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Five things to watch in MLS: Week 2

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The Major League Soccer season hits Week 2 on Saturday with a full slate of matches, however, one fixture has already been postponed due to inclement weather up in New England.

[ MORE: MLS power rankings — Week 1 ]

PST takes a look at some of the most intriguing storylines as MLS heads into the second week of the season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Battle of the expansion sides

Week 1 was a tale of two completely different teams, however, both Atlanta United and Minnesota United ended up with the same outcome on opening weekend.

Atlanta held a 1-0 lead over the New York Red Bulls heading into the final quarter hour, but a pair of goals from the visitors and an unnecessary red card prevented Tata Martino’s side from even grabbing a share of the points.

Meanwhile, Minnesota was simply played off the pitch at Providence Park last Friday evening as Diego Valeri and co. attacked and attacked and attacked some more. Adrian Heath’s side looked gassed as the Timbers continued to press, but now the Loons can turn their attention to Atlanta.

The question is: which expansion side will get a victory first?

How does NYCFC click offensively?

When you think of New York City FC’s attack, David Villa is the first name that comes to mind and rightfully so. However, with Frank Lampard no longer at the helm in the Bronx, there are some questions as to whom will be the heir apparent as Villa’s number two up front.

Second-year attacker Jack Harrison and cult hero Tommy McNamara are likely candidates to pick up the slack left by the recently-retired Lampard, but filling that void is much easier said than done.

In Week 1, NYCFC had its share of chances in the Orlando City half of the field, but Patrick Vieira’s group wasn’t sharp enough in front of net. Some of that will certainly be chalked up to the fact that it was opening weekend but there are still legitimate questions about finding a player or combination of players to bag at least 12 goals in 2017 — which is the number Lampard registered a season ago.

Timbers backline in shambles

Caleb Porter’s attack put on an absolute show against Minnesota with the Timbers’ five-goal performance, and while the frontline will surely be among the league’s best in 2017, there are some concerns at the back.

Already thin defensively, the Timbers will likely be without defenders Liam Ridgewell and Alvas Powell as the club prepares for the LA Galaxy on Sunday night. That leaves Chance Myers, Roy Miller and Marco Farfan likely in the mix to fill the two starting roles for the Timbers’ back four.

Despite the Galaxy’s struggles against Dallas last weekend, the Timbers will have to be wary of Giovani dos Santos and co. in the attack, particularly if Porter’s group is shorthanded defensively.

New-look Dynamo hope to build off of Week 1

It’s hard to put a ton of stock into one match, but the Houston Dynamo had a swagger about them in their opening weekend win over the defending champion Seattle Sounders.

Goals were hard to come by a season ago for the Dynamo, however, the Texas club looked more dynamic in their movement up front last weekend. Erick Torres found the back of the net, which has been a rare occurence in his time with the Dynamo.

Meanwhile, offseason signing Romell Quioto is somebody to take notice of this season for both the Dynamo and Honduras as he hopes to help his country reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Galaxy remain undermanned due to injuries/suspensions

There are still familiar faces on the LA Galaxy, but this is a drastically different squad from last season. Already without the departed Robbie Keane, the club has had to battle numerous injuries throughout preseason and into the start of the 2017 campaign.

Now, the club will be without Jermaine Jones and Dave Romney for their meeting with the Timbers after earning suspensions this week from MLS’ Disciplinary Committee.

Giovani dos Santos, Sebastian Lletget and newly-signed midfielder Romain Alessandrini will continue to spearhead the attack while Gyasi Zardes recovers from injury, while the backline features a strong centerback pairing of Jelle Van Damme and Daniel Steres.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.