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MLS preview: Contenders clash in NY derby, SKC-ATL, POR-LA

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Previewing the three biggest games (all on Sunday) this weekend, the first with video-assistant referee (VAR), in MLS…

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New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls — Sunday, 6 p.m. ET

After ending up on opposite ends of separate 4-0 drubbings last weekend, the Red Bulls enter Sunday’s showdown at Yankee Stadium winners of four straight (and five out of six), far and away their best run of form this season after a torrid time in April and May. NYCFC, meanwhile, find themselves in the midst of indifferent form (just one win from their last four, conceding 10 goals during that stretch) the likes of which they’ve rarely seen this year.

The last time these sides met, a month and a half ago at Red Bull Arena, it was the visitors who ran rampant en route to a 2-0 victory. Since that defeat, the lone loss in five games, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch altered his tactical approach, opting to go with three in the back, a loaded midfield with five bodies surrounding playmaker Sacha Kljestan, and Bradley Wright-Phillips the spearhead beneficiary (three goals in four games) of last year’s assist king (20) having his defensive duties drastically reduced. Wright-Phillips has an unbelievable scoring record in this Hudson River derby, bagging eight goals in seven games against the blue side of New York.

[ MORE: VAR to make its debut this weekend — what can we expect? ]

Sporting Kansas City vs. Atlanta United — Sunday, 8 p.m. ET

The post-Dom Dwyer era got off to a roaring start in KC last week, as Sporting knocked off the red-hot Chicago Fire thanks to an unexpected offensive explosion. With Dwyer no longer in the fold, Peter Vermes’ side is now able to play the expansive, possession-dominant soccer he’s coveted since the arrival of Ilie Sanchez last winter. The foundation remains the league’s best defense, though, (17 goals conceded in 22 games) now that Ike Opara is back from injury (concussion), as are Matt Besler and Graham Zusi following the Gold Cup. The month of August has proven Sporting’s undoing each of the last three years, as injuries and fatigue finally caught up to a hard-worked bunch. Contrary to popular demand, the rationing of minutes remains very heavily weighted toward the squad’s top 14 players.

As for Atlanta, they’ll attack with the same tempo and openness that ultimately proved Chicago’s undoing last week — it’s the only way they know to play, and it’s the reason their tied for most goals this season (41, level with Supporters’ Shield-leading Toronto FC). Unbeaten in five (four wins), Tata Martino’s can push the tempo beyond any opponent’s comfort level, even a control-crazed side like Sporting. In terms of entertaining soccer, this is the game of the weekend.

[ MORE: Miami (finally) close to stadium deal, expansion team ]

Portland Timbers vs. LA Galaxy — Sunday, 2 p.m. ET

Finally, let’s talk about two teams in need of a victory in the worst possible ways. Portland, winners of one of their last eight (four draws), host LA, winners of zero of their last six (five losses). Caleb Porter’s Timbers, by virtue of little more than their strong start to the season, currently occupy the fourth spot in a very weak Western Conference. By the time kickoff rolls around on Sunday, it’ll be nearly two months to the day since their last clean sheet.

With the clearly stated objective to get the Galaxy into the playoffs, Sigi Schmid has his work cut out after taking over for Curt Onalfo last week, as his new side currently sits seven points adrift of the sixth and final playoff place. The streak of eight straight seasons competing in the playoffs is in serious danger. Jonathan Dos Santos is highly unlikely to be available as he awaits his U.S. visa, which means another week of Jermaine Jones patrolling central midfield for the Galaxy. LA have won just nine points in the 11 games Jones has played this season (14 from 10 games without him).

Full MLS schedule

Saturday

D.C. United vs. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. FC Dallas — 7 p.m. ET
Montreal Impact vs. Orlando City SC — 7:30 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Seattle Sounders — 8 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution — 8:30 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Houston Dynamo — 10 p.m. ET
Colorado Rapids vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 10 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Columbus Crew SC — 10:30 p.m. ET

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-1 New England Revolution (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): For nearly 75 minutes, NYCFC couldn’t muster up any chances in the attacking third, but thankfully their captain did what he does best. David Villa scored his 19th goal of the season on Sunday night to pull out a 2-1 win against the New England Revolution, but it was rookie Jonathan Lewis that notched the winner. The visitors took the lead 20 minutes prior after Sean Johnson spilled a shot in front of his own goal, allowing Teal Bunbury to pounce on the rebound. NYCFC now moves to within four points of Eastern Conference leaders Toronto FC with nine matches remaining in the regular season.

