Diego Costa, Heinz Lindner

UEFA Champions League roundup: Atlético still perfect; Dortmund still elite; Chelsea exerts control (video)

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After three rounds in Champions League’s groups E through H, only one perfect team remains. Arsenal, Barcelona, and Schalke all came into the day’s games without a blemish, but each dropped points, Arsenal and Schalke doing so at home.

Atlético Madrid, however, is the competition’s first team to reach nine points, and given they’ve played two of their three games on the road, they’re in a particularly strong position on top of Group G. After their 3-0 win today in Vienna against Austria Wein, Diego Simeone’s team has a five-point lead over second place Zenit St. Petersburg, with their home match against Austria in two weeks giving the Colchoneros a chance to punch their ticket in the knockout round.

It was also a big day for former champions Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund, both of whom climbed back to the top of their groups. With their 3-0 win over Schalke, Chelsea are in back in control of Group E, while Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 win in North London not only pulled them even with Arsenal, it reminded everybody that a small downturn in form isn’t enough to leave BVB vulnerable to most of Europe. Even in fourth gear, Dortmund were able to beat England’s leaders.

Here’s what else happened Tuesday in UEFA Champions League.

[MORE: Full-time snapshots – the numbers from today’s UCL action.]

Group E: Schalke (Germany) 0-3 Chelsea (England) [REACTION]

What happened: Fernando Torres’s fifth minute goal proved the game winner, even if Schalke spent a half looking set to pull it back. After intermission, however, Chelsea got a second from Torres and a match-sealing goal from Eden Hazard, giving the visitors a relatively easy three points.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: In hindsight, we had no reason to believe this would go any other way, given the form the two teams carried into this match. Chelsea was thriving, having gone 5-0-1 in their last six, while Schalke had entered another minor swoon. Perhaps Chelsea’s loss to Basel left lingering questions, but after today’s performance, there’s no doubt the team has moved forward. They’re clearly this group’s best side.

Group E: Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 1-1 Basel (Switzerland)

What happened: If it wasn’t for an Iasmin Latovlevici error, Steaua may have claimed their first win of the tournament, the left back’s errant pass setting up Marco Streller for Basel’s only score. A late goal from substitute Leandro Tatu, however, gave the hosts a well-deserved point, dealing Basel their second straight setback.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: In the big picture, this is a good result for Basel, who got a point on the road at the champions of Romania. Within Group E’s dynamics, however, this is a setback, dropping points to a team that may end up swept by Chelsea and Schalke. That’s the tough life Steaua were drawn into, but it’s also the unfortunate reality of Basel’s knockout stage hopes.

Group F: Arsenal (England) 1-2 Borussia Dortmund (Germany) [REACTION]

What happened: From minutes 30 to 80, Arsenal were the better side, equalizing through Olivier Giroud and nearly going up through Santi Cazorla. At each end of the game, however, Dortmund found goals, taking advantage of Arsenal errors with scores from Henrikh Mkhitaryan (16′) and Robert Lewandowski (82′). Dortmund claims three huge points on the road.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: If Arsenal were a younger team, you’d chalk this up as a learning experience, but not only have these players accumulated a wealth of Champions League knowledge, they played Dortmund two years ago. Instead, this was a measuring stick for England’s leaders and perhaps another reminder to us. Being one of the Premier League’s best hasn’t told us much about Manchester United, Manchester City, and Arsenal’s abilities to threaten in Europe.

Group F: Marseille (France) 1-2 Napoli (Italy)

What happened: A convincing if controlled performance from the visitors saw José Callejon break through before half, Duván Zapata finishing the job early in the second. André Ayew found consolation late, but without a point through three rounds, l’OM have little hope of being anything more than spoilers in this group.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Coming off their first league loss of the season, Napoli gave an encouraging, confident performance. Though it took them 42 minutes to go up, they looked the better team throughout. For Marseille, the loss was their fourth straight, the team winless since defeating Lorient on Sept. 28. Still fifth in France, the team would be wise to shift full attention to their league campaign.

Group G: Porto (Portugal) 0-1 Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)

What happened: Porto midfielder Hector Herrera was carded in the fifth and sixth minutes, leaving the hosts down a man for the game’s final 84 minutes. For 79 of those, they not only survived but threatened, recording 22 shots. Five minutes from survival, however, a cross from former Porto star Hulk found substitute Alexander Kerzhakov for the game’s only goal, handing the Dragons their second home loss of the campaign.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Any match played 11-on-10 for 84 minutes is an aberration, but the consequences remain the same. Zenit, who failed to take advantage of a 10-man Austria Wein in round two, get three points that revitalize their knockout stage hopes. Porto, on the other hand, sit third in their group having yet to visit Madrid or St. Petersburg.

