0 at CenturyLink Field. Club America comfortably won 4-0 over Panama’s Tauro.

The second legs take place Tuesday and Wednesday. Away goals are the primary tiebreaker with extra time and penalty shootout as the next options.

Major League Soccer

Week two in MLS had plenty of surprises including the second consecutive road win of expansion side LAFC, winning 5-1 at Real Salt Lake. Columbus and New England got gritty last minute wins at home, one off a penalty and the other off a free kick. Red Bulls continued their impressive form in Champions League with a 4-0 beatdown of Portland Timbers while everyone else won on the road on Saturday.

The winning road teams included the already mentioned LAFC, Sporting KC (in a 4-3 thrilling win at Chicago), Vancouver (picking up their first ever win in Houston) and Minnesota (where former Orlando coach Adrian Heath got a win over his former club).

Atlanta, meanwhile, opened at home in front of a full house of 72,035 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In doing so they have now surpassed the single-match MLS attendance record, again. On the field they put on a show with three astonishing goals from star players Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba.

East Top 6: Columbus Crew SC (6), NYCFC (6), NY Red Bulls (3), Philadelphia Union (3), New England Revolution (3), Atlanta United (3)

West Top 6: LAFC (6), Vancouver Whitecaps FC (6), Houston Dynamo (3), San Jose Earthquakes (3), Minnesota United (3), LA Galaxy (3)

Liga MX

South of the border, Santos Laguna continues to lead the standings in Mexico. Los Guerreros remain there with a 3-2 win over Monterrey. Cruz Azul picked up a 5-0 win against Pachuca, Club America defeated Club Leon 2-0 at home and Tigres defeated Xolos 1-0 in a battle of Champions League clubs. Toluca and Guadalajara both picked up 1-0 wins on the road, Monarcas won 2-0 over Veracruz while Queretaro and Queretaro split points. Atlas won 1-0 over Puebla but remain last in the standings.

Top 5: Santos Laguna (23), Club America (21), Toluca (21), Tigres (21), Monarcas (19)

MLS-Liga MX partnership

Revealed Tuesday, the top two leagues in North America have joined forces to provide some interesting matches. Beginning in September, the two league champions will face off in the “Campeones Cup.” Just as much of a spectacle, an MLS-Liga MX All-Star match is finally in the works with that format available as early as this year.

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Mar. 13:

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Manchester United vs. Sevilla (FS1/ESPN Deportes)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (Facebook LIVE)

7 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Tijuana vs. New York Red Bulls (go90/Univision Deportes)

9 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Toronto FC vs. Tigres UANL (go90/Univision Deportes)

Wednesday, Mar. 14:

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] FC Barcelona vs. Chelsea (FS1/ESPN Deportes)

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Besiktas vs. Bayern Munich (FS2)

7 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Tauro FC vs. Club America (go90/Univision Deportes)

9 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Seattle Sounders FC vs. Guadalajara (go90/Univision Deportes)

Thursday, Mar. 15:

11 a.m. - [Europa League] Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Atletico Madrid (FS2/ESPN Deportes)

1 p.m. - [Europa League] Zenit vs. RB Leipzig (FS1)

1 p.m. - [Europa League] Bilbao vs. Marseille (ESPN Deportes)

3 p.m. - [Europa League] Arsenal vs. A.C. Milan (FS1/ESPN Deportes)

3 p.m. - [Europa League] Salzburg vs. Dortmund (FS2)

Friday, Mar. 16:

2:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Freiburg vs. Stuttgart (FS2)

2:45 p.m. - [Ligue 1] Monaco vs. Lille (beIN Sports)

Saturday, Mar. 17:

7:15 a.m. - [FA Cup] Swansea vs. Tottenham (FS1)

9:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Frankfurt vs. Mainz (FS2)

12:30 p.m. - [MLS] D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo (KUBE 57)

2:45 p.m. - [FA Cup] Manchester United vs. Brighton (FS2)

2:30 p.m. - [MLS] NYCFC vs. Orlando City (Univision)

Sunday, Mar. 18:

7 a.m. - [Ligue 1] Nice vs. Paris-Saint Germain (beIN Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [FA Cup] Wigan vs. Southampton (FS2)

10:15 a.m. - [La Liga] FC Barcelona vs. Bilbao (beIN SPORTS)

11:30 a.m. - [FA Cup] Leicester City vs. Chelsea (FS2)

2:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Real Madrid vs. Girona (beIN SPORTS)

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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