One lesson from opening MLS weekend: Newly built defenses need time together

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Nothing gets most fans in a frothy lather like new stars. Or even the established stars, the “difference makers,” as I like to tag them.

But the hard business of wins and losses frequently comes down to more mundane matters. Front and center in these matters of the mundane, these boots-on-the-ground essentials that just aren’t as exciting to talk about over burgers and shakes: cohesiveness along the back line.

One of the big lessons from Major League Soccer’s opening weekend was just that: even when defenses are stacked with talented types, the back lines that has not played together is a problem waiting to happen.

In Portland, Mikael Silvestre (pictured) brought all those years at Manchester United and elsewhere in Europe. Ryan Miller, so determined to get forward in the new Caleb Porter way, looks like a find along the right side. Michael Harrington along the left has long been one of the league’s stronger one-on-one defenders (although his passing choices were always a sticky wicket.)

(MORE: analysis of Portland and New York from Richard Farley)

Still, the Jeld-Wen defense forces were dragged under by the same old bugaboos and boo-boos that helped take down the former coaching regime. A big reason was communication between four guys along the back and a goalkeeper who have never played together.

Same with New York, where Jamison Olave was large and in charge on a newly assembled back line – and yet there were mistakes here and there. Again, that was the first time together for this foursome.

Jeff Parke and Amobi Okugo as a central pairing in Philly? Both are quality players individually, but as a first-time center back pairing? Well, they’ll get better than what we saw in giving up three at home to Sporting KC.

Chivas is probably an outlier here because everything around the Goats new way is spanking new. So allowing three at home (to Columbus) was certainly a partial product of a new back line, but it would be a big over-simplification to pin all the blame there.

Meanwhile, a team like FC Dallas survived despite playing anywhere near conference contender form. A big reason: the back four starters were the very same as in the second half of 2012. Matt Hedges and George John were ball-clearing beasts as Dallas overcame a game Colorado effort in a 1-0 win.

(MORE: SKC goes on the road to down Philadelphia)

(MORE: Observations from the Chivas USA experiment, Match 1)

Italian soccer federation signs deal with Chinese government

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ROME (AP) The Italian soccer federation has signed a wide-ranging memorandum with the Chinese government to promote soccer between the two countries.

The deal foresees playing the Italian Super Cup or Italian Cup in China within the next three years.

[ MORE: Upsets in EURO qualifying ]

The Italian Super Cup – which pits the Serie A champion against the Italian Cup champion – has already been played in China four times over the last 10 years.

The meeting with China Media Group head Shen Haixiong also focused on TV content and rights, collaboration over developing young Chinese players in Italy and instruction for using the video assistant referee.

Shen was in Rome for the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Italian federation president Gabriele Gravina says, “Soccer has shown once again to be a bridge between different cultures.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

WATCH: Asprilla scores terrific bicycle kick on USL cameo

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Portland Timbers forward Dairon Asprilla has had to spend some time in the USL Championship this season, and the second tier would probably like to see Gio Savarese keep the Colombian in Major League Soccer.

[ REPORT: Liverpool to sell Keita? ]

Asprilla scored twice and added an assists on Saturday night in a defeat of Eric Wynalda’s Las Vegas Lights, and he put up a near picture perfect bicycle kick on the highlight reel.

Watch as he sets himself up, willingly or not, for the endeavor before splashing a shot in the side panel for an amazing aesthetic.

Report: Bayern, BVB ready to buy Keita from Liverpool

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A report claims that Liverpool is ready to admit defeat in the case of Naby Keita.

Keita, 24, was bought from RB Leipzig last season and arrived at Anfield in the summer, but has struggled to find consistent playing time under Jurgen Klopp.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Saief shines for FC Cincinnati ]

Viewed as the missing link between the Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s torrential attack, Keita has not come close to replicating the form that saw his price tag reach $69 million.

Indeed, Team Talk says Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich look prepared to pay around $53 million to bring Keita back to the Bundesliga.

Keita has played 27 matches in all competitions for Liverpool, accumulating 1,388 minutes and just one assist. He had nine goals and seven assists in more than double the minutes one season ago.

According to WhoScored.com, he’s passing the ball better and taking almost a foul less than last season, but almost every other measurable has declined since he moved to England.

I’m as guilty as anyone of thinking Keita would be everything the Reds required after an improved 2017-18, but he’s either being used very poorly or having trouble adjusting to the culture.

It’s early to quit on a player so talented, but maybe Klopp and he just don’t mesh well. But if it isn’t a case of clashing with the club, it may be worth waiting out a player who looked a giant just eight months ago.

EURO qualifying: Hungary stings Croatia, Israel hangs 4 on Austria

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It wasn’t just Germany and the Netherlands staging a tight and entertaining match in EURO 2020 qualifying on Sunday.

[ VIDEO: Saief, Manneh lead FC Cincinnati ]

Hungary 2-1 Croatia

Ante Rebic’s early goal made a “business as usual” statement for the World Cup runners-up, but Hungary can be a handful against any opponents and rallied at home.

Hoffenheim striker Adam Szalai brought the hosts level at halftime, and Mate Patkai gave Hungary a deserved 2-1 win in Budapest.

Coming three days after a loss in Slovakia to start qualifying, it was an early almost-must-win for Marco Rossi’s men.

Israel 4-2 Austria

Marko Arnautovic‘s brace in defeat couldn’t have come with different vibes. His eighth minute marker gave the Austrians a leg up, his 75th minute goal meaning very little with the side having conceded four-straight in between.

China-based striker Eran Zahavi scored a hat trick for Israel, and RB Salzburg star Munas Dabbur scored the fourth goal to keep the hosts within sight of first place Poland.

Austria is winless through two qualifiers.

Elsewhere
Wales 1-0 Slovakia
Cyprus 0-2 Belgium
San Marino 0-2 Scotland
Netherlands 2-3 Germany — RECAP, VIDEO
Northern Ireland 2-1 Belarus
Poland 2-0 Latvia
Slovenia 1-1 Macedonia
Kazakhstan 0-4 Russia