Group G: Austria Wein (Austria) 0-3 Atlético Madrid (Spain)

What happened: The day’s most lopsided match saw the Colchoneros go up early through Raul Garcia. Diego Costa, making his first appearance in this year’s tournament, added the other two goals, leaving Atlético perfect through three rounds.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Atleti are replicating last year’s performance from Málaga, where a Spanish team nobody cared about raced to an easy win in their group. After today’s results, Diego Simeone’s team is five points clear and could possibly clinch first in Group G in the next round.

Group H: Milan (Italy) 1-1 Barcelona (Spain)

What happened: A strong start from the hosts came good when Robinho beat Gerard Piqué, found Kaká before getting the ball back for the day’s first score, taking advantage of an error by Javier Mascherano. Transition off a Christian Zapata giveaway in the 24th minute led to Lionel Messi’s equalizer, the final goal of the match. Milan, who held only 28 percent of the ball, held out for the draw.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: A typical Barcelona game produced a not-so-surprising result, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t positives for Milan. The point helps consolidate their position as Group H’s team most likely to join Barcelona in the knockout round, while the performance was one of their most resilient of the season.

Group H: Celtic (Scotland) 2-1 Ajax (Netherlands)

What happened: A tough day for Ajax defender Stefano Denswil, who conceded the first half penalty that pushed Celtic in front before deflecting the Beram Kayal shot that beat Fraser Forster early in the second half. Nir Biton’s sending off and Lasse Schöne’s late consolation brought life to the match’s final moments, but Celtic still claimed the points they needed to move third.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Ajax look strong enough to reverse this one in Holland (where they’ll likely be healthier than they were today), but that result will only help Milan’s hold on second place. If there’s going to be a challenger to this group’s assumed top two, Celtic need to get a result next week – something that will make their final meeting with Milan that much more important.

Blatter says he will accept verdict as CAS appeal begins

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived for his appeal hearing against a six-year ban from football on Thursday, pledging to accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport

“I do hope it will be positive for me,” Blatter, sporting a light gray beard, told reporters at around 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) ahead of a hearing expected to last several hours.

The court’s verdict is expected within several weeks, and could be challenged in a further appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.

The 80-year-old Blatter denies wrongdoing in authorizing a $2 million payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011. They claimed it was for backdated and uncontracted salary for work Platini did in advising Blatter from 1999 to 2002.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The so-called “disloyal payment” led Blatter to be put under investigation for criminal mismanagement by Swiss federal prosecutors last September. That investigation is ongoing.

FIFA’s ethics committee judged the $2 million deal was a conflict of interest and initially banned Blatter and Platini for eight years last December. FIFA’s appeal committee cut both bans to six years.

Platini’s appeal to CAS was already judged in May, when Blatter appeared in person as a witness. Platini promised a further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after his ban was only cut from six to four years.

Platini arrived at the hearing around midday local time to be a witness. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s comments Thursday suggest he would not pursue a federal case. Federal judges can intervene only if legal process is abused.

“We are football players, we learned to win but also we learned to lose and it will not be the end of the world,” Blatter said outside CAS.

The three-member panel for Blatter’s case is expected to respect the verdict of a separate panel which judged Platini.

A failure to overturn the ban for Blatter would likely end his hope to one day be named FIFA honorary president by its 211 member federations.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The case already ended Platini’s chance to replace Blatter as FIFA president, and also forced him out of European governing body UEFA.

On Sept. 14, UEFA members will elect a successor to replace Platini who had a mandate through March 2019. By imposing a four-year ban, the CAS panel ensured UEFA had to replace Platini, rather than wait for him to return.

The “disloyal payment” emerged last year when Platini was strongly favored to win the election to replace Blatter, who had announced his departure plans after 17 years as president amid pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating senior FIFA officials.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Both men were questioned at FIFA headquarters last September by Swiss investigators who were waiting for them outside an executive committee meeting.

During the turmoil in world football, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, submitted an election candidacy on the entry deadline day and won the vote in February.

Arriving at the hearing with his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni, Blatter said he hoped the CAS panel “will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had against him.”

“This is a principle, if you have debts you pay them,” Blatter said.

