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.

PL roundup: Man Utd rolls; Arsenal falls at Stoke

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The wild first week of Premier League action wasn’t quite replicated on Saturday, but there were still plenty of talking points from the sophomore weekend.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

We had another surprising loss, this time it was Arsenal at Stoke, and a second prolific day from Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.

It’s all in the wrap, below.

Swansea City 0-4 Manchester UnitedRECAP

Manchester United was always in control at the Liberty Stadium, and led through Eric Bailly when a trio of Red Devils scored in neck-whipping fashion. Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, and Anthony Martial scored in a span of 3:41 as United stayed atop the league thanks to a now plus-8 goal differential.

Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal — RECAP

Jese Rodriguez debuted in style for the bet365 Stadium faithful, combining with Saido Berahino for an early second half goal.

But Arsenal will feel rightly aggrieved after Alexandre Lacazette‘s would-be equalizer was wrongly pulled back for offside. The Gunners also had at least two penalty shouts go unheeded at the Potteries.

American center back Geoff Cameron played in a three-man back line for the Potters with Kurt Zouma and Ryan Shawcross

Southampton 3-2 West Ham United — RECAP

This one nearly went into the embarrassing column for Saints, who led 2-0 when Marko Arnautovic was given a straight red card for an albow. Mexican national teamer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez scored twice to level the score, but a controversial late foul by Pablo Zabaleta led to a penalty kick. Charlie Austin scored it, and Saints won the points.

Burnley 0-1 West Bromwich Albion — RECAP

The Clarets dominated this in a bid to go 2-0, but Hal Robson-Kanu scored before being subbed off in a 1-0 win for the Baggies. How one-sided was it? West Brom only completed 100 passes. They played 90 minutes, to be clear.

Bournemouth 0-2 Watford — RECAP

No pun needed, it’s simply appropriate to say the Hornets were buzzing in a fine away performance. A prone Richarlison scored his first Premier League goal, and Etienne Capoue added an insurance goal in a win for Marco Silva‘s men.

Leicester City 2-0 Brighton and Hove Albion RECAP

Shinji Okazaki scored after less than a minute of play, and defender Harry Maguire added a goal in the second frame as the Foxes took care off the recently-promoted Gulls with relative ease.

Liverpool 1-0 Crystal Palace — RECAP

Frank De Boer‘s men nearly managed a point against their highly-favored hosts, but top attacker Sadio Mane kept up a string of starring performances with a late goal to win it for the Reds at Anfield.

Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal: Jese leads Potters to win

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  • New boy Jese scores
  • Arsenal has goal chalked off
  • Gunners have 77% possession
  • First Arsenal loss to Stoke since Dec. 2014

Jese Rodriguez’s second half goal lifted Stoke City to a 1-0 win over Arsenal at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday.

Alexandre Lacazette had a late goal controversially ruled offside — it didn’t appear to be — as Arsenal fell ahead of an Aug. 27 trip to Liverpool.

Arsenal also had two sincere calls for penalties go unheeded.

Stoke heads to 2-0 West Brom on the same day.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Signed on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, Jese had a good early chance when he dribbled into the 18 and hit a left-footed offering that Petr Cech raced to close down.

Arsenal soon settled into expected control of possession, though the first real bit of danger saw Jack Butland stopping a Danny Welbeck effort in the 20th minute. Bellerin drew shouts for a penalty kick moments later.

Stoke had a chance against the run of play when Jese, now on the right, found Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting for a tame chance at Cech.

Butland denied Aaron Ramsey‘s attempt off an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain free kick in the 28th minute.

Choupo-Moting found Shawcross from a dangerous header in the 32nd minute, but the English center back couldn’t get the required mustard nor direction on his attempt.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Saido Berahino played provider on the 48th minute opener, holding the ball for Jese to race past Nacho Monreal and shoot past Cech.

