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Five things to watch in MLS: Week 3

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While the league’s newest clubs have drawn a lot of the attention thus far in 2017, last year’s final two teams left standing have yet to win in their opening two matches.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 2 ]

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

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Champions welcome Red Bulls in home opener

The Seattle Sounders needed two late goals last weekend to earn a draw against the Montreal Impact, and their first home match of the year presents another challenge.

Although the New York Red Bulls haven’t looked their best in the opening two weeks, Jesse Marsch’s side has come away with six points, and are one of only four teams in the league to win their first two matches.

Brian Schmetzer’s side continues to play without Brad Evans at the back, who is battling a calf injury, and Aaron Kovar but otherwise the Sounders are relatively healthy. The good news for the Sounders is that Clint Dempsey has started the season well, and more importantly he’s overcome issues regarding his heart that kept him sidelined throughout the conclusion of 2016.

There’s little doubt that Seattle will get it together and be in contention at the top of the West again this season, but the Red Bulls certainly present a difficult matchup.

Fire look to remain hot against Atlanta

Atlanta had reason to be disappointed after its opening week defeat against the Red Bulls, but Tata Martino’s team showed just how good they can be in Minnesota.

Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez (3 goals this season) each netted two goals against the Loons in Atlanta’s six-goal outburst up north, but now the newcomers take on a revamped Fire side that has started the season unbeaten.

The Fire midfield has shown the most notable improvement so far since the acquisition of Dax McCarty in the center of the park, while Nemanja Nikolic has provided a strong scoring presence up top after his successful career in Europe.

How bad will it get for Minnesota?

Two games. 11 goals allowed. Definitely not the ideal start for Adrian Heath and co.

The transition for expansion sides has never been easy and certainly well-documented, but did anyone think Minnesota United would be this bad through two weeks?

Meeting a hungry Portland Timbers side (one that looks good enough to win the league) in Week 1 surely wasn’t a favorable matchup to kick off the season, but falling 6-1 to Atlanta in the Loons’ home opener last weekend only piled on the negative sentiment towards Minnesota.

Kevin Molino has already proven to be a strong signing for the Loons, notching the team’s lone goal a week ago, but the rest of the squad has yet to catch up, particularly defensively. Minnesota’s 11 goals conceded is the most an expansion side has ever allowed in the opening two weeks of a season.

Earthquakes, Dynamo face difficult road tests

The two non-playoff sides from last season have started off better than anyone could have expected, and it’s good news for the two clubs that play in the congested Western Conference.

Historically both teams have shared plenty of success in MLS, but the last few years have been anything but that. The Earthquakes have not qualified for the postseason since 2012, while the Dynamo have only done their San Jose counterparts one better by last reaching the playoffs in 2013.

Both clubs have put out predominantly young rosters this season, while mixing in experienced talents like Chris Wondolowski and A.J. DeLaGarza to round out each team. The Earthquakes and Dynamo each played nine starters last week under the age of 30, and both squads are having tremendous early success because of this.

The Dynamo have benefitted from strong performances from players like Erick Torres and Romell Quioto, while Americans Nick Lima, Tommy Thompson and Fatai Alashe have put a stronghold on the right side of the field for the Quakes.

D.C., Crew look sluggish to start season

D.C. United was a playoff team in 2016, while the Columbus Crew are just one season removed from appearing in the MLS Cup final.

It’s way too early to make projections, but both sides have underwhelmed so far through two weeks, especially in the back. New York City FC exposed the D.C. back four last Sunday with a four-goal performance, while the Crew allowed a trio of goals to get past Zack Steffen down in Houston.

Meanwhile, the two sides have a combined two goals to show for their efforts, with both coming from the Crew. D.C. could receive a massive lift if Luciano Acosta is deemed fit to play against the Crew. The diminutive Argentine attacker was a prominent figure in the D.C. attack last season, and he’ll be valuable once again in 2017 if Ben Olsen’s side is to find success.

For the Crew, Ola Kamara and Ethan Finlay have found the back of the net this season but Greg Berhalter’s team will need more production out of attacking players like Federico Higuain and Justin Meram.

PHOTOS: Tottenham’s stunning new stadium

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Tottenham Hotspur’s new $1 billion stadium is taking shape and it is looking magnificent.

The plan is for Spurs’ new home at White Hart Lane to be ready for the 2018/19 season, with reports stating that Mauricio Pochettino‘s men will play their first couple of games away from home next season in order to squeeze in a few more weeks for construction.

Spurs’ new  home will seat 62,062 fans and will be the second-largest stadium in the Premier League behind Manchester United’s Old Trafford.

Take a look at the photos below in the spring sunshine in London, with the largest single-tier stand in Europe looking sublime as the roof panels are going on and the stadium is really starting to come to life.


Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso handed three-game ban

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After being named in the PFA’s Premier League Team of the Year on Wednesday, it has been a mixed few days for Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso as he has received a three-game ban with immediate effect after being found guilty of violent conduct.

Alsono, 27, stamped on Shane Long‘s calf in Chelsea’s 3-2 comeback win at Southampton last time out but referee Mike Dean missed the incident completely.

Since then Alonso has received a retrospective charge from the English FA and although the Spanish left back appealed the decision and the length of the ban, it was upheld and he will now miss Chelsea’s next three games.

Alonso will miss the clash at Burnley on Thursday, the FA Cup semifinal against Southampton on Sunday and the trip to Swansea City on Apr. 28.

Who will come in for Alonso?

Antonio Conte has already stated that Emerson Palmeri, a January arrival from AS Roma, will start at Burnley on Thursday and if the Brazilian full back impresses then it is highly likely he will stand in for Alonso in the big FA Cup semifinal on Sunday against Saints. Other options would be Davide Zappacosta playing as the left wing-back or even Cesar Azpilicueta out there.

As for Saints, they feel hard done by after Dean didn’t spot Alonso’s foul even though he was standing yards away from the incident and looking straight at it. At the time of the incident they led 1-0 going into half time and their manager Mark Hughes believes it would have made a big difference as Alonso’s cross set up Olivier Giroud to make it 2-1 and the Spaniard made a big difference from left back in the incredible 3-2 comeback victory. Still, at least Saints won’t have to play against Alonso on Sunday with revenge in the air…

PHOTOS: Liverpool unveil new 2018/19 kit

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Liverpool have gone for a “pepper red” kit for the 2017/18 season.

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On Thursday the Anfield club released their new jersey for next season with New Balance once again their kit suppliers.

The key features of this new kit is a small collar, with a fresh white and red look throughout.

Check out the images and video below.


VAR decisions at World Cup to be explained on giant screens

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Fans attending World Cup matches in Russia won’t be left wondering about the reasons behind decisions of the video assistant referee.

After the VAR’s decision is made, replays will be shown on giant screens inside the stadiums accompanied by a written explanation.

It’s all part of the VAR information system that FIFA unveiled Wednesday .

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

FIFA will place someone in the VOR (video operations room) who will listen in to the VAR’s decisions and communicate them to both TV commentators and stadium personnel operating the giant screens.

“So we will have graphics on the giant screens, we will have replays after the decision on the giant screens, and we will also inform the fans about the outcome of a VAR incident and review,” said Sebastian Runge, group leader of football innovation at FIFA.

With the VAR making its tournament debut during the June 14-July 15 World Cup, FIFA is holding its final training camp this month for the 99 match officials – 36 referees and 63 assistants – who have been selected to go to Russia.

Thirteen VARs have been pre-selected and are being trained at Italy’s Coverciano complex, and FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina said more VARs and VAR assistants will be chosen from the 99 match officials.

Three of the 13 VARs come from Italy’s Serie A and two from Germany’s Bundesliga – elite competitions that already use video assistants.

The VAR can support the referee in four game-changing situations: goals and offenses leading up to a goal, penalty decisions and offenses leading up to a penalty, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.

Still, VARs in both Italy and Germany have received vehement criticism for long delays and bungled decisions this season.

On Monday, Mainz was awarded a penalty during halftime against a rival Freiburg side that had already left the pitch for the break – prompting the unusual scene of a team returning from the changing room to defend a penalty.

“Yesterday we had already discussed this incident here and gave match officials and VARs clear indication about what should be done if something similar in FIFA competition – specifically the World Cup – happens,” Collina said without providing further detail.

Collina added that the VAR should not be overused, adding that ideally it would intervene at all in a match.

“The goal of VAR is to avoid major mistakes,” Collina said. “The objective is not to have clear and obvious mistakes committed on the field of play. This is the target, the goal is not to re-referee the match using technology.

“There will continue to be incidents when a final answer will not be given and there will be different opinions,” Collina added.

Among other items involving the VAR:

MOSCOW CONTROL CENTER

FIFA will follow the Bundesliga model of a central control center for the VAR rather than using trucks outside stadiums.

“We will have all of the referees based in Moscow so there won’t be any stress in terms of travel,” Collina said.

For each match, Collina will select one VAR and three assistant VARs.

Training operation rooms presented to media included six monitors for the VARs and two more for technical assistants enabling the VARs to see requested replays.

There could be up to four technical assistants in the room for World Cup matches.

OFFSIDE CAMERAS

FIFA will install two extra cameras at matches to monitor offside decisions.

The cameras will be in addition to the 33 cameras used for broadcasters and they will be installed under stadium roofs.

Broadcasters will not have direct access to the cameras but if they are used by the VAR then broadcasters can show the video.

Runge added that three dimensional technology – considered the ultimate strategy for determining offside – is not ready for real-time access yet.

SWEAT AND STRESS

VARs will not officiate more than one match per day.

“It’s not like watching a match on the sofa sipping coffee,” Collina said.

Collina, who officiated Brazil’s 2-0 win over Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, explained why the VARs will wear track suits similar to referees’ on-pitch attire.

“The reason is at the end they sweat as much as someone on the field, because the tension is very high,” Collina said. “They can’t do two matches per day – it’s too stressful.”

COMMS AND HACKING

The Moscow control center will be connected to match officials via a fiber optic network.

If the network fails, the backup plan includes an old-fashioned land telephone line and a telephone stationed near the fourth referee for emergency use.

“Worst-case scenario includes a backup plan on site. That’s when the IBC is down – no power, no fiber network,” Runge said. “Then we have a plan in place where the fourth official would become the VAR and the fourth official would be replaced by the reserve referee.

“We have a cabin in the broadcast compound from where we send all of the feeds to the IBC anyway. That cabin can be turned into a smaller, light version of the VOR.”

Hacking has also been considered.

“We are aware that there might be something but our IT department put measurements in place that will protect us from that,” Runge said.

POST-MATCH BRIEFINGS

In extraordinary circumstances, FIFA will hold post-match briefings to explain decisions in greater detail.

“If something should happen that we think should properly and accurately be explained – and it doesn’t matter if it’s related to VAR or something different – if it is a matter to explain the background of a decision, as an exception certainly we will do it,” Collina said.

“But it won’t be a post-match press conference for every match, explaining every single decision taken during every single match.”

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf