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UEFA Champions League playoffs: Differing levels of comfort

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Only one of 20 playoff-contending clubs has a strong foot in the UEFA Champions League group stage with 10 second legs set for this week.

That’s Scottish champions Celtic, who took a 5-0 lead for manager Brendan Rodgers last week at Celtic Park and heads to the capital of Kazakhstan for a Tuesday date with Astana.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

As for the rest, there are varying levels of comfort. Napoli leads Nice 2-0 and didn’t concede an away goal to the French side, so the Serie A side has to feel pretty good. Liverpool edged Hoffenheim 2-1 in Germany and brings two goals home to Anfield. That, too, is confident footing.

Steaua Bucharest and Sporting CP are the only sides level, scoreless after a match in Portugal.

But Olympiacos is in Croatia and a goal away from being on the wrong foot after a 2-1 win at home to Rijeka, and Hapoel Be’er Sheva has the same situation in Slovenia against Maribor.

At risk? Three high-profile away trips and the same number of group stage home paydays. The losers drop into the Europa League group stage.

Tuesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET unless noted

Astana vs. Celtic (Celtic leads 5-0) — 11:30 a.m. ET
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1)
Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli leads 2-0)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel leads 2-1)

Wednesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET

Copenhagen vs. Qarabag (Qarabag leads 1-0)
CSKA Moscow vs. Young Boys (CSKA leads 1-0)
Slavia Prague vs. Apoel Nicosia (Apoel leads 2-0)
Liverpool vs. Hoffenheim (Liverpool leads 2-1)
Steaua Bucharest vs. Sporting CP (First leg 0-0)

Three Eastern Conference sides on record-setting pace

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2017 saw Toronto FC dominate the MLS regular season before going on to hoist the club’s first MLS Cup in club history.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Alphonso Davies nearing Bayern Munich move ]

Fast forward to this season, and three more Eastern Conference sides are poised to break barriers as they continue a near record-setting pace.

Atlanta United, New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls have created a sizable gap over the rest of the East with nearly one-third of the season remaining.

Toronto’s 69-point regular season total a year ago looked like a record that wouldn’t be touched for some time, however, the current trio of dominating forces in the East are all on pace to finish 2018 with 68 points.

Atlanta, NYCFC and the Red Bulls are all averaging two points per game, while Toronto averaged slightly above that total (2.03 ppg) during their MLS Cup-winning run.

The Red Bulls and NYCFC, in particular, could be in line to follow in the footsteps of last season’s Toronto FC.

Manager Chris Armas and the Red Bulls play 10 of their final games against teams outside the current playoff lines in their respective conferences, while Atlanta and NYCFC face five and four playoff teams, respectively.


Here’s a look at how the three teams will finish up the 2018 regular season:

Atlanta United (12 matches)

Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, Columbus Crew, Orlando City, D.C. United, Colorado Rapids, San Jose Earthquakes, Real Salt Lake, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, Chicago Fire, Toronto FC

New York City FC (14 matches)

Orlando City, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, New England Revolution, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, Chicago Fire, Minnesota United, D.C. United, Philadelphia Union

New York Red Bulls (15 matches)

D.C. United, Columbus Crew, Los Angeles FC, Chicago Fire, Vancouver Whitecaps, New York City FC, D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, Montreal Impact, D.C. United, Toronto FC, Atlanta United, San Jose Earthquakes, Philadelphia Union, Orlando City

Mesut Ozil discusses critique of Turkish background

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Germany’s dismissal from the World Cup came as a shock to many, but one of its players received heavier scrutiny for off-the-field actions.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Alphonso Davies nearing move to Bayern ]

Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil appeared in two of the three group stage matches for the Germans in Russia, however, his play was overshadowed by his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prior to the start of the tournament.

The meeting between the two caused several German media outlets to criticize Ozil due to the heated relations between the two European nations.

Additionally, Ozil says his brand was affected as well, with various sponsors pulling their support due to the meeting with Erdogan.

The 29-year-old is of Turkish and German descent, which would have made him eligible to represent either country.

Ozil took to Twitter on Sunday to discuss how the ordeal has affected how the media and sponsorship has affected him over the last month.

Barcelona, Sevilla to play Spanish Super Cup in Morocco

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La Liga champions Barcelona will meet Sevilla in the 2018 Spanish Super Cup in Tangier, Morocco on August 12.

[ MORE: Klopp talks Pulisic, Liverpool spending ]

The Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) announced the decision on Sunday, as Barca looks to kick off the 2018 season against last year’s Copa Del Rey runners’ up.

Lionel Messi and Co. defeated Sevilla, 5-0, in the 2017/18 Copa Del Rey final, giving the Blaugrana a domestic double for the first time since the 2015/16 campaign.

La Liga play opens up in Spain on August 19, however, the full fixture list will be revealed on Tuesday.

Ibrahimovic: MLS is “lucky I didn’t come 10 years ago”

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been a major bright spot, as expected, in his debut season in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Alphonso Davies nearing Bayern Munich transfer ]

The LA Galaxy striker recorded a goal and an assist in Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union, raising his goal tally to 12 on the year — which ranks fourth-best in the league.

At the age of 36, Ibrahimovic has shown he’s more than capable of producing as a veteran, but it raises the question: how amazing would he have been in MLS had he joined sooner?

Following the Galaxy’s win over the Union, Ibrahimovic joked with media, suggesting he could have had the entire country in his hand if he had arrived in the United States sooner.

“They’re lucky I didn’t come 10 years ago,” Ibrahimovic said, “because I would be the president today.”