On the Pitch

Soccer Recap: MLS is back, Lionel Messi scores 600th career goal

The 2018 MLS season kicked off on Saturday, including a nationally televised encounter between the Houston Dynamo and Atlanta United. Courtesy photo

There was plenty of soccer action last week throughout the world’s leagues. Stars like Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Mohamed Salah can’t stop scoring while, on this side of the pond, international competition is in full swing with the CONCACAF Champions League and Copa Libertadores. This was the week in soccer:

English Premier League

Manchester City only needed one goal to defeat Chelsea, and are 16 points clear of rivals Manchester United. The Red Devils meanwhile outlasted Crystal Palace to come away with a 3-2 win. Brighton and Hove stunned Arsenal in a 2-1 home win, bringing up the talk of Arsene Wenger’s job back into the mainstream media. Burnley, Swansea, Tottenham, Watford, and Liverpool were the other winners of the weekend. Mohamed Salah scored in Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Newcastle to pull even with Harry Kane (24) atop the golden boot table.

Top 5: Manchester City (78), Manchester United (62), Liverpool (60), Tottenham (58), Chelsea (53)

La Liga

FC Barcelona all but officially clinched their 25th La Liga title with a 1-0 home win over Atletico de Madrid. Separated by five points entering the day, Atletico needed a win to pull within two points of Barça and realistically keep their title hopes alive. The difference in the match was a masterful free kick taken by Lionel Messi, marking the 600th professional goal scored by the 30-year-old for club and country.

Real Madrid won 3-1 over Getafe with a brace by Cristiano Ronaldo, with the other goal coming from Gareth Bale. Valencia stays in 4th with a 2-0 win over Real Betis and Sevilla jumps back into the top five with a 2-0 home win of their own against Athletic Bilbao.

Top 5: FC Barcelona (69), Atletico Madrid (61), Real Madrid (54), Valencia (53), Sevilla (45)

Bundesliga

FC Bayern Munich continued their dominance with a 4-0 win over Freiburg - extending their run to 16 unbeaten in all competitions. Schalke moves up to second place with a 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin. Leipzig and Dortmund shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw and Frankfurt won 1-0 over Hannover 96. Bayer Leverkusen is fifth, they picked up a 2-1 road win at Wolfsburg.

Top 5: Bayern Munich (63), Schalke 04 (43), Borussia Dortmund (42), Eintracht Frankfurt (42), Bayer Leverkusen (41)

Ligue 1

Angel Di Maria led the way as leaders PSG won 2-0 at Troyes to extend their insurmountable lead at the top of the French league. Monaco remains in second place with a 2-1 home win over Bordeaux. Marseille drew 1-1 with Nates, Lyon did the same at Montpellier and Rennes took advantage of those two results to jump up to fifth with a 2-0 win at Amiens SC.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (74), Monaco (60), Marseille (56), Lyon (51), Rennes (41)

Serie A

Only three matches took place this week before the rest were postponed. Fiorentina captain Davide Astori was found dead in his hotel room on Sunday, leaving many in Italy shocked. All of Sunday’s matches in Serie A were postponed. Clubs will pay respect with a moment of silence in this week’s Champions League and Europa League matches.

Of the encounters that took place on Saturday, SPAL picked up three points at Bologna, Paulo Dybala led Juventus to a win at Lazio and Roma picked up a 4-2 win at leaders Napoli.

Top 5: Napoli (69), Juventus (68), Roma (53), Lazio (52), Inter Milan (51)

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CONCACAF Champions League

The round of 16 has concluded and the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League is down to eight teams: Club America, Guadalajara, New York Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders FC, Tauro FC, Tigres UANL, Tijuana and Toronto FC. America, Guadalajara, and Toronto defended their first leg leads while Red Bulls and Tigres took care of business at home after tying in their opening matches. Tijuana drew at home but went through because of their away win in the first leg. Seattle Sounders overturned a one-goal deficit with an emphatic 4-0 home win over Santa Tecla. The biggest surprise was FC Dallas, who could not overturn a 1-0 first leg loss with their 3-2 home win, eliminated by Panamanian side Tauro FC on away goals.

