MLS roundup: Houston, Vancouver sit on top of their conferences after day one

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The 2014 Major League Soccer season didn’t start with a bang as much as it recovered with one; at least, on opening day. When Seattle and Sporting Kansas City, the day’s first game, went into second half stoppage time scoreless, the season’s first day seemed destined to stay cagey and congested. What followed throughout the rest of the day was a five stoppage time goals, three two-goal performances, and two clubs who exploded for four on their guests. By day’s end, the combative play that defined most of the season’s first game had faded into a distant memory, with Saturday’s seven games providing us with 21 goals.

When the dust settled, Houston sat on top of the Eastern Conference, with a strong opener from Will Bruin (two goals, one assist) leading the Dynamo to a four-goal win over New England. In the West, the Vancouver Whitecaps sit atop the conference, with two goals from Kenny Miller helping former Red Bull Carl Robinson rout New York in his head coaching debut.

Here’s how the rest of Major League Soccer’s opening day played out.

Seattle Sounders 1-0 Sporting Kansas City

A game short on chances saw the Sounders convert on their best one, with a stoppage time cross from Home Grown attacker Sean Okoli eventually producing Chad Barrett’s game-winning goal. With a CONCACAF Champions League from Liga MX’s Cruz Azul on the horizon, Peter Vermes was cautious with four of his starters, a decision that may have cost him Saturday at CenturyLink.

(MORE: Sporting Kansas City at Seattle: Takeaways from the opening game of MLS’s 2014 season)

D.C. United 0-3 Columbus Crew

Two goals from Federico Higuaín sullied the unveiling of a new-look D.C. United, with eight new starters producing little change from 2013’s record-setting results. With only 13,840 in attendance at RFK Stadium, United managed one shot on target – a disappointing omen for a team that scored 22 goals last season.

Vancouver Whitecaps 4-1 New York Red Bulls

A frighteningly dangerous performance from a deep and talented Whitecaps attack left the 2013 Supporters’ Shield winners embarrassed. Without Thierry Henry and Jámison Olave (both held out because of BC Place’s turf), Mike Petke’s team found itself down four before a late Bradley Wright Phillips goal provided consolation.

(MORE: Atlantic crushed: D.C. United, New York open the season with three-goal losses)

Houston Dynamo 4-0 New England Revolution

By the 23rd minute, Houston was up 3-0, with Will Bruin scoring the first two before assisting on Boniek Garcia’s contribution. Late in the second half, Omar Cummings came off the bench to cap Houston’s scoring, sending the Revolution home shocked by their opening day loss.

(MORE: Sixteen minutes, two goals: Houston’s Will Bruin has already put 2013 behind him)

FC Dallas 3-2 Montréal Impact

Argentine playmaker Mauro Díaz drew an early penalty and provided the game winning goal after halftime, though an Impact team missing the suspended Marco Di Vaio stayed close with Andrew Wenger’s second half goal. With scores from Fabian Castillo and Blas Pérez complementing Díaz’s contribution, Dallas delivered the first win of the Óscar Pareja era.

(MORE: Rob Friend, Mauro Díaz give Oscar-worthy performances to earn Saturday penalties)

LA Galaxy 0-1 Real Salt Lake

A slew of early chances for the Galaxy evoked memories of last year’s conference semifinals, with Real Salt Lake able to get to halftime scoreless despite two close calls for Robbie Keane (and a few tries on Jaime Penedo of their own). In the second half, Joao Plata’s goal 10 minutes from full-time delivered three points for Real Salt Lake, with a late penalty kick saved by Nick Rimando denying Los Angeles’s best chance to claim a result.

(MORE: Rare bad night from Robbie Keane costs LA Galaxy against Real Salt Lake)

Portland Timbers 1-1 Philadelphia Union

A strong return performance from former Toronto FC midfielder Maurice Edu helped the Union carry a 1-0 lead deep into second half stoppage time, with the Philadelphia Designated Player assisting on the team’s only goal. In the 94th minute, Gastón Fernández’s conversion of a Will Johnson corner (by way of Brian Carroll) gave Portland their 16th draw in 35 regular season games under Caleb Porter.

(MORE: Gastón Fernández pays immediate dividends for Portland, but don’t overlook a strong night from Philadelphia)

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.