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After strong first legs, can MLS teams advance in Champions League?

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Two wins and a draw. Had you asked MLS fans before this week’s CONCACAF Champions League action, they’d probably be elated. Fans know how difficult it’s been to compete with Mexico’s best. Real Salt Lake’s run in the 2010-11 tournament still serves as MLS’s bright spot since the tournament’s rebrand.

For this week to serve as more than a moral victory, though, MLS’s three survivors need to get something out of Mexico. For Sporting Kansas City and LA Galaxy, both up 1-0 after their first legs with Cruz Azul and Tijuana (respectively), clean sheets will get them through. Having held their opponents without a crucial away goal, though, each can take a major step toward the final four if they score in Mexico. Whether it be a shut out or a score, both teams will need something next week.

San Jose’s road is more difficult, but thanks to Alan Gordon’s 95th minute “Gonnie-ism” in Santa Clara, Mark Watson’s team has a chance. The 1-1 result against visiting Toluca was a minor set back (giving the Diablos Rojos that potentially crucial away goal), but one score on the road would immediately shift the scales.

(CCL Results: San Jose 1-1 Toluca | Sporting KC 1-0 Cruz Azul | LA Galaxy 1-0 Tijuana)

Here’s where Major League Soccer’s trio stands after leg one, what we learned in the process, and heir chances to advance to the semifinals after next week’s second legs in Mexico.

Best chance: LA Galaxy (up 1-0; leg two at Tijuana on Tuesday)

Bruce Arena’s team used an early Samuel goal and second half heroics from Jaime Penedo to take a 1-0 lead at on Wednesday night. Though the Galaxy gave up significantly more chances than their opponents, last year’s acquisition of their Panamanian international paid off. Perhaps the Galaxy can’t depend on Penedo stealing results every night, but on Wednesday, it worked.

The good news for LA: They’ll likely play better on Tuesday. Hopefully, they won’t seem so work down in the second half. They also have the least travel, won’t be playing at altitude (unlike their MLS partners), and are arguably facing the worst team. Though Tijuana is talented, they’re not one of the top teams in Liga MX’s current tournament (eight out of 18).

One PST reader took exception to the description after last night’s action, but winning 1-0 at home truly is the equivalent of holding serve. Anything less, and you’d be giving something to your opponents. On Wednesday, LA merely did what they were supposed to do.

In that sense, we didn’t get a good idea whether LA or Tijuana is actually the better team. All we know is that LA’s result leaves them with the fewest obstacles for any MLS team on the path to the semifinals.

source: Getty ImagesGood shot: Sporting Kansas City (up 1-0; leg two at Cruz Azul on Wednesday)

The defending MLS champions gave the league’s strongest first leg performance, out-playing Cruz Azul in the first half while limiting the number of chances they gave up in the second. Had Mariano Pavone buried his second half opportunity, Sporting would be sitting in San Jose’s shoes, but thanks to the effort of a former Earthquake defender, Ike Opara, the Cruz Azul attacker couldn’t prevent his team from leaving Kansas with a loss.

Next Wednesday, however, Liga MX’s leaders will be back at Estadio Azul. They’ll be at altitude and playing at a venue where they haven’t lost since September. The last eight opponents to visit La Machina have been outscored 12-3, with Luis Fernando Tena’s team registering at least one goal in each game.

Sporting’s best chance to reach the semifinals would be a clean sheet, but Cruz Azul’s recent history says that’s unlikely. If, however, Sporting can snare a goal, they won’t need a win to move on. The results América (1-1), Toluca (1-1) and Santos Laguna (1-2) have put up during Cruz Azul’s eight-game unbeaten run would be enough to see Sporting into the final four.

Toughest road: San Jose Earthquakes (1-1; at Toluca on Wednesday)

No mystery here: The team with the fewest advantages on the scoreboard has the worst chance of moving on. This job isn’t difficult, folks. I just plug into the machine and let the obvious poor out.

There are other factors that make San Jose’s plight more difficult. They’ll be traveling the longest distance of MLS’s three quarterfinalists. They need to score twice to see the away goals rule work in their favor. They also may face a stronger Toluca side in leg two. Whereas José Cardozo left some of his best players out of his starting XI in Santa Clara, there’s no guarantee he’ll do the same in Mexico.

There is another, more basic reason why San Jose should be seen as a bigger underdog: They may not be as good as Sporting or LA. Between where the teams finished last season and the talent they’ll take into next week’s second legs, the Earthquakes aren’t quite on the same level as their MLS colleagues. Unfortunately, they’re facing a team that sits second in Mexico.

Let’s not get too pessimistic about this, though. What San Jose does well should come in particularly handing in the close games that are more likely to transpire in Champions League. If they can stay within one going into the match’s last stages — if they can take advantage of late defensive substitutes that lead to games being played in their opponent’s end — the Goonies may yet continue on their quest for Champions League gold.

