Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP

Three (more) things we learned on MLS opening day

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It’s a long, old season of soccer-ing still to be soccer-ed, but we’re 60 percent of the way through the opening weekend of MLS 2018, which means it’s time to start drawing grand conclusions.

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PST’s Joe Prince-Wright talked us through the first three lessons of the newborn season this afternoon. Now, a look at three games this evening…

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There should have been an all-out bidding war for Justin Meram

Orlando City SC only got a draw against D.C. United on Saturday, but Jason Kreis is surely over the moon with regards to the dominant performance of Justin Meram, just one — and the most expensive — of the Lions’ major offseason acquisitions. Despite the fact he and Orlando were a man down for 50 minutes, Meram, who was very clearly given the freest of roles in the absence of Sacha Kljestan (suspension), Dom Dwyer and Josue Colman (injuries), was far and away the best player on the field.

At right, you can see both Meram’s attempted passes (key passes are in yellow — there’s four of them, not including the inch-perfect through ball to Jonathan Spector which earned Meram a secondary assist on Orlando’s 93rd-minute equalizer) and attempted dribbles. To say, those success percentages are high, would be a massive understatement. There’s still a ton to be worked out by Kreis and Co., as far as the long-term formation and system go, and Meram’s versatility will give his new coach an endless list of options. If Saturday’s showing can be replicated another 20-24 times this season, the Lions have themselves a real darkhorse MVP candidate.

As an aside, 21 other teams had the opportunity to pay a small fortune in order to acquire Meram this winter, but very few — if any — teams not named Orlando were reported to have engaged in serious negotiations with Columbus Crew SC. Shame on every last one of them.


Justen Glad is next-level good

It should come as very little surprise to anyone who watched him in 2016, and particularly in 2017, that Justen Glad — he of more than 4,500 MLS minutes before his 21st birthday (last Wednesday) — is easily a top-five (if not -two or -three) center back in the league already.

Real Salt Lake found themselves under a constant flow of pressure during their 1-1 draw with FC Dallas — in truth, RSL were horribly unlucky to only come away with a point after Glad’s partner, Marcelo Silva, scored an own goal four minutes from full-time — and Glad was the undisputed star of the defensive show.

Glad’s final stat line for the night: 7 clearances, 4 interceptions, 2 blocks, 2 recoveries — all while completing nearly 80 percent of his 35 passes attempted against an extremely front-foot FCD side which trailed for more than an hour.

There were times over the last two years where Glad relied almost solely upon his brilliant recovery speed and instincts, but 90 minutes into 2018 — on the back of an almost faultless finish to last season — he’s in complete control of RSL’s entire defensive, he’s seeing, reading and reacting to threats long before they materialize, and he’s arguably the most important player on a team that has the look of Supporters’ Shield challengers.


I’m just really sorry for you, Revs fans

Here’s the thing about hiring a first-time head coach: he’s never been a head coach before, and there’s no way to possibly know whether or not he’s actually qualified for the job. That’s where I’m at — and where everyone else should be, too — with Brad Friedel. Couple that with the fact that the New England Revolution’s roster is an unmitigated disaster zone, and it’s going to be a long, long season in Boston Foxborough. The season that just might never end began on Saturday, with a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, and only nine players on the field at full-time.

Sure, there’s plenty of exciting attacking talent — from Lee Nguyen, to Diego Fagundez, to Juan Agudelo and Krisztian Nemeth — but there’s a whole other half of the field that hasn’t been blessed with a single successful signing since… I don’t know, Jermaine Jones, all the way back in 2014.

It’s true: sometimes you really do have to completely bottom out before you can get better.

Also true: you can actively facilitate such a process by acknowledging your own failures and shortcomings, blow the whole thing up on your own accord, and get to the other side a whole lot quicker. Just think about it.

LAFC’s Adama Diomande voluntarily enters MLS’s health program

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Los Angeles FC forward Adama Diomande has entered Major League Soccer’s substance abuse and behavioral health program.

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MLS announced Diomande’s voluntary decision Friday.

Diomande won’t play for LAFC at least until the program’s doctors complete their evaluation and he is cleared by program officials.

The 29-year-old Norwegian scorer has eight goals and seven assists in 25 appearances this season, including 15 starts. He has played a valuable complementary offensive role alongside MLS scoring leader Carlos Vela.

[ MORE: Report: Netherlands FA to meet with Sergiño Dest ]

Diomande is in his second MLS season after joining LAFC from Hull City. He also previously played under LAFC coach Bob Bradley in Norway.

LAFC (19-4-7) has clinched the Western Conference title, and it leads the overall MLS table by seven points despite a four-game winless streak.

Premier League Preview: Newcastle v. Brighton

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  • Early-season relegation battlers meet on Saturday
  • 18th-place Newcastle to host 16th-place Brighton
  • Brighton won at Newcastle, drew at home last season

Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion, a pair of Premier League sides with just two wins from the first five weeks of the season between them, will meet at St. James’ Park on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) for what could prove to be a retrospective relegation six-pointer when May rolls around.