The quarterfinals begin on Tuesday night with the first legs and will conclude with the second legs next week. There are three MLS vs. Liga MX matchups with Tijuana vs. NY Red Bulls, Seattle Sounders FC vs. Guadalajara and Toronto FC vs. Tigres.

Major League Soccer

The 2018 MLS season got underway on Saturday and there were plenty of surprises. Columbus Crew won the opening match 2-0 at defending champion Toronto FC. In Houston, the Dynamo had the win secured after the first 27 minutes - scoring four goals in the entire first half - as they beat Atlanta United 4-0 at home. LAFC won their inaugural match in a 1-0 road win at Seattle. Philadelphia, Vancouver, New York City FC and LA Galaxy also started matchday one with wins.

The Dynamo’s Alberth Elis and Philippe Senderos made MLSsoccer.com’s Team of the Week and Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera earned Coach of the Week honors. Houston is back at home on Saturday as they welcome Vancouver Whitecaps FC to BBVA Compass Stadium (5:00 p.m.).

Liga MX

Matchday 10 in Liga MX was highlighted by the nation’s biggest rivalry - Club America at Club Deportivo Guadalajara. The Clásico Nacional ended in a 1-1 draw with Jose de Jesus Godinez (Chivas) and Oribe Peralta (America) trading goals in the first half. Santos Laguna took advantage of that result to jump to the top of the standings after a 2-1 win at Necaxa. Leon got back to winning with a 3-0 home win in which Landon Donovan made another appearance in the last minutes. Tijuana, Morelia, Queretaro, Puebla, Toluca and Tigres UANL also picked up three points this week.

Off the field, an announcement was made Friday confirming reports that relegation would be paused. While this season will be unaffected, there will not be relegation in Liga MX for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons - allowing the league to expand to 20 total teams. The clubs earning promotion must meet certain financial and stadium requirements. On top of that, Mexican Soccer Federation President Decio De Maria announced he will step down following the 2018 FIFA World Cup and former Club America President Yon De Luisa will replace him.

Top 5: Santos Laguna (20), Club America (18), Toluca (18), Tigres (15), Puebla (17)


Copa Libertadores

It was not a good start for South American powerhouses as the Copa Libertadores group stage got underway. Brazilian giant Santos lost 2-0 in Peru to Real Garcilaso while Argentina’s Independiente - the winningest club in Libertadores with 7 titles - was humbled 1-0 at Venezuelan club Deportivo Lara. Boca Juniors was held scoreless at Alianza Lima. Delfin-Bolivar and Santa Fe vs. Emelec both ended in 1-1 draws while Palmeiras won 3-0 at Junior.

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SheBelieves Cup

Top international sides in Women’s soccer are fighting for bragging rights in the 2018 SheBelieves Cup. On Thursday, England defeated France 4-1 while the USA defeated Germany 1-0 in Columbus. On Sunday, the cup resumed in New Jersey where USA and France drew 1-1 while Germany tied 2-2 with England. The competition concludes Wednesday as France faces Germany and USA hosts England in Orlando. France is the defending champion but will need a win and help to repeat, the U.S. women won the inaugural tournament two years ago.

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Mar. 6:

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Paris Saint Germain vs. Real Madrid (FS1)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Liverpool vs. Porto (FS2)

7:00 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Club America vs. Tauro FC (go90/Univision Deportes)

9:00 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Tijuana vs. New York Red Bulls (go90/Univision Deportes)

Wednesday, Mar. 7:

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Tottenham vs. Juventus (FS1)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Manchester City vs. FC Basel (FS2)

6:00 p.m. - [SheBelieves Cup] USWNT vs. England (ESPNews)

7:00 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Toronto FC vs. Tigres UANL (go90/Univision Deportes)

9:00 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Seattle Sounders FC vs. Guadalajara (go90/Univision Deportes)

Thursday, Mar. 8:

12:00 p.m. - [Europa League] A.C. Milan vs. Arsenal (FS2)

2:00 p.m. - [Europa League] RB Leipzig vs. Zenit (FS2)

Friday, Mar. 9:

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Mainz vs. Schalke 04 (FS2)

1:45 p.m. - [Serie A] AS Roma vs. Torino (beIN Sports)

