CONCACAF Champions League Roundup: Champions fall in Panama; Sporting slips at Estelí

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Portland’s 2,500-mile trek from Boston to Guyana did not go unrewarded. On a discolored ground in Providence, Guyana, the Timbers made a resounding CONCACAF Champions League debut, defeating Alpha United, 4-1.

The game played to the expectations that have grown from MLS’s meetings with the regions’ minnows. While trips to Costa Rica, Honduras, and, of course, Mexico can still haunt U.S. and Canadian teams, visits to the regions’ less-established leagues tend to be more forgiving.

Coming off a loss last week to Olimpia, United proved just as accommodating to their MLS guests. Steve Zakuani scored his first of the season in the 18th minute, while Maxmiliano Urruti doubled the advantage in the 34th. Through a wonderful free kick from Barbosa Murilo pulled the home side within one moments before the break, second half goals from Fanendo Adi and Alvas Powell gave Portland the lopsided result.

Despite the convincing performance, the Timbers merely stayed on par. The real challenge in Group 5 will be Olimpia, who also have three points after one match. Where the winner of the teams’ head-to-head battles will likely reach the quarterfinals, it’s imperative to get three points from Alpha United.

Club América 6-1 Bayamón FC

Even without Raul Jiménez in tow, Club América remain one of the tournament favorites, a fact they hammered home at a largely empty Estadio Azteca. With goals in the sixth (Moisés Velasco), 12th (Michael Arroyo), 14th (Ventura Alvarado), and 20th (Martín Zuñiga) minutes, Antonio Mohammed’s teamtook advantage of a shaky Adrian Krul, putting the match away before the Puerto Ricans had a chance to settle.

Gil Burón’s goal just before halftime sent América into intermission up 5-0, though Nicholas Walker would pull Bayamón within four on the hour. In stoppage time, Zuñiga’s second of the game make it 6-1 – Bayamón’s second straight five-goal loss.

Real Estelí 1-1 Sporting Kansas City

A potential setback saw MLS’s champions drop points in Nicaragua, failing to take advantage of the same slip from Saprissa a week ago. Now Sporting may need to take four points from the Costa Ricans to guarantee a knockout round return.

Estelí broke through early, with a sixth minute save from Jon Kempin deflecting off midfielder Jorge Claros and in for an own goal. Ten minutes later, Peter Vermes’ side responded, with a free kick buried by Toni making it 1-1.

Estelí would go on to outshoot Sporting 11-5 on the night, prompting Vermes to eventually call on Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer to spark the attack. Ultimately, neither team was able to break through, leaving both sides reason to rue the final score at the Estadio Independencia.

Chorrillo 1-0 Cruz Azul

The upset of the night saw the tournament’s defending champions give Panama’s Chorrillo its first points in Champions League, simultaneously ruining La Maquina’s perfect record (6-0-0) against Panamanian sides. Putting home the rebound of a 70th minute penalty kick, Justin Arboleda authored Chorrillo’s little piece of history, leaving the holders bottom of their group through two matches.

Luis Fernando Tena’s team also slipped up last week, drawing at home to Costa Rica’s Alajuelense. Tuesday’s performance offered more of the same, with the Cementeros allowing the hosts to have the better of play early on.

Though the holders slowly started exerting more control, attempts by Marco Fabián, Fausto Pinto, and Gerrado Torrado failed to come good, leaving Chorrillo within a whistle of their history-making upset.

In the 69th minute, that whistle finally came, putting the pressure on goalkeeper José de Jesús Corona to keep his team even. After saving the initial try, however, Corona couldn’t prevent Arboleda from converting the rebound, leaving Cruz Azul with one point through two matches.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.