Three four moments that mattered

16′ — Harrison breaks ankles, but Villa can’t finish — This might be the only time all see you’ll see David Villa miss a chance like this…

38′ — Johnson gets a finger tip to Rowe’s blast — Sean Johnson had no work to do in the first half, at least until Kelyn Rowe decided to rip a shot from distance just before halftime.

57′ — Johnson’s error grants Bunbury, Revs the lead — Look away, NYCFC fans.

77′ — Villa find the back of the net — When you need a goal, who you gonna call? That’s right. David Villa. The NYCFC captain is now up to 19 this season.

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Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: Teal Bunbury (57′), David Villa (77′), Jonathan Lewis (90+4′)

Honoring victims of attacks, Barcelona wins league opener

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Wearing shirts honoring victims of the recent attacks in Spain, Barcelona opened its Spanish league season with a comfortable 2-0 win over Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Neymar double helps PSG cruise past Toulouse ]

Players had the word “Barcelona” instead of their names on the back of their shirts, and the Catalan hashtag “TOTSSOMBARCELONA” (We are all Barcelona) was on display around the Camp Nou stadium. The message was also shown on the stadium’s large screens, as well as on many banners carried by fans.

An emotional minute’s silence was held before the game as the music of Catalan cellist Pau Casals played in the background.

Before the minute was up, the more than 55,000 fans at the stadium broke into a round of applause and began chanting “No tinc por” (I’m not afraid), a chant which has become a symbol of people’s reactions to the attacks that killed 14 people and injured more than 120 in Barcelona and the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils.

Extra security was implemented in and around Camp Nou.

There was a minute’s silence before every Spanish league match this weekend.

Without Neymar and the injured Luis Suarez, Barcelona got off to a winning start in the league after consecutive losses to rival Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final.

It scored two goals three minutes apart near the end of the first half – an own-goal by Betis defender Alin Tosca and a close-range shot by Sergi Roberto. Both goals came after plays started by Gerard Deulofeu, one of the players expected to try to replace Neymar after his world record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

“We lost depth with Neymar’s departure and we have to find a way to overcome that,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.

Lionel Messi looked lively but wasn’t able to score his 350th goal in La Liga. He came close, though, being denied by the woodwork three different times.

AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report.

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

Brighton breaks club record with signing of winger Jose Izquierdo

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Brighton hasn’t gotten off to the ideal start in its debut season in the Premier League, but a key reinforcement is on the way.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Spurs at Wembley behind Alonso’s brace ]

After starting the 2017/18 campaign with back-to-back defeats, the Seagulls announced on Sunday the signing of Colombian winger Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge in Belgium for a record fee.

The 25-year-old spent three seasons in Belgium’s top flight and totaled 38 goals across all competitions for Brugge, prior to making the move to England.

Additionally, Izquierdo has worked his way into the Colombia squad as of late, and scored his first international goal for his country in June 2017 in a friendly against Cameroon.

MLS Follow Live — NYCFC hosts Revs, Minnesota meets Sounders

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Only two matches will feature on the MLS docket Sunday evening, but luckily two of the league’s most exciting teams will take to the pitch.

[ MORE: Toronto tops Fire as East leaders reach 50 points on season ]

First, New York City FC will attempt to continue its ascent up the Eastern Conference ladder when they host Kei Kamara and the New England Revolution.

In the night cap, the Seattle Sounders look to extend their unbeaten streak to nine matches when they welcome newcomers Minnesota United to CenturyLink Field.

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Here’s the schedule and kick-off times for Sunday’s two MLS fixtures.

New York City FC vs. New England Revolution — 6 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United — 10 p.m. ET