NASL weekend preview: Miami, Minnesota meet playoff fortunes head on

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There are still two full months of soccer to go in the NASL’s Fall Season, but this weekend could be a major day for the title fortunes of one squad in particular.

Miami FC and Minnesota United are level on points with 15 heading into Saturday’s match at FIU Stadium.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

If you’re unfamiliar, the NASL Playoffs involve four teams: the Spring champion (Indy Eleven), the Fall champion, and two other teams with the best combined record between seasons.

Miami’s played one fewer game, and both it and Minnesota — fresh off the news it’s headed to MLS in 2017 — are seven points shy of first-place FC Edmonton.

But Minnesota is on pace to make the playoffs through combined schedule, while Miami had a poor first half and would be better served to win the Fall Season if it wants a shot at the NASL Soccer Bowl Trophy.

Saturday
Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos
Rayo OKC at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Minnesota United at Miami FC

Sunday
Indy Eleven at Ottawa Fury
Puerto Rico at FC Edmonton

Arsenal reportedly set for $69 million double Friday buy

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Lucas Perez of RC Deportivo la Coruna reacts during the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Teresa Rivero on September 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger‘s much-maligned transfer business is about to take the “much” off the verb.

Lucas Perez of Deportiva de la Coruna is reportedly going to be joining Arsenal on Friday, and the Gunners are also close to finally landing Valencia center back Shkodran Mustafi.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Perez, 27, broke out for a career-best 17 goals last season, and scored on debut last weekend. He’s set to cost $22.5 million, while Mustafi makes up the other $46.5 million.

The 12-times capped German center back stands 6-foot, and would bring stability to a Gunners unit which has (again) been beset by injuries.

From the BBC:

Spaniard Lucas, 27, scored 17 goals in 37 games last season and Arsenal will meet a 20m euro (£17.1m) buyout clause.

Germany international Mustafi, 24, is set to join for a fee in excess of £35m.

Is this, coupled with the Granit Xhaka buy, enough to help Wenger right the ship? Mustafi, especially, would be a key piece. Perez is a bit of a lesser-known quality.

MLS Weekend Preview: Desperation mounts as rivals meet in Oregon

Portland Timbers defender Vytas Andriuskevicius, second from right, trips up Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, right, in the second half of a MLS soccer match, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, in Seattle. Andriuskevicius was called for a foul on the play, and the Sounders' Clint Dempsey scored a goal on the resulting penalty kick. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Desperation is up-and-down the schedule this weekend in Major League Soccer, as the playoff race really heats up.

The calendar turns to September next week, and teams will end this weekend with a clear view of their runs into the season’s final Sunday: Oct. 23.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

The tumult that is an MLS season means only one team is more than two wins out of a playoff spot right now, and that’s Houston (7 points back of Western No. 6 Portland).

Here’s who is feeling the heat of their matches this weekend:

Portland and Seattle: The Cascadia Cup rivals tangle Sunday in Oregon, with the Timbers holding a one-point edge on the Sounders for the West’s final playoff spot. Seattle has played one fewer games than Portland, and a win on Sunday would be a double-whammy for PDX; The Timbers would be level on points with Seattle and Vancouver in the Cascadia Cup standings with just one match to go (compared to their opponents’ two).

Vancouver: The ‘Caps don’t have a Cup game this weekend, but will face an L.A. team which hasn’t lost at home. Vancouver is in real danger of moving more than one win behind in the fight for a playoff spot. If they lose to L.A. and both San Jose and Portland win, the Whitecaps will be five points back of a playoff spot. Of course, this being MLS, a win and help could see Vancouver in sixth when the smoke clears.

Columbus and New England: No one likes to comment on job status, but Revs’ boss Jay Heaps and his Columbus counterpart (Gregg Berhalter) have to be a bit concerned at this point. New England is a total mess, opening up a goalkeeping controversy, and is pinning its hopes on some Open Cup final karma. The Crew was supposed to contend for a title after last year’s final run, but is currently in the East’s cellar with just three home wins from 13 matches.

Schedule

Friday
Colorado at Real Salt Lake — 8 p.m. EDT

Saturday
Chicago at DC United — 7 p.m. EDT
Sporting KC at Philadelphia — 7 p.m. EDT
San Jose at Columbus — 7:30 p.m. EDT
Montreal at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. EDT
FC Dallas at Houston — 9 p.m. EDT
Vancouver at LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. EDT

Sunday
New England at New York Red Bulls — 2:30 p.m. EDT
Seattle at Portland — 5 p.m. EDT
New York City at Orlando City — 7 p.m. EDT