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)

MLS Snapshot: 10-man NYCFC too much for McCarty-less Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less): New York City FC spent 78 minutes at a man disadvantage, fewer than 72 hours after drawing MLS-leading Toronto FC midweek, against the second-place Chicago Fire on Saturday. It the end, this week shall go down as the back-to-back which put to bed any lingering questions regarding NYCFC’s MLS Cup-contending credentials. Four points from two games against the league’s top-two teams — Patrick Vieira’s side (37 points) now sits a single point back of Chicago, two back of Toronto. As is typically the case, David Villa’s fingerprints were all over Saturday’s win at Yankee Stadium, as the reigning MVP scored the opening goal (in typically stunning fashion) before so nearly setting up one or two more as the back-and-forth, frantic second half wore on. Frederic Brilliant scored what turned out to be the winner just three minutes later, as David Accam canceled out Villa’s opener to make it three goals scored in seven minutes.

[ MORE: Clint Dempsey goes for USMNT goals record, back home ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Kappelhof slides through Herrera, no penalty given — Maybe VAR will be good?

12′ — Herrera sees yellow again, and he’s gone — Herrera’s first yellow was questionable, but there’s no doubt about the second, just four minutes later.

47′ — Villa smashes on the full volley for 1-0 — This is approximately the 197th time I’ve written the phrase, “David Villa, take a bow,” since Spain’s all-time leading scorer came to MLS.

50′ — Brilliant heads home in traffic for 2-0 — It takes guts to put your head into a sea of flying feet the Brilliant does here. Fortunately, his face is intact and the Frenchman was duly rewarded.

54′ — Accam hits and prays, makes it 2-1 — Don’t think; just hit it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: Villa (47′), Brilliant (50′), Accam (54′)

Pele’s son’s in jail on drug trafficking charges in Brazil

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SAO PAULO (AP) A son of Brazilian soccer legend Pele has returned to jail to serve a sentence of more than 12 years on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

A Brazilian court Friday ordered Edson Cholbi do Nascimento returned to jail after turning down his appeal.

He is a former goalkeeper with Pele’s old club Santos and was first arrested in 2005, though he remained free pending the outcome of his appeals.

In 2014 a court convicted him to 33 years in prison. That sentence was later reduced to 12 years, 10 months.

In late February he turned himself in to complete his sentence and in early March a court ordered his release and allowed him to remain free while fighting the sentence.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

Texas-born Dempsey at home 1 goal from record, 1 win from Final

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Clint Dempsey is back in his home state of Texas, one goal away from a national scoring record for the United States team that is one win from playing in another CONCACAF Gold Cup final.

The Americans play a semifinal game Saturday night against Costa Rica in a stadium synonymous with American football – the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, the Cotton Bowl and where the first College Football Playoff championship game was played three seasons ago.

That is only about 180 miles from Dempsey’s hometown of Nacogdoches.

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“It’s always great to be home and play in front of family and friends, especially for a big game,” Dempsey said Friday. “I have a lot of great memories of playing in Dallas as a kid, and I’m proud to represent Nacogdoches. Being from there made me who I am today.”

Dempsey, one goal from matching Landon Donovan’s American record of 57 national team goals, wasn’t part of soccer’s only Gold Cup games at the $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium.

In a 2013 semifinal game there when the Americans were on the way to their fifth Gold Cup championship, they beat Honduras 3-1. Donovan scored twice in that game – his 55th and 56th goals for the national team – and assisted on the other goal. About two months later, Donovan scored his final goal in a World Cup qualifier win over Mexico.

Within a week after Costa Rica beat the U.S. team 4-0 in World Cup qualifying last November, Jurgen Klinsmann was out as the U.S. coach and Bruce Arena was rehired to the position he had been fired from a decade earlier.

[ WATCH: Coutinho’s super goal vs. Leicester ]

Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez said Friday that Arena has seemingly had a positive impact on the U.S. team.

“They look more relaxed in terms of what they’re doing on the field,” Ramirez said through an interpreter.

This U.S. roster for the Gold Cup knockout rounds also is much different than the one that played in Costa Rica eight months ago – not just the change at coach. Only five players from that game that are set for this semifinal game – Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi.

“That’s in the past,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think about that game. … This is just another game. It’s another opportunity for us to see what we’re made out of.”

Altidore, Dempsey, Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, and goalkeeper Tim Howard were all added to the lineup before a 2-0 win over El Salvador in the quarterfinal on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

Dempsey set up Eric Lichaj‘s goal in extra time before halftime to make it 2-0 against El Salvador. Dempsey also fed Gyasi Zardes for a breakaway, though that apparent goal didn’t count after he was ruled offside.

That game was Dempsey’s 135th appearance for the national team, trailing only Cobi Jones (164) and Landon Donovan (157) on the U.S. list.

[ MORE: Why PSG’s Alexis-Neymar pursuit makes (relative) sense ]

Dempsey isn’t the only player with Texas ties with the U.S. team. Three players from FC Dallas, the MLS team that plays its home games about 40 miles away from the big stadium in Frisco, are on the roster: Kellyn Acosta, Matt Hedges and Jesse Gonzalez.

Acosta, the homegrown midfielder who turns 22 next week, was recently named to the MLS All-Star team. He was born in nearby Plano, Texas, and signed by FC Dallas five years ago.

“It’s definitely a proud moment, to get to represent my community, play before my friends and family,” Acosta said. “To be back in my hometown, I’m definitely excited about it.”

Notes: Costa Rica is trying to get to its first Gold Cup final since 2002, when it lost 2-0 to the Americans. “Obviously, we want to look for that reward, that happiness, and go after that,” Ramirez said. “We have a difficult team in front of us.” … The United States’ nine goals are the most in this Gold Cup, while Costa Rica has allowed only one in its four games.

Why PSG’s Alexis, Neymar pursuit fits in a (relatively) smart space

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Paris Saint-Germain’s run of four Ligue 1 titles ended last season, a campaign which also saw exciting league-winners Monaco go two rounds further into the UEFA Champions League.

Monaco looks set for a step back this season, with Bernardo Silva off to Man City and Tiemoue Bakayoko signing for Chelsea. Kylian Mbappe could join Monaco’s list of departures, and reports say Man City had a bid accepted for Benjamin Mendy.

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While Monaco is loading up on young talent again, PSG clearly sees its chance to surge back into the title seat and Les Parisiens may just make themselves European favorites as well if they can pry Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal and Neymar from Barcelona.

That would be a South American trident nearly as potent as the one Neymar current shares with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi at Barcelona, and the Brazilian would not be second or third fiddle.

PSG has so far been relatively quiet this summer, with the addition of Dani Alves the lone new buy. Aside from money, how was Alves lured to Paris over Man City and a reunion with Pep Guardiola? The idea of a reunion with Neymar and several Brazilian mates — Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura — may’ve been enough and surely that conversation would’ve happened between the two Barca stars.

The French side has to make a big chance at some point soon, unless they’ve been able to unload their money bags and actually buy a fountain of youth. Thiago Motta is 34, Blaise Matuidi 30, Silva 32, and Edinson Cavani 30.

It’s calculated aggression from PSG to splash cash in hopes of rivaling Real Madrid, Juventus, and Barca in pursuit of the UCL title. The Neymar move weakens one of those rivals. If Marco Verratti isn’t part of a swap deal, the signings of Sanchez and Neymar would meet the Italian star’s ambitions well up the road.