Saturday, Mar. 10:

6:00 a.m. - [La Liga] Eibar vs. Real Madrid (beIN Sports)

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

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Bayern Munich vs. Hamburg (FS1)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Hannover vs. Augsburg (FS2)

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

10:00 a.m. - [Ligue 1] Paris Saint-Germain vs. Metz (beIN Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace (NBC Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Leverkusen vs. Monchengladbach (FS2)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Malaga vs. FC Barcelona (beIN SPORTS)

2:30 p.m. - [MLS] Real Salt Lake vs. LAFC (Univision)

Sunday, Mar. 11:

8:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Arsenal vs. Watford (NBC Sports)

9:00 a.m. - [Serie A] Juventus vs. Udinese (beIN Sports)

9:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Stuttgart vs. RB Leipzig (FS1)

11:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Bournemouth vs. Tottenham (NBC Sports)

12:00 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Dortmund vs. Frankfurt (FS1)

2:00 p.m. - [MLS] Atlanta United vs. D.C. United (ESPN)

2:45 p.m. - [Serie A] Inter Milan vs. Napoli (beIN Sports)

Monday, Mar. 12:

3:00 p.m. - [Premier League] Stoke City vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

3:00 p.m. - [La Liga] Alaves vs. Real Betis (beIN Sports)

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The Houston Texans have just a couple of practices before their preseason debut. Here are 11 observations from Tuesday’s workout.

1.The offense stunk on Tuesday. It was inconsistent and resembled more of last year’s disappointing performances than any other practices in this training camp.

2. Davis Mills and his receivers had a few miscommunications on Tuesday. Mills sailed a pass to nobody when he and Brandin Cooks weren’t on the same page. There were some other throws to nowhere in the day. It was something that hadn’t been present at all in training camp to this point.

3. There were a few “good coverage” notes on Tuesday. Not to say there was one specific player, but a handful of team-level efforts that led to the note.

4. It wasn’t all wrong from the offense. After a pass to nowhere Davis Mills and the offense bounced back. It was a second down during a team drill and Mills fired a pass to Chris Moore for six yards. Rex Burkhead would pick up a first down on a rush a play later. A non-positive play last year on first down doomed this team. That hopefully won’t be the case for this year’s team.

5. Chad Beebe is going into his fifth season in the NFL, his first with the Texans. The former Vikings pass catcher has flashed a few times in training camp. He has an uphill battle being new to the team but is trying to make himself a factor.

6. Phillip Dorsett had a big catch over the middle. Davis Mills stood back and delivered as the offensive line held up and Dorsett reeled it in for a huge gain. No defenders were around him. It is between Dorsett and Chris Moore for the chance to be the slot wideout opening day. With Dorsett’s return to practice, it is becoming a fun camp battle.

7.Speaking of returns to practice, Tytus Howard was back. Howard has his reps managed and after practice, offensive line coach George Warhop Howard was “getting his wind” back. When Howard was having his reps managed rookie tackle Austin Deculus played at right tackle. Deculus looks much more consistent than minicamp and OTAs.

8. Kenyon Green is still out with an injury. It is getting to a critical time where the time missed might prevent the first-rounder from starting week one. Max Scharping hasn’t looked bad in his chances with the first team. Offensive line coach George Warhop said they believe in Green and his ability and he has been in meetings to stay up to date.

9. Ka’imi Fairbairn was perfect in one of the special team periods. He drilled all five kicks, each further than the last, and was crushing the football.

10. Derek Stingley was very sticky in some early reps on Nico Collins. The third overall pick is so smooth when he is working. Later his coverage forced a throw from the offense that had no chance of being completed.

11. The play of the day was made by Derek Stingley. The offense was about five or six yards out of the end zone needing a touchdown to win. With six seconds left on the clock, any completed pass that wasn’t a touchdown was game over. Davis Mills dropped back a step and fired to Nico Collins who Stingley covered. The rookie kept the second-year player out of the end zone to earn the defense a win. This was one of the better Stingley days and he did a lot of work. At one point, it looked as though he and Rex Burkhead had some words and almost led to an offense and defense scuffle, but it stayed to just some shouting. The rookie shined today.

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