MLS Week 1 preview: Sounders vs. Revs, Timbers vs. RSL headline First Kick weekend

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It’s here. It’s. Finally. Here.

The 2015 Major League Soccer season kicks off today. Then there’s more MLS action on Saturday. Followed by more MLS on Sunday. This is what our lives are going to be like for the next nine months. Learn it, live it, love it.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS previews for 2015 ]

MLS returns with a bang-up schedule of games for First Kick weekend as all 20 teams are in action, highlighted by the following matchups.

Seattle Sounders vs. New England Revolution (Sunday, 9:30 pm ET, Fox Sports 1)

Could it be a preview of the 2015 MLS Cup final? It’s obviously too early to tell (unless you’re the PST staff), so as far as Week 1 of the regular season goes, we’ll enjoy this one for what it is certain to be: entertaining, attacking soccer played by two of the league’s most formidable attacking units.

Obafemi Martins is poised to score a ton of goals this season (17 with 13 assists last year wasn’t enough) and put his name in the MVP race once again. Clint Dempsey (15 and 10 in 2014) and Lamar Neagle (9 and 9) figure to give the Revolution backline plenty of trouble, as well. Juan Agudelo returns to the Revs, who were missing only a consistent goalscoring center forward in their run to MLS Cup 2014. Lee Nguyen (18 goals, 5 assists) and Co. will be left to fill the void left by the absence of Jermaine Jones (hernia surgery).

Prediction: Sounders 2-1 Revs

Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE)

Neither team made a ton of major moves in the offseason, which would lend itself to a fast, functional start for both sides to begin the season, if not for a number of key injuries. Will Johnson is out the first few weeks of the season, if not the first month, so a heavier workload falls on the shoulders of Diego Chara, who’s more than capable of picking up the slack. Diego Valeri (11 goals, 14 assists in 2014) will also miss a few games, and it remains to be seen whether Darlington Nagbe can replace the Argentine’s production.

Joao Plata was a revelation for RSL last year (13 and 6), but a broken foot in preseason means he’s out until the summer. Javier Morales can ease the pain of losing Plata’s creative work, while Sebastian Jaime needs to strike up a fruitful strike partnership with Alvaro Saborio even more quickly now.

Prediction: Timbers 2-2 RSL

[ MORE: Now that it’s happening, MLS’s 20th season is sure to be the best one yet ]

Orlando City SC vs. New York City FC (Sunday, 5 pm ET, ESPN2)

Two expansion teams set to play in front of 62,000 fans inside a sold-out Citrus Bowl. Welcome to MLS, Orlando, be sure to bring the ruckus just like this every single week and we’ll gladly have you back again and again.

The MLS debut of Kaka, David Villa and Mix Diskerud. Need more? OK, one of these teams is likely to make the playoffs in a somewhat weakened Eastern Conference. Since the season hasn’t even started yet, we can pretend this game is going to decide which team is playing in November.

Prediction: Orlando 1-1 NYCFC

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Toronto FC (Saturday, 6 pm ET, MLS LIVE)

Perhaps no player will be under more intense scrutiny in 2015 than Jozy Altidore. Having made the switch back to MLS, he was, predictably, greeted by the “Couldn’t hack it with the big boys, huh, Jozy?” crowd. A goal or two in his TFC debut should buy him a few weeks of silence.

The Whitecaps are probably going to be the most entertaining MLS team to watch this year (again). Pedro Morales will be in the MVP conversation come the end of the season. Kekuta Manneh is always going to be exciting, if unpredictable. The midfield is as solid as could be with Matias Laba and Gershon Koffie. Octavio Rivero, 23-year-old forward, is the wild card. If the ‘Caps find someone to put away all those chances, they’ll be a nightmare.

Prediction: Whitecaps 2-3 TFC

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Sporting Kansas City vs. New York Red Bulls (Sunday, 7 pm ET, Fox Sports 1)

Two teams largely rebuilt during the offseason, but trending in very different directions. Sporting KC gutted the middle-third of their roster and upgraded on every level of the field. Luis Marin takes over in goal; Ike Opara (broken ankle) returns in defense while Jalil Anibaba makes for a solid backup; Roger Espinoza returns from Wigan and is joined by Bernardo Anor, who’s poised for a big year in KC; Krisztian Nemeth could be the second consistent scoring option Sporting needed behind Dom Dwyer.

Meanwhile, the Red Bulls lost Thierry Henry (10 goals, 14 assists in 2014) and Tim Cahill, while adding Sacha Kljestan and Felipe Martins. The sense is that’s not enough to replace Henry’s genius, but for the first time in a long time, Jesse Marsch’s bunch might be a better functioning unit than they were before.

