MLS Roundup: Columbus stays perfect; RSL takes down Toronto

Leave a comment

Major League Soccer started its fourth weekend of the season with three perfect teams, all in the Eastern Conference. After Saturday’s games, however, only Columbus was left standing among the league’s untouchables, with trips west sending Toronto and Houston to their first losses of the season. Having concurred its own western excursion, the Crew are two points clear at the top of the East.

In the league’s other half, FC Dallas remained on top after a bizarre game in Frisco, Tex., one that saw themselves and Portland reduced to 10 men before halftime. Real Salt Lake, however, made the biggest impression with its performance against TFC, one which sent the Reds home with a three-goal loss.

Jeff Cassar’s team remains one of four sides that’s yet to suffer a loss this season. The others: Columbus, Dallas, and Vancouver. At the other end of the spectrum, seven teams have yet to claim their season’s first win, though New York has the potential to reduce that number on Sunday against Chivas USA.

Here’s how fourth Saturday of the Major League Soccer season played out.

Philadelphia 1-1 Montréal

The Union’s strong start to the 2014 season continued over Saturday’s first 80 minutes before one moment of transition gave the Impact its first points of the season. Marking his return from a three-match suspension incurred in last year’s playoffs, Marco Di Vaio finished from the left of the area into Zac MacMath’s upper right hand corner, converting Montréal’s first shot on goal of the match. Pulling back Vincent Nogueira’s first half opener, Di Vaio delivered a point for the struggling Impact, simultaneously costing Philadelphia two points at home.

D.C. United 2-2 Chicago

Quincy Amarikwa’s second goal of the season pulled Chicago even late, extending D.C. United’s winless run to 15 games. Along the way, however, Ben Olsen’s team showed some signs of progress, scoring their first goals of the season while taking  2-1 lead. After Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s first half opener, the Black and Red got goals from Fabian Espindola and Perry Kitchen, giving them a lead that survived until the 82nd minute.

Colorado 2-3 Sporting Kansas City

A scoreless first half gave way to five goals, two penalties, two lead changes, and a red card in the second, with a stoppage time goal from Dom Dwyer giving the defending champions their second win of the season. Graham Zusi, who’d finish the night with a goal and two assists, opened the scoring early in the second half before penalties in the 60th and 78th minutes allowed Vicente Sanchez to put Colorado on top. Sporting quickly equalized through Benny Feilhaber and took full points after Marvell Wynne saw straight red five minutes from time.

Vancouver 2-1 Houston

Another impressive home outing from Vancouver had the Whitecaps up two in the second half, with Kenny Miller’s second penalty conversion of the season building on Jordan Harvey’s early opener. By that time, however, Houston had began to even out play, eventually seeing Ricardo Clark convert on a set piece that brought the Dynamo within one. The Whitecaps, however, were able to drain out the game’s last 15 minutes to stay unbeaten through four matches.

FC Dallas 2-1 Portland

Red cards to Michael Harrington and Je-Vaughn Watson shown five minutes before half sent both teams into halftime down a man, with a Blas Pérez goal four minutes into extra time giving the home side a lead at intermission. Though a Mark Hedges own goal early in the second brought Portland back even, a breakdown defending an 84th minute set piece gave the game back to Dallas, with Mauro Díaz’s finish from the middle of the area lifting Óscar Pareja’s team to a 3-0-1 start.

Real Salt Lake 3-0 Toronto FC

A one-sided game from the opening kick-off broke Real Salt Lake’s way in the 10th minute when Doniel Henry tossed Álvaro Saborío down in the penalty area. The Costa Rica’s conversion gave RSL an early lead, one that was doubled later in the half when a Luis Gil shot deflected off Henry and past Julio Cesar. When Saborío completed his brace 10 minutes into the second, the game was decided, with Ryan Nelsen’s team handed the first loss of its new, more ambitious era.

Seattle 1-2 Columbus

The better team for the game’s first hour, Seattle’s fortunes turned after Djimi Traoré was judged to have denied Dominic Oduro an obvious goal-scoring opportunity in the 58th minute, an offense that saw the Seattle captain sent off. When Federico Higuaín converted the ensuing penalty, Kenny Cooper’s 22nd minute opener had been pulled back, leaving Seattle with nothing to show for it’s best soccer of the season. In second half stoppage time, a curling effort from Justin Meram off a quickly taken corner beat a frozen Stefan Frei, giving the Crew its first 3-0-0 start in franchise history.