Each side replaced its manager — Steve Bruce for Rafa Benitez at Newcastle; Graham Potter for Chris Hughton at Bright — in the summer and neither of the new bosses has had a particularly enjoyable start to the 2019-20 campaign. Brighton won on the opening day of the season, but have taken just two points from the following four games. Newcastle lost their first two games, won their third, and have drawn and lost again since. It’s the kind of form that’ll see both sides stuck in the high-teens of the PL table if they don’t find their footing in the coming weeks.

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Things are particularly worrying for Newcastle, who didn’t they’d be without Benitez until the end of June and didn’t appoint Bruce until mid-July. Key players had already left the club and reinforcements for few and far between. Forward Joelinton joined for $50 million and is one of four players with a single goal scored thus far.

Last week was nearly fruitful for the Seagulls, until the conceded a stoppage-time equalizer and settle for a point at home against Burnley. Summer signing Neal Maupay bagged his second goal for Brighton earlier in the game, giving Potter a potential trump card over a handful of other relegation-threatened sides without a consistent goalscorer.

Injuries/suspensions

Newcastle: OUT – Matt Ritchie (ankle), Florian Lejeune (knee), Dwight Gayle (calf); QUESTIONABLE – DeAndre Yedlin (groin)

Brighton: OUT – Leandro Trossard (groin), Jose Izquierdo (knee), Ezequiel Schelotto (knee)


Projected lineups

Newcastle: Dubravka – Krafth, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Willems – Almiron, Hayden, Shelvey, Atsu – Joelinton

Brighton: Ryan – Duffy, Dunk, Webster – March, Stephens, Propper, Burn – Gross, Maupay, Murray


What they’re saying

Joelinton, on Andy Carroll: “It’s always great to have experienced players in the group, and he’s one of them. He can help the club, he can help the young players. Andy Carroll has scored a lot of goals in the Premier League, and it’s great to be playing alongside him. He’s a calm guy. I still haven’t spoken to him a lot because my English isn’t great! But every day he’s trying to help. He’ll help me before the games, he’ll give me positional advice and suggest what I’ve done both good and bad.”

Graham Potter, on the trip to Newcastle: “Newcastle away is a tough game just like all the others. We don’t target particular matches — it’s about what we need to do to get a positive result. They have an experienced manager who I came across last year and he’s someone I have a lot of respect for. They have good quality players and we know it can be a hostile environment, it’s a big club and we know we have to play well to get something.  Steve has a lot of games under his belt – he’s had a lot of success and he’ll understand the challenge that lies ahead.


Prediction

Newcastle haven’t scored multiple goals in a game yet this season, and they’ve conceded twice as many as they’ve scored (four). It’s hard to trust them to be anything resembling consistent from game to game. It wouldn’t be surprising if they battled to a boring 0-0 draw, or conceding three times before halftime. It’ll probably be closer to the former, a 1-1 stalemate.

AC Milan announces internal anti-racism task force

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan has announced it will establish an internal task force to address racism in Italian football.

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

The club says the task force will be supported by “an external consultancy” and “develop a program of activities to increase awareness, monitor and address racist behavior on social media and in the stadium, and drive the adoption of global best practices on diversity and inclusion.”

The move comes after reports of racist chants directed at Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, who is black, during a match at Hellas Verona last weekend.

Milan says the anti-racism initiative will be launched during Saturday’s derby against Inter Milan.

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Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was subjected to racist chants in a match at Cagliari this month.

Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis, who is South African, says: “Italian football needs to wake up and take a strong stance against racist behaviors. AC Milan will take a leadership position on this issue. . We believe that we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to address this issue.”

Slow start dooms Southampton again: ‘We lost the game in first half’

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Slow starts are, ironically, quickly becoming the story of Southampton’s Premier League season. It happened again on Friday, resulting in a 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth in the Premier League‘s budding south coast rivalry

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

Through six games, Saints have conceded the first goal four times. In those four games, they have taken just one point. When scoring the game’s first goal, they have two wins and two clean sheets.

It would appear that Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side is set up to play one way, and one way only. Speaking after Friday’s defeat, Hasenhuttl lamented his side’s slow start, conceding that the game was all but lost when they fell 2-0 behind in the 35 minutes — quotes from the BBC:

“The finish was not important anymore. If you lose 2-1 or 3-1 it does not make too much difference. We lost the game in the first half.

“In the second half, we were sharp. Had about 26 shots to six from Bournemouth but the most important stat is the goals. They scored three, we scored once.

“We weren’t aggressive enough and too easy in the first half. It is not easy to be 1-0 down after 10 minutes. We had a lot of blocked shots and misses near the post. It was a good performance in the second half but without a result.

“For the second goal was had a lot of players in our attacking box so it was not easy to defend.

“We showed a good reaction because we knew we needed to be brave. We changed our shape and were aggressive for the second ball. It gave us 64% possession and we had a lot of shots. Maybe we didn’t deserve to take something because of our first half.”

Southampton’s next chance to start a game quickly will come in an away bout with Tottenham Hotspur next Saturday.