Prediction: Sporting KC 1-0 Red Bulls

LA Galaxy vs. Chicago Fire (Friday, 10 pm ET, UniMas)

The defending champions get things started Friday night, kicking off the 20th MLS season. Landon Donovan has retired, leaving a massive hole in the Galaxy attack (10 goals, 19 assists in 2014), but don’t worry, Bruce Arena will fix it one way or another because that’s just what he does.

Frank Yallop, on the other hand, needs a fast start to his second season in Chicago after finishing ninth in the East last year. Visiting the defending champs on opening day isn’t typically a recipe for success, so we’ll be wishing Frank and his troops, new Designated Player Shaun Maloney included, all the luck we can give.

Prediction: Galaxy 2-1 Fire

Lampard: Chelsea first leg loss ‘quite sobering,’ ‘harsh lesson’

Frank Lampard
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard isn’t sugarcoating his side’s 3-0 first-leg loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you have to be brutally honest about it,” he said in televised remarks after the loss. “It’s quite sobering.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Lampard admitted that Bayern was firing on all cylinders at Stamford Bridge, and proffered tepid support for the idea of an unlikely comeback in Germany next month.

“The level of team they showed that they are, hence why they challenge in the Bundesliga and the Champions League,” he said, via Football.London. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t do better against them. It’s a reality check. Don’t look at anyone else apart from yourself.”

“We should never say the door is closed because our fans would never accept that. I’m more concerned with the bigger picture here. There’s a lot to be done.”

Sure is.

Chelsea leads fifth-place Manchester United by three points in the top four race and has a four-point edge on sixth-place Spurs in the scenario that fifth is enough for Champions League football.

That’s important because the UCL path back to the tournament looks like a massive ask. And Lampard said the players need to use Tuesday’s blowout loss at home “as a positive effect” moving forward.

But he also put it pretty plainly during his post-match comments.

“It was a harsh lesson,” Lampard said. “This is Champions League football.”

Griezmann gives Barcelona first leg draw with Napoli (video)

Napoli v. Barcelona recap and video highlights
Photo by CARLO HERMANN/AFP via Getty Images
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Antoine Griezmann scored in the second half to earn Barcelona a 1-1 draw with Napoli in a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg at the San Paulo Stadium on Tuesday.

Dries Mertens scored a beautiful opener for Napoli, who heads to the Camp Nou for a March 18 second leg.

Arturo Vidal was sent off in the 89th minute for a second yellow card, and Sergio Busquets picked up a yellow which will cost him the second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Gennaro Gattuso’s plan was to limit Barcelona’s shots, and it worked well in the first half.

Mertens got his goal on one of only five shots in the half, the only two on target coming via Napoli.

How a tale can turn on a moment, though, as Nelson Semedo set up Griezmann’s second-half marker to give Barca a useful away goal.

Barca was much better in the second half but could not find a second away goal.

Here’s the goal of the day, and it belongs to Mertens.

Bayern Munich puts Chelsea in three-goal hole

Bayern Chelsea
Photo by Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images
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Too easy.

Serge Gnabry scored off a pair of Robert Lewandowski assists as Bayern Munich earned a 3-0 first-leg lead over Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Lampard reacts to ‘harsh lesson’ ]

Chelsea played the last dozen minutes down a man; Marcos Alonso was sent off via VAR for contact to the face of Robert Lewandowski away from the play. He’ll miss the second leg, as will Jorginho after collecting another yellow card.

Lewandowski capped off the scoring to make Chelsea’s task even more difficult heading to the Allianz Arena for the March 18 second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]


Three things we learned

1. Bayern loves London: Just under five months ago, Bayern Munich buried Tottenham Hotspur in North London in a seven-goal show. This wasn’t quite that, but the Bavarians out-classed a Chelsea side which had few answers for Hansi Flick’s tactics. Bayern has hung 10 on London.

2. Ex-Gunner Gnabry runs the show: Gnabry scored just one goal in 14 appearances over four years between Arsenal and West Brom, and is making up for lost time during this season’s Champions League. He scored four times and added an assist when Bayern visited his former North London Derby rivals. This time, it was two goals in four second-half minutes at Stamford Bridge, the German playmaker contributing plenty in the defensive half.

All it took was one slip from Cesar Azpilicueta to start the scoring.

3. Chelsea’s backs torn apart: It’s difficult to find any fine individual performances from the Blues aside from Mateo Kovacic, though Mason Mount had his moments, but the worst days came from the back three. Bayern was credited with a half-dozen big chances via Sofascore, and the visitors took a whopping 11 shots inside the box.

Man of the Match: The 30-year-old Muller was everywhere early, but it’s difficult to give this to anyone but Gnabry or Lewandowski. We’ll give it to the German.