San Jose 1-2 New England

A strong first half from the Revolution was rewarded when Víctor Bernárdez slipped while trying to clear a ball in front of Jon Busch’s net, giving New England a 35th minute own goal. San Jose reboundedin the second and found an 69th minute equalizer, though Chris Wondolowski’s goal couldn’t spark another trademark comeback. Instead, it was the Revolution who performed Saturday’s theatrics, getting a 93rd minute goal from Lee Nguyen to earn its first victory of the season.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

Champions League odds
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

3 things learned: Bayern Munich v. Chelsea

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bayern Munich – Chelsea, leg no. 2, looked eerily similar to leg no. 1, played back in late February, with the lone exception being the lack of fans inside the Allianz Arena for Thursday’s dead rubber.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

The eight-time Bundesliga champions were simply too good — and too healthy, by comparison — for Frank Lampard and the Blues to put up a reasonable fight from 3-0 down after the first leg. It was an unceremonious end to Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea, but a foregone conclusion before they boarded the plane back in London.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

With their 4-1 victory on the night (7-1 on aggregate), Bayern will face Barcelona in a sensationally mouth-watering quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Allianz Arena, as the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed in Bayern Munich – Chelsea.


NO DRAMA NECESSARY, BAYERN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS EARLY

Credit to Bayern for their ruthless efficiency and disinterest in letting the tie descend into drama and tension. Robert Lewandowski scored early (10th minute) and Ivan Perisic did the same in the 24th, bringing the aggregate score to 5-0 with 65 minutes left to play. With so many key players out injured, Chelsea had virtually zero chance of pulling off the impossible comeback prior to kickoff, and Hans-Dieter Flick’s side made sure to keep it that way from the opening whistle. Corentin Tolisso put the tie further out of reach late in the second half (76th), and Lewandowski duplicated his side’s three-goal advantage from the first leg not much later.


CHELSEA’S ISSUES STILL AT THE BACK

For all of the development of young players that Frank Lampard was able to realize this season — and for all of the big-money signings either already confirmed or heavily reported to be imminent this summer — Chelsea still have serious questions to answer with regard to their defense. The below highlight is but one small example in a season full of defensive blunders at missed assignments (you’ll find another one below in the next section). Cesar Azpilicueta remains solid, but he’ll turn 31 this month and probably only has another year or two left to function at the UCL level. Reece James and Fikayo Tomori still have some way to go in their development to be UCL-caliber players. The likes of Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have all proven, time and again, they’re simply not at that level and probably never will be. All of that is to say, Chelsea need to execute a full-on rebuild of their defense this summer, or it might not matter how many goals they can score every game next season.


BAYERN’S END-OF-SEASON FORM IS TERRIFYING

Pop quiz: When was the last time Bayern simply didn’t win a game, let alone lost one? The answer: Feb. 9 (19 games ago). And their last defeat? Dec. 7 (28 games). They won all nine of their Bundesliga games following the season’s restart, plus another two in the DFB-Pokal and now the second leg against Chelsea in the UCL. Of course, things will suddenly become far more tricky when 1) the likes of Barcelona and Man City factor into the equation in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, and 2) each round is decided over a single leg rather than the traditional home-and-away format of the Champions League. And still, Bayern have the look of serious Champions League contenders, if not favorites, based on their scintillating form dating back to the start of the calendar year.

VIDEO: Messi shreds Napoli to score fantastic solo goal

Lionel Messi goal video
Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi has done, once again, as Lionel Messi is known to do: he has scored another fantastic Lionel Messi goal (video below) in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Andrea Pirlo named Juventus manager | Sarri sacked ]

One, two, three, four, five defenders in his way? So what, says Messi.

One or two decent attempts to tackle the ball away — and perhaps even succeeding on at least one occasion? Again, so what?

He’ll have the ball back, continue on his merry way and tuck the ball just inside the far post, all while falling down, getting back up and falling down again. The goal put Barcelona 2-0 ahead on the night (3-1 on aggregate). Prior to this post being published, he scored again, but the goal was taken away for a perceived handball upon video review.

Surely we’ve discovered a superhuman soccer league we can send him to by now, just to level the playing field a bit more for the actual humans walking planet Earth.

Anyway, here’s the latest head-shaking, smirk-inducing Messi goal video you came to see.