Hull City 0-1 Manchester United: Rashford strikes late on the road

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  • Rashford plays hero after entering as substitute
  • Jakupovic makes seven saves in losing effort
  • Hull held to two shots on target
  • United remains unbeaten in first 3 matches

Hull City did just about everything right to earn a draw on Saturday, but Marcus Rashford decided to flip the script in the dying minutes.

Manchester United came away with a 1-0 victory at the KC Stadium after the second-half subsitute smashed home Wayne Rooney‘s cross in the 92nd minute.

Robert Snodgrass nearly handed Hull the lead after 25 minutes when the midfielder’s free kick narrowly missed wide of David De Gea‘s net. The Spanish goalkeeper was easily beaten by the shot, but United dodged a bullet as he watched the attempt go off target.

Chances were aplenty for United throughout the match, including the first half, which saw the Red Devils’ claims for a handball inside the penalty area denied.

The Red Devils found another chance to break the deadlock on the stroke of halftime but Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn’t find the back of the net. The Swedish striker appeared to be offsides on Wayne Rooney’s free kick but Hull survived the sequence unscathed.

It always seemed like United would find a breakthrough, despite Hull’s best defensive efforts, and Rashford’s late finish ensured the Red Devils would remain unbeaten to start the 2016/17 season.

Conte pleased with Hazard’s performance vs. Burnley

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea celebrates his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Burnley at Stamford Bridge on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte‘s debut season at Chelsea couldn’t have started off brighter with three wins in as many matches, but Saturday’s victory against Burnley was certainly the most convincing yet.

[ MORE: Chelsea moves to 3-0 after convincing win vs. Burnley ]

The Premier League upstarts were never really a match for the Blues, but Conte’s group dominated from start to finish in their 3-0 win against the Clarets.

The Italian spoke about his pleasure with the team’s effort post-match while also praising Eden Hazard‘s work rate.

“I am pleased to see the team play well and create a lot of chances,” Conte said following the win. “After 13 games where we have conceded at home, we didn’t this time and that is very important. Now we must continue.

“I want Hazard to be decisive at the beginning and I am pleased because I saw this today. However we must continue with his work and the work of the whole team.

Hazard notched the game’s first goal after just nine minutes, but it was his organization and possession that helped pace the Blues throughout the entire contest.

Chelsea dominated the game’s share of the ball, particularly down the wings through Hazard and Willian, giving the home side a decisive advantage against their opponent.

While Conte has every right to be happy with the team’s progression through the opening month of the new season, the veteran manager stressed that the club continues to look to improve.

“I am pleased to work with these players but if we find a right solution, we want to improve this squad,” Conte said.

Petr Cech after Arsenal’s first win: “We want to win the title”

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 02:  Petr Cech of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Swansea City at Emirates Stadium on March 2, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s goal for this season is clear: to win the Premier League title.

That’s according to goalkeeper Petr Cech following Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Watford on Saturday as the north London club aim to go one better than last season’s second place finish.

With manager Arsene Wenger entering the final year of his contract, the time is now got Arsenal.

Yes, Arsenal will have their work cut out with the two Manchester clubs strengthening massively this summer but on their day they can blow teams away.

Saturday was one of those days as the Gunners destroyed Watford in the first half, scoring there times through Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. It could’ve been more too.

Although Cech had to make two good saves in the second half and Roberto Pereyra pulled one back for Watford, the win was about as a routine as it comes in the PL.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Cech couldn’t help but mention Arsenal’s title aspirations when summing up the victory.

“The first half we did well, scored three goals and could have scored more. The second half they were 3-0 down and as a good Premier League side pushed for something and it was tougher,” Cech said. “Everybody has to do their bit to help the team get three points. I am not happy because we conceded but a win is a win. We needed to respond after the first two games and got the vital three points.

“There are 35 more games to play and we will fight to win every game and be in the mix in the last game. We want to win the title, there is no hiding in that and we will do our best.”

When Arsenal play like this they are unstoppable as Ozil and Sanchez ripped Watford apart with incisive runs, passing and clinical finishing.

There is a long way to go this season, as Cech acknowledged, but when everyone is back fit and new players arrive, Arsenal will be sniffing around the top four once again this season.

Whether or not they can do better than that remains to be seen but Cech seems confident and focused to deliver the elusive title Arsenal has been waiting 12 long years for.

One step at a time, Petr.

Southampton 1-1 Sunderland: Defoe, Rodriguez score late in draw

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Jay Rodriguez of Southampton shoots during the Premier League match between Southampton and Sunderland at St Mary's Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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  • Rodriguez nets late equalizer
  • Defoe opened scoring from PK spot
  • Sunderland picks up first point of 2016

Jermain Defoe looked to give Sunderland three points on Saturday, but it was Jay Rodriguez who provided Southampton with a late equalizer at St. Mary’s in their 1-1 draw.

Defoe converted from the penalty spot with 10 minutes to play in regulation after Jose Fonte took down the Englishman inside the area a minute before.

The home side didn’t quit though with five minutes remaining, when Rodriguez smashed home the equalizer following a pass from James Ward-Prowse.

With the result, Sunderland picks up its first point of the new season, while Southampton sits directly above the Black Cats on the table with two points of their own.