Kingsley Coman was the first to scare the opposition, working a long 1-2 with Thomas Muller before thumping a low shot wide of the near post in the 12th minute.

Chelsea backstop Willy Caballero made a sliding trail leg save on Robert Lewandowski in the 28th.

Muller then swirled a shot around Caballero but just past the far post before heading off the cross bar in the 35th.

Chelsea got a prime moment in the 48th minute, but Mason Mount was dispossessed and Manuel Neuer stymied Ross Barkley.

Gnabry then stole the ball in Chelsea’s half and worked a 1-2 with Lewandowski to put Bayern on the board.

Mount latched onto a big mistake from Joshua Kimmich but badly missed his bid to catch Neuer out of the goal.

Canadian phenom Alphonso Davies produced the third goal with a roaring run down the left flank, crossing to Lewandowski for the goal.

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 27

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The latest batch of Premier League Club Power Rankings has the season’s biggest surprise dipping a bit while serial grinders Burnley head back up the list.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Norwich City — The Canaries’ defense is covering the club in coal.
Last week: 20
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-0 at Wolves
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday v. Leicester City

19. Aston Villa — Did Dean Smith‘s strong words wake ’em up? We won’t know until after the League Cup Final, where everyone will be amped.
Last week: 14
Season high: 6
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Saints
Up next: 4 p.m. ET March 9 at Leicester City

18. Watford — The new manager bounce is super dead.
Last week: 18
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-0 at Manchester United
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Liverpool

17. Bournemouth — The schedule is not forgiving, which makes the 3-0 loss to Burnley all the more sickening for fans of the Cherries.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Chelsea

16. West Ham United — An improved performance from Moyes’ boys, even if all they’re doing is not winning.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-2 at Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Southampton

15. Newcastle United — Woeful versus Palace, and are in dire need of looking like a proper football team when Burnley visits St. James’ Park this weekend. If they can’t do it versus the Clarets, who don’t really require the ball, maybe they can’t do it. Not safe yet.
Last week: 13
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Crystal Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Burnley

14. Crystal Palace — The Eagles were all over Newcastle, but should be alarmed to only score once. Wilfried Zaha is a mess, but perhaps the M23 Derby will sort him out.
Last week: 16
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Newcastle United
Up next:  7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Brighton

13. Brighton and Hove Albion — Three-straight draws, but Graham Potters’ men still have not won in 2020. It’d be a shame if they slipped out of the top flight.
Last week: 17
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Sheffield United
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Palace

12. Southampton — Totally dominant v. Villa, a trip to West Ham could be a goal fest.
Last week: 12
Season high: 7
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-0 v. Aston Villa
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at West Ham

11. Sheffield United — No shame in just getting by, but Chris Wilder‘s men are looking a bit less like a Europa League side in recent weeks.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Brighton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET March 7 v. Norwich City

10. Burnley — Wins are wins are wins are wins, and we can no longer discount anything Burnley is doing just to lean on stats. Sean Dyche is Cinderella Man.
Last week: 11
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 3-0 v. Bournemouth
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Newcastle United

9. Everton — Carlo Ancelotti will be truly let down by the lack of stops versus Arsenal to kickstart a brutal run of fixtures. Manchester United home, Chelsea away, Liverpool home are up next.
Last week: 5
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 3-2 at Arsenal
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Manchester United

8. Arsenal — With West Ham, Brighton, Saints, and Norwich next, the win over Everton could be a real springboard for a surprising top four run.
Last week: 8
Season high: 4
Season low: 13
Last match: Won 3-2 v. Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET March 7 v. West Ham

7. Wolves — Huge Top four six-pointer at Spurs on Sunday, and Wolves will be grateful they’re bringing a 4-0 advantage to Espanyol on Thursday. Will Nuno Espirito Santo actually rotate?
Last week: 9
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 3-0 v. Norwich CIty
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Spurs

6. Leicester City — The Foxes’ next four matches are against relegation candidates. Let’s see if Brendan Rodgers can get the boys looking like a top four side again.
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Lost 1-0 v. Man City
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday at Norwich City

5. Manchester United — Bruno Fernandes is the real deal.
Last week: 10
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 3-0 v. Watford
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Everton

4. Tottenham Hotspur — Very fortunate on so many levels to not have been walloped by Chelsea.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

3. Chelsea — A much-needed win over an old friend, sweeping Jose Mourinho to firm up top four credentials.
Last week: 7
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Bournemouth

2. Man City — It’s all about the UCL for a club which is clearly one of the two best in the Premier League but miles off the title.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Won 1-0 at Leicester City
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

1. Liverpool — For maybe the first time this season, Liverpool looked like it thought it could walk into a venue and win on its jersey alone. They were awakened before it was too late.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 3-2 v. West Ham United
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Watford