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

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)


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)


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.


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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Astros beat the Nationals, 5-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Justin Verlander allowed two runs and four hits over six innings to win his season debut for the Houston Astros, 5-3 over the Washington Nationals on Friday night.

The 41-year-old right-hander, who began the season on the injured list because of right shoulder inflammation, struck out four and walked none, throwing 50 of 78 pitches for strikes in his 258th win.

“He looked really good," Astros manager Joe Espada said. "Efficient, threw a ton of strikes.”

Verlander (1-0) averaged 94.3 mph with 35 four-seam fastballs and induced five groundouts. The nine-time All-Star retired the side in order four times and improved to 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA in five regular-season starts against the Nationals.

Ildemaro Vargas hit an RBI single in the third and Riley Adams homered in the fourth, cutting Washington’s deficit to 4-2.

Verlander had made a pair of minor league injury rehabilitation starts.

He retired his first eight batters before Adams doubled off the base of the wall in right-center field.

“Yeah, pleasantly surprised, honestly," Verlander said. “I kind of tried to cram spring training into three starts and control wasn’t quite what I would have liked. The rehab starts and then just look at mechanics and try to find something to make it click. I think what I worked on between last start and this start, just being a little more directional.”

Verlander was 13-8 with a 3.22 ERA last year for the New York Mets and Houston, who acquired him ahead of the trade deadline. Espada was hopeful Verlander could key an early season turnaround.

“It’s very important," Espada said. "Despite how we started, it’s a long journey. we need him to lead us through this season. We have been in this before. We just got to be patient, continue to fight and once this rotation gets healthy and we start hitting our stride it’s going to be fun.”

Josh Hader allowed Jesse Winker's sacrifice fly in the ninth and got his second save, striking out his final two batters.

Houston (7-14) stole five bases and stopped a three-game losing streak. Jeremy Peña and Mauricio Dubón had three hits each, Yainer Diaz doubled twice, and Kyle Tucker doubled, singled, walked twice and stole two bases.

Washington manager Dave Martinez was ejected by plate umpire Cory Blaser for arguing a caught stealing call against Vargas that ended the eighth. The Nationals are celebrating the fifth anniversary of their 2019 World Series win over Houston in seven games.

MacKenzie Gore (2-1) allowed three runs and seven hits in four innings.

“Frustrating," Gore said. "But it was kind of one of those things where it wasn’t bad. We had a chance. I thought the bullpen was really good again. I just wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t terrible. I just need to be a little better.”


Espada says LHP Framber Valdez played catch Friday and felt well. Espada expects Valdez to throw a bullpen session of 30-40 pitches this weekend.


RHP Ronel Blanco (2-0, 0.86) starts Saturday for Houston against RHP Trevor Williams (2-0, 3.45).

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