Winless New England needs to see progress Saturday against Vancouver

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If New England had gone to Houston and Philadelphia, given two strong performances, and returned to Foxborough with two losses, we’d blame tough opposition for the team’s slow start. But with the Revolution returning home with a -5 goal difference and no goals scored, there’s only so much credit we can give their opponents. New England has problems.

In our Power Rankings we alluded to the Jose Goncalves situation. The 2013 Defender of the Year was left out of the team that lost in Philadelphia, fueling speculation that the contract impasse that created resentment in preseason is having an effect on the field. Jay Heaps said last week’s exclusion was a performance-based decision, something that became more justifiable after New England went from four to one goal allowed. From a distance, it looked like a coach telling his player to get his head on straight.

The defense as a whole needs to get its act together before Saturday’s game. Vancouver has the deepest collection of attacking talent in Major League Soccer, and while little of that came through before the closing moments of Sunday’s game at Chivas USA, a week’s reflection (and a switch back to turf) will produce a renewed Whitecaps attack. For a New England attack giving up 2.5 goals per game thus far — one that may not have the team speed to deal with the likes of Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh —  that’s bad news.

At the other end of the field, there may be reason for hope. Though the team has yet to score a goal, they have created some isolated chances, most notably Diego Fagundez’s first half shot that forced Philly’s Zac MacMath into one of the week’s best saves. But they’re not generating enough chances to overcome those moments, something that shouldn’t be too surprising given Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe (pictured), and Saer Sene have yet to hit the field at the same time. Without its two creative midfielders working in tandem, it’s hard to get this New England team to tick.

The good news is all three are working their way back. After missing the opener, Nguyen went 90 in Philadelphia. Rowe, left out of the game at PPL Park, appears on track to return against Vancouver. Sene, who has come off the bench in each of the first two games, could see increased time against the Whitecaps.

All of which may make Saturday’s performance more important than the result, particularly this early in the season. New England needs to get their attacking trio back together and see if they can produce chances. If they don’t lead to actual goals, whether by bad luck or a great performance from David Ousted, so be it. The parts need to sync up, though.

And in defense, the Revolution midfield has to do more to get the ball off their opponents. Once Philadelphia took the lead (and survived that Fagundez chance), they were able to play out the game with the ball at their feet. Vancouver’s midfield is capable of doing the same, perhaps more so. In addition to avoiding the obvious mistakes that led to openers in Houston and Philly, the Revolution have to be stronger in front of the defense.

If they can do that, the results will come. At least, over the course of the season, they will. Over the course of 90 minutes on Saturday, though? Progress should be the only measuring stick.

Pep sticking with Bravo for final: “Locker room more important”

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Petr Cech and Ederson will watch from the bench as their clubs start the League Cup Final on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola announced that Manchester City will turn to Claudio Bravo between the sticks against Arsenal, which has already appointed David Ospina as its backstop for the final.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

And if you think Pep, having seen his side lose to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, should go back to Ederson for the final, he gets it.

“You can have an opinion, I am the manager. We are here for Claudio. He saved two lots of penalties. He deserves to play in the final. The locker room is more important than the final.”

The points aren’t completely independent, of course, but at this point the final is pretty darn important as Man City could see its trophy potential drop from 4-2 in little more than a week’s time.

Bravo has played just 45 minutes in the Premier League, against Liverpool in relief of Ederson, but has been the man for each of eight League and FA Cup matches.

City has just one clean sheet in that group, but won the seven matches apart from the 1-0 Wigan defeat. Two of those, against Wolves and Leicester, came in penalty kicks.

Arsenal gets AC Milan in Europa League Round of 16

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Arsenal’s path to the UEFA Champions League just got a whole lot tougher.

[ MORE: Arsenal loses 2nd leg, advances ]

Already eight points back of the Premier League’s Top Four, the Gunners have drawn Gennaro Gattuso’s AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The first leg is March 8 at the San Siro before moving to the Emirates a week later.

Milan is currently 7th in Serie A despite its big-spending summer, and faces a similar problem to the Gunners; Gattuso’s men need to make up eight points on Lazio and seven on fifth-place Inter Milan.

Elsewhere, Moscovian sides CSKA and Lokomotiv got no favors with trips to Lyon and Atletico Madrid, respectively.

Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund will be pleased to see Red Bull Salzburg, while the latter’s sister club, RB Leipzig, was held apart from it by a draw with Zenit Saint-Petersbug.

Here’s the draw in full.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16
Lazio vs. Dynamo Kiev
RB Leipzig vs. Zenit St Petersburg
Atletico Madrid vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
CSKA Moscow vs. Lyon
Marseille vs. Athletic Bilbao
Sporting Lisbon vs. Viktoria Plzen
Borussia Dortmund vs. Red Bull Salzburg
AC Milan vs. Arsenal

CCL: Lodeiro from 45; Royer’s diving header — SEA, RBNY lead (video)

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After 45 minutes of their respective CONCACAF Champions League knockout-round quests, things are going unnervingly well for the Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls.

[ MORE: FC Dallas disappoint in CCL; Club America flying ]

If you’ve watched Major League Soccer teams try, try and try again — only to eventually fail in spectacular fashion — in CCL over the years, you might say things are going a little too well.

There’s still another 45 minutes to be played on Thursday — plus the return legs next week — but both the Sounders and Red Bulls hold 1-0 halftime leads, and the vitally important away goals which come with it. Nicolas Lodeiro’s 45-yard, first-time lob of the Santa Tecla (El Salvador) goalkeeper in the 15th minute has already been eternally etched into the memories of Sounders fans.

Just 15 minutes later, Daniel Royer perfectly executed the diving header and got on the end of Bradley Wright-Phillips’ curling ball into the box to Jesse Marsch’s side ahead of Honduran side CD Olimpia.

Villarreal DF Semedo charged with attempted murder

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MADRID (AP) A Spanish judge has charged Villarreal defender Ruben Semedo with attempted murder and ordered him to be temporarily detained without bail.

Court officials in Lliria say on Thursday the Portuguese player is also charged with assault, robbery, illegal detention, and illegal possession of firearms.

Semedo testified before a judge on Thursday, and left the court in handcuffs.

The 23-year-old Semedo was detained early Tuesday, accused of tying up, assaulting and threatening another man last week. Authorities say he and two other men allegedly held the victim captive while they robbed his apartment.

Semedo’s agents told Spanish media the player denies any wrongdoing.

Villarreal on Tuesday said it was investigating Semedo and would take appropriate disciplinary action.

Villarreal signed Semedo from Sporting Lisbon last summer for a reported fee of $17 million.