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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)

Bundesliga

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)

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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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Here's what to make of the Rockets free agency moves. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No NBA team with title aspirations entered the offseason with more questions than the Houston Rockets. Ironically, Houston's situation got more precarious as the offseason went along. From head coach Mike D'Antoni walking away after the season to general manager Daryl Morey following suit shortly after that, the Rockets have been a sinking ship in desperate need of stability. They found some of that once new head coach Stephen Silas was hired, but the boat took on more water when star players James Harden and Russell Westbrook demanded to be traded a couple of weeks later.

It's been a giant roller coaster and it was unclear how Houston would approach their free agency. Would they double down on contending for a championship to try and convince their star players to stay or would they be forced to rebuild?

It looks like Houston tried to thread the needle and accomplish both: They appear ready to rebuild if they can't convince James Harden to stay, but also addressed roster needs and acquired better fitting pieces for their stars. It's hard to say whether or not they got better, but they're certainly a lot younger and look to play a lot different. Let's take a look at each player and how they fit into the framework.

Christian Wood

Contract:

3 years, $41 million

Grade:

B+

If there's a signing that embodies Houston's offseason, it's Christian Wood. For obvious reasons and some subtle ones, Wood is the exact kind of player Houston had to acquire this summer. Let's start with the obvious: Wood is the perfect player to have alongside both James Harden and Russell Westbrook because of his unique set of skills. Wood can hit threes at a high clip for someone his size (36.8% for his career) and stretches the floor for the moments you want Russell Westbrook barreling to the rim or James Harden trying to break a trap.

Lob threat

The Rockets didn't have a big man with that capability on the roster last year, so they had to resort to trading for Robert Covington and going small so they could properly space the floor. However, in doing that the Rockets lost their best lob threat and limited themselves on offense even further. This is where Wood solves the second problem: He may not be as good of a lob threat as Clint Capela, but he's damn close.

Over the past few years, the Rockets have slowly phased out pick and roll out of their offense and resorted to isolation. Part of it is because of how teams have defended the pick and roll, but part of it is also them not having the option anymore. James Harden is too good of a pick and roll ball handler for it to not be a part of the Rockets' attack. Adding more pick and roll to Houston's offense should be a priority next season, regardless of what else Silas decides to do.

Clint Capela was the perfect center for James Harden. P.J. Tucker was the perfect center for Russell Westbrook. Christian Wood is the perfect center for both.

Defensive rebounding

Another weakness Houston needed to address this offseason was their defensive rebounding (26th in NBA last season). It got to the point where it was a rarity that Houston would win the rebounding battle against good teams. This was partly by design and partly because of roster weakness. Houston was so porous at rebounding in the beginning of the season, they decided to emphasize turning over opponents to even the possession battle. If Houston were to even marginally improve in defensive rebounding, it could have a drastic positive impact on their defense.

Per 36 minutes:

22.0 PPG

10.6 RPG

1.5 BPG

65.9% True Shooting

Houston also replenished their coffers in the process of acquiring Wood. By flipping Robert Covington to the Blazers, the Rockets netted two draft picks back after losing two the prior offseason in the Westbrook trade. It may not matter in the grand scheme of next season, but these assets could be especially useful if Houston pivots to a rebuild. They could also be useful to upgrade the roster at the trade deadline if Houston gets Harden's buy-in. (As an aside, the series of transactions that led to Wood are impressive and reflect well on new GM Rafael Stone's ability to get deals done.)

The subtle reason Wood embodies their offseason is his age, 25 years old. Wood would immediately become the youngest starter on the team and be a building block piece on the next iteration of the Rockets. He's also old enough to make an immediate impact should Houston acquire a ready-made blue chip prospect in a James Harden trade. With the 76ers rumored to be a team interested in Harden's services, it probably isn't a coincidence that Ben Simmons (24 years old) falls neatly into Wood's age group. It also probably isn't a coincidence that the ideal team for Simmons has always been imagined to be a team that can spread the floor at the four other positions on the court. Having Wood is great start to try and accomplish that.

David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, and Jae'Sean Tate

Contracts:

Negligible

Grade:

B-

Nwaba, Brown, and Tate are all being placed in one category because it's quite clear what the Rockets are trying to accomplish: Take bets on young, cheap wings on the market and hope one pans out enough to make the final rotation for Stephen Silas.

While David Nwaba technically wasn't signed this offseason, he's essentially a free agency signing because the Rockets signed him up a few months ago with the knowledge he wouldn't be able to play in the first year of his deal. He's the oldest of this group (27 years old), has the largest wingspan (7'0"), and has logged the most NBA minutes (3295). Because of all this, he's probably the safest bet to make Houston's final rotation. However, just because he's the 'safest bet' doesn't mean he's a 'safe bet' per se.

Nwaba suffered a season-ending achilles injury on December 9th of last season and has spent the past year rehabbing. It's unclear how he will respond from this, but before the injury, Nwaba had found a nice role in Brooklyn as a combo forward who could shoot well enough from beyond the perimeter (34.4% for his career). The Rockets have desperately needed competent perimeter defenders off the bench since their 2017-18 campaign and a healthy Nwaba was just that.

Sterling Brown, 24, found his way on the fringes of the Bucks' rotation the past few seasons and gained the trust of head coach Mike Budenholzer enough to play nearly 15 minutes a game. Brown is a pesky defender and average three-point shooter (34.5% for his career) and like the other wings in this category, he doesn't need the ball. He's probably the second most proven wing here and if he cracks the rotation, it's unlikely he will have to play more than he did in Milwaukee.

Jae'Sean Tate, 25, is probably the most intriguing prospect of this bunch as he's never played in the NBA before. Tate played under new Rockets assistant coach Will Weaver on the Sidney Kings and averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 66.0% shooting from the field last season while earning first-team All-NBL honors. He's 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan and was considered to be one of the top basketball prospects outside the NBA before signing with Houston. The Rockets appear to be quite high on him considering they used part of their mid-level exception to sign him to a three-year deal.

The Rockets already have much of their rotation locked in:

James Harden and Russell Westbrook will likely play at least 35 minutes a piece, P.J. Tucker will probably play around 32 minutes, and finally Danuel House and Christian Wood will likely play around 30 minutes each. That leaves 78 minutes for a bench that already has Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore. Also, Houston will probably sign another center before the season starts. Now, the Rockets may try to ease the load off of some of their older starters, in which case there might be more time available. However, whatever way you slice it, they really only need one of these wings to crack the rotation for regular season purposes.

It's unlikely all three signings end up backfiring for them, but we'll see. Stranger things have happened.

It's also convenient that all three of these players are 27 years or younger should the Rockets decide to trade Harden at the trade deadline. Like Wood, these signings give Houston the option to pivot in another direction. Because of Houston's lack of room under the apron, they didn't have the option to use their full mid-level or bi-annual exception. Ring-chaser types also weren't going to sign with the Rockets for the minimum given the uncertainty surrounding their stars. This was a nice way for Houston to hedge their bets while also filling out the roster with possible contributors.

The Rockets aren't done making moves yet, but they're close. Understanding the circumstances, it's hard to be too critical of what they did in free agency.

Overall Grade: B

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