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Twenty-three* thoughts from MLS Week 1

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At regular intervals during the 2018 Major League Soccer season, we’ll provide one thought for every MLS team.

[ MORE: MLS teams in CCL quarters ]

An asterisk is needed this week, with three sides yet to debut (Chicago, New York Red Bulls, Colorado). Here’s what we picked up from the 20 debuts.

Atlanta United: Just. Throw. The. Game. Tape. Out. The. Window.

Columbus Crew: Winning on the road is tough, and winning at BMO Field has been darn near impossible for teams not named Toronto FC. Columbus made it two teams in two years by getting stuck into 50/50 challenges and getting the ball the heck out of dodge as often as possible. While Toronto (See below) whiffed on several chance to pick up a point, the Crew sent a message that whatever’s happening off the field, there are a number of players left who danced this team deep into the playoffs.

[ MORE: All #SaveTheCrew news ]

Wil Trapp was special for Columbus, completing almost 96 percent of his