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UCL Tuesday preview: PSG hosts MSN, Pulisic to Portugal

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The UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 takes its first steps on Tuesday in Paris and Lisbon, with two big name group winners on the road.

Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund are in Portugal to face Benfica at the Estadio da Luz, which is rarely kind to visitors, while the power trio of Messi, Suarez, and Neymar will hit the Parc des Princes to dance with Paris Saint-Germain.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Man City ]

The second legs will both be held on Wednesday, March 8.

Benfica vs. Borussia Dortmund

How they got here: Benfica finished second to Napoli in Group B, and Dortmund edged Real Madrid for the Group F crown.

History: Last met in 1963, when BVB won over two legs in the European Cup. Benfica won the home leg 2-1, so history is on their side (This is a joke).

The plot: Thomas Tuchel’s side has disappointed in the Bundesliga, but BVB has shone brightly in the UCL. He’ll be favored to lead the club past Benfica, though the Águias are anything but a pushover.

The subplot: Globally? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s chances of sticking around BVB will improve if he can accomplish his UCL goals. Locally? USMNT hotshot Christian Pulisic gets his latest chance to shine on the global stage. The 18-year-old has two assists in six UCL matches this season.


BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 21: Neymar of Barcelona takes on Marco Verratti of PSG during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain at Camp Nou on April 21, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Barcelona

How they got here: PSG finishes second in Group A, behind Arsenal, while Barcelona won a tricky Group C with Manchester City, Borussia Monchengladbach, and Celtic.

History: These giants have met up in two recent editions of the UEFA Champions League. Barcelona eliminated PSG on road goals in 2012-13, while Barcelona won three of four when the sides met in the group stage and knockout rounds of the 2014-15 tournament.

The plot: Unai Emery has a major test in old La Liga nemesis Barcelona. The PSG manager was hired by Sevilla for his tournament successes in the Europa League, but the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has the French giants in Ligue 1’s second place and that puts a bit more pressure on getting past Barcelona.

Speaking of Barca, the Spanish champions have played two more matches but are still a point back of Real Madrid for the La Liga lead. Pressure on both sides of this tie.

The subplot: Uruguay superstars Edinson Cavani (PSG) and Luis Suarez (Barca) pose problems for defenses, and only one can head to the quarterfinals.

Mohamed Salah starts for Egypt despite int’l retirement talks

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Mohamed Salah is coming off of his best season as a professional, but reports suggest that his time with the Egyptian national team could soon be coming to an end for reasons that extend beyond soccer.

Salah will however be included in Egypt’s Group A finale against Saudi Arabia on Monday, though, after the team sheet was revealed by the Pharaohs ahead of the match.

CNN reported over the weekend that Salah believes he is being used by Egypt as a political symbol to represent Chechnya, which has sparked talks of the talented Liverpool winger ending his international career.

Egypt has already been eliminated from reaching the Round of 16 after losing its first two matches at the World Cup.

The tides have turned significantly for Toronto FC

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2017 gave Toronto FC its first MLS Cup, as well as significant notoriety for the club’s historic season, but Greg Vanney and his side are in a world of trouble in 2018 for reasons that are still unfathomable.

[ MORE: NYCFC tops TFC in come-from-behind victory ]

A deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League (which ended in heartbeat at the hands of Chivas) and a number of injuries have plagued Toronto this season, and for that, the defending champions find themselves in unchartered MLS waters.

Over the course of Major League Soccer’s 22 previous seasons, only three defending champions have gone on to miss the playoffs the next year (D.C. United in 2000, LA Galaxy in 2006 & Portland Timbers in 2016).

So, how poor has TFC been through nearly half the season?

The Canadian side has acquired 15 points in as many matches, which puts the club on pace to finish with 34 points in 2018.

That total would leave TFC well below the average points needed for a club to get into the playoffs. It varies on a year-to-year basis, but teams typically need somewhere in the range of 45 to 50 points to finish above the red line in their respective conferences.

Last season, three teams in MLS finished with less than 34 points (D.C. United, LA Galaxy & Colorado Rapids), and none of the clubs finished within striking distance of the postseason.

While Toronto wouldn’t be the first team to show signs of struggles in the first half of the season and then proceed to turn things around over the second portion, there are definite concerns for Vanney and Co.

In 2018, the Reds haven’t earned back-to-back victories in MLS play, leaving the club in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

The talent within the squad remains there, and if TFC gets the rest of its squad healthy there could be a run made by the team, but as things stand, the club’s historic run a season ago looks to be crumbling in 2018.

Gressel ties it in Atlanta United’s 1-1 draw with Timbers

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ATLANTA (AP) Julian Gressel tied it in the 56th minute and Atlanta United held on for a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

A loose ball deflection off defender Larrys Mabiala bounced into Gressel’s path and he pounced on it with a right-footed volley. Atlanta (10-3-4) stayed atop the MLS standings and extended its unbeaten streak to five games.

Mabiala opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. Samuel Armenteros was the first to get a touch with a left-footed stab on Diego Valeri’s free kick. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan blocked it out, but Mabiala headed home the rebound and Portland took the early lead.

The Timbers (6-3-5) extended their unbeaten run to nine.

MLS: NYCFC beat TFC in new coach Torrent’s debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jo Inge Berget scored twice and coach Domenec Torrent celebrated his New York City FC debut with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday.

Berget made it 2-1 in the 68th minute, following Maximiliano Moralez’s direct pass up the right channel and slotting it home.

NYCFC (9-3-4) tied it at 1 in the 51st minute on Berget’s back heel from the top of the 6-yard box.

Víctor Vazquez opened the scoring for Toronto (4-8-3) in the 37th minute. Vasquez outran his defender on Auro’s long ball up the right side and sent a chip shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.

NYCFC’s David Villa left the game in the 28th minute with a non-contact injury.

Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira in New York shortly after Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice was officially confirmed. Torrent had been the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola for the last 11 years, most recently at Manchester City.