Butland conceded a corner off a pair of Arsenal chances in the 58th minute, but the Gunners couldn’t do anything with the opportunity.

Berahino came close to making it 2-0 on a break, but Arsenal forced a corner kick.

The Gunners stayed in the match, and a lively Welbeck forced Butland to concede a corner off a good lay-off from substitute Olivier Giroud.

Jese subbed out to solid applause in the 71st minute.

Soon after, a nice bit of combination play resulted in a wrongly ruled-out Lacazette goal. He looked to be onside, but the linesman didn’t see it that way.

Giroud flashed a stoppage time header across the goal but wide in what was Arsenal’s last true chance of the match.

Lyon’s Fekir scores amazing goal from halfway line – Video

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It is quite possible the goal of the season has already been scored. Eat your heart out, David Beckham.

[ MORE: Ligue 1 score, schedule

Lyon’s captain Nabil Fekir drilled home a sensational goal to open the scoring at home against Bordeaux on Saturday, in what would turn out to be an enthralling 3-3 in the Ligue 1 clash.

Fekir, 24, picked the ball up 20 yards into his own half and without hesitation sent a rasping, rising effort from inside his own half which flew into the back of the net.

It was also with his weaker right foot…

Take a look at the incredible strike below from the French international attacking midfielder.


Klopp reveals love for Anfield, Liverpool’s goal in victory

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With the Phillipe Coutinho situation compounded by shaky defensive displays, it hasn’t been too much fun for Liverpool fans recently.

Jurgen Klopp thanked Liverpool’s supporters for delivering a fine atmosphere at Anfield to get a much-changed Liverpool side over the line against Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Mourinho – “Let horses run freely” ]

With a UEFA Champions League playoff second leg against Hoffenheim on Wednesday coming up, also at Anfield, Klopp rested five players for the game against Palace.

Frank De Boer‘s side had won on their last three visits to Anfield in the Premier League and although former Liverpool striker Christian Benteke missed a glorious chance went it was 0-0, Sadio Mane score the game-winner in a dogged Liverpool display.

There was no doubt who was the hero for Klopp: “Anfield helps a lot I think today it was the difference.”

Getting into more depth about his teams display, Klopp was pleased with the defensive display and Liverpool’s patience as well as lauding the scrappy nature of their game-winner as substitute Dominic Solanke made an impact and Mane pounced.

“It was a hard job to do,” Klopp admitted. “I have no idea how much we had the ball but it was a lot. We need to be creative and we had our moments in the first half and we knew we had to be a little more patient and we have to switch the sides again because they were quite deep and defended well but we had the moment and didn’t score, but didn’t give a lot of counter attacks away. Second half we adjusted a little bit and did it better.

“The first part of the second half was really good but how it is, we’ve had games like this, against Crystal Palace already, where one counter attack kills you. We were really awake, concentrated in these situations and defender well. Then you have to… I loved the goal, to be honest. We could have scored more but I love the goal because it wasn’t a clear situation, it was a counter-pressing situation. Dom [Solanke] is awake to get his foot in so Sadio can score the easy goal in the end. We had other chances where we could have scored more often. It was difficult but I am completely happy with how the boys did the job today.”

Sadio Mane popped up when Liverpool needed him and with the Coutinho saga rumbling on — Liverpool turned down a $145 million bid from Barcelona on Friday — Liverpool proved they can not only continue to create chances in attack without Coutinho but also proved they can defend better than they have been with defenders Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno and Trent Alexander-Arnold all rested on Saturday.

Liverpool’s coach reserved special praise for Andrew Robertson, making his Liverpool debut, at left back and Joe Gomez at right back who has missed a huge chunk of time out injured. Robertson was particularly dangerous in attack but it will b Liverpool’s solid defensive display which will have impressed Klopp the most.

Klopp will need another balanced display this week to get Liverpool past Hoffenheim and into the UCL group stage, and he will need another lively atmosphere from the Anfield faithful to help get his team over the line.