Óscar Pareja’s still defying expectations, but who’s going to play defensive midfield next week for Dallas?

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For the second straight year, Óscar Pareja’s his team off to a strong start. And for the second straight year, it’s a team that was supposed to finish near the bottom of the West. Whatever magic the former FC Dallas midfielder had in the Rocky Mountains, he clearly brought it with him when he returned to Toyota Stadium, and he’s putting it to use even earlier in the season.

Last spring, after a worrisome stretch to start the season, the new Dallas head coach found a formula with the Colorado Rapids, one that helped propel the thought-to-be rebuilding team into the playoffs. Now, three weeks into the 2014 season, Pareja has his new team on top of the Western Conference. With its 3-1 win over visiting Chivas USA, Dallas leading Major League Soccer with seven points through three games, building an early, two-point lead on Real Salt Lake and Vancouver in the Western Conference.

Saturday’s final score looks more lopsided than the match played out, though it was certainly Chivas’s least effective match of the season. Still, the effort that produced four points in two games was still there for Wilmer Cabrera’s team. The realities of the road, however, caught up to them. Holding out with a 0-0 through 70 minutes, Chivas saw a combination of Dallas execution and bad luck send the team to its first loss.

The breakthrough came in the 71st minute when an incredulously high line on a restart 12 yards inside Dallas’s half doomed the Goats. A chip over the top of Mauro Díaz saw Hendry Thomas knock the ball down for Fabian Castillo, who gave Dallas a late lead.

Seven minutes later, Díaz’s 30-yard ball rolled behind Tommy Lochhead allowed Je-Vaughn Watson to double Dallas’s lead, a goal that prove vital when Erick Torres beat Matt Hedges to a near post ball in the 81st minute, making it 2-1 Five minutes later, a Michel restart blasted into a wall deflected past Dan Kennedy, giving Dallas its two-goal win.

The schedule’s been kind for Dallas, who have faced Montréal, a half-strength Kansas City, and Chivas USA without traveling out of the central time zone, but still without George John and Raul Fernández, there’s plenty to laud about the team’s hot start. Perhaps the four goals allowed reflects the absences of the team’s two best defensive players, but a league-leading seven goals scored has made up for those problems. The attack may be over reliant on Díaz creating behind Blas Pérez, but it’s a dependence that’s produced huge early results.

After Saturday’s game, the only real problem for Dallas is depth, specifically in defensive midfield. Early on at Toyota Park, Adam Moffat had to leave the game injured. Andrew Jacobson took his place but had to be stretchered off in the second half after rookie Thomas McNamara stepped on his upper ankle. In stoppage time, Hendry Thomas committed a Hendry Thomas, earning straight red when he drove boot-fist at Bofo Bautista. With a set-up that’s playing two midfielders in front of the defense, Pareja is running out of options in the middle.

It’s something that could be particularly problematic against next week’s opponent, with Michel and Victor Ulloa a potential pivot tandem against the possessive-conscious Timbers. With seven days until kickoff, however, Pareja will have plenty of time to come up with other solutions. Given where his team sits after three weeks, it may be time to adjust our expectations of what Pareja can do and can not do with FC Dallas.

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga