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MLS at Week 8: Lone unbeaten sides clash in Dallas

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While many of the usual suspects remain in playoff positions after the first several weeks of the MLS season, 2017 has kicked off with quite a few surprises.

As it stands, three non-playoff teams from a season ago and an expansion side sit inside the top 6 in the Eastern Conference, while the Houston Dynamo and San Jose Earthquakes continue to impress in a congested Western Conference.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 7 ]

Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire – 7:30 p.m. ET Friday

Can we talk about how good Bastian Schweinsteiger has been? On paper, it looked like a pointless move for the Fire after acquiring Dax McCarty in the offseason and boasting a fairly strong attack but the German international has been everything Veljko Paunovic could have hoped for since arriving in the Midwest. The Fire are unbeaten in three and have scored six goals in that span, while only allowing two goals. Toronto finally dropped a decision last week against the Crew, but there shouldn’t be great cause for concern from last season’s runners’ up.

Philadelphia Union vs. Montreal Impact – 1 p.m. ET Saturday

Jim Curtin and his side are running dangerously close to having wholesale changes arrive in Chester. Four consecutive losses have the Union sitting bottom in all of MLS with two points and the team’s lack of finishing has proved to be a massive cause for concern. The Impact haven’t been much better to start, but last week’s effort against Atlanta should give Montreal supporters a glimmer of hope.

Houston Dynamo vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday

Two of the more surprising sides in 2017 will meet at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday, and that provides fans the opportunity to get a closer look at Erick “Cubo” Torres. The league leader in goals (6) is finally living up to the hype, and if the Mexican international can continue to produce up front then the Dynamo will be a very hard out as the season rolls on. Elsewhere, the Quakes are unbeaten in three with three straight draws against quality opposition. Dominic Kinnear will want to turn those ties into wins but it’s been a very strong start for the two-time MLS Cup winners.

Portland Timbers vs. Vancouver Whitecaps – 4 p.m. ET Saturday

For the first time all season, the Timbers failed to score last weekend against Sporting KC. The Whitecaps will look to contain the rampant Portland attack but that’s easy said than done. Carl Robinson’s Whitecaps earned an important win over the Sounders last week and now Vancouver can earn back-to-back Cascadia victories on Saturday in the Pacific Northwest.

New England Revolution vs. D.C. United – 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

D.C. finally came back down to earth against rivals New York Red Bulls, but there’s been better play from Ben Olsen’s group over recent weeks. The Revs have been up and down to say the least and with both clubs sitting on the outside of the top 6 Saturday’s meeting could play an important role later in the season.

New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew – 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

The Red Bulls snapped a four-match winless run against D.C. but the Crew present a much bigger challenge with the East leaders coming to Harrison. After missing the postseason in 2016, it was only a matter of time for Greg Berhalter’s side to return to form given the club’s talent. Plus, you’ve got two of the league’s best strikers in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Ola Kamara matching up.

FC Dallas vs. Sporting KC – 8 p.m. ET Saturday

Saturday night’s clash in Dallas is intriguing for several reasons, most notably because of the fact that these two sides are the only unbeatens remaining in MLS through seven weeks. Both clubs continue to play stingy defense, while their attacks aren’t producing as much as either team would like.

Real Salt Lake vs. Atlanta United – 9:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Outside of maybe Portland, Atlanta has been the most exciting team to watch over the first seven weeks. Tata Martino’s boys have found the back of the net 14 times and once they get Josef Martinez back into the fold, the expansion side will be that much more dangerous. RSL has picked up its play recently with back-to-back wins over the Whitecaps and Rapids, but Atlanta will pose a bit of a bigger threat.

New York City FC vs. Orlando City – 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday

When these two clubs met on opening weekend it turned out to be quite the wild affair. If anyone thought that Kaka could go down injured in the opening 10 minutes and Orlando would still come away victorious, whoever said that was probably lying. Now, the Lions have several other injury woes, although there’s a chance that the Brazilian could play on Sunday afternoon. NYCFC is coming off an important win over D.C. United last week but Patrick Vieira’s group will have to cope without a key defender as Ronald Matarrita is sidelined with an ankle injury.

LA Galaxy at Seattle Sounders – 4 p.m. ET Sunday

Six points in six matches isn’t exactly what the Sounders had in mind after hoisting MLS Cup five months ago, but if we learned anything from the Cascadia side in 2016 then there shouldn’t be cause for panic. For the Galaxy, Romain Alessandrini has lived up to the billing early with the newcomer netting four goals and adding two assists in the first month-plus of the season.

Minnesota United vs. Colorado Rapids – 6 p.m. ET Sunday

The bottom sides out West meet in the weekend’s final matchup, and each club could really learn something from the other. While Minnesota has managed to score at a solid pace over recent weeks, the Loons have struggled mightily out of the back, allowing a league-high 24 goals in seven matches. Meanwhile, Pablo Mastroeni’s side continues to search for goals and its defense remains the strongest aspect of the Rapids squad.

Report: Villarreal defender Semedo arrested on charges of alleged assault, kidnapping

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For the third time in the past four months, Ruben Semedo has found himself in trouble with the law.

According to a report from Spain, the Villarreal centerback was arrested Tuesday morning at his home on charges of assault, kidnapping and robbery. A complaint filed to the police by a victim alleges that Semedo and two others tied the victim up and locked the victim in a room in Semedo’s home.

Semedo and the others then allegedly took the victim’s keys and went to the victim’s house, where they allegedly stole money and/or other valuable items.

[READ: Wigan shock Man City in FA Cup]

Villarreal has yet to respond to the latest incident off the field, which has marred Semedo’s season and the club’s reputation. Semedo has only played four times this year as he’s currently recovering from a right leg injury, and he’s been sidelined with a variety of injuries since joining from Sporting Lisbon for around $17.3 million last summer.

This is Semedo’s third time in trouble with the law. Last October, after a long night of partying, Semedo allegedly smashed a bottle over someone’s head. In November, in the early hours of the morning following an all-night session at a night club, Semedo pointed a gun at a member of the night club’s security staff after an argument earlier in the evening forced Semedo to leave.

For the latter crime, the local prosecutor is pushing for two years in prison. If the current allegations can be proven true, Semedo could face even more time behind bars.

As of right now, it seems incredibly unlikely that Semedo could feature for Portugal in the World Cup, as he’ll have more important matters to deal with.

Russian authorities fine hotels for World Cup price-gouging

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian authorities in two cities say they have issued hundreds of fines after finding many hotels were illegally hiking prices for the World Cup.

The Rospotrebnadzor consumer regulator says one Moscow hotel raised prices up to 570 percent above what is allowed by a government decree designed to prevent excessive profiteering during the tournament.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The regulator’s Moscow branch says it issued fines totaling 5.95 million rubles ($105,000) to 198 legal entities and 181 people.

In the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg, where Mexico and France will each play a group game, the regulator said it fined seven hotels, some of which were charging almost three times the allowed rate for rooms.

Russian authorities have taken a hands-on approach to regulating hotel and travel costs during the tournament to prevent the negative publicity of visiting fans being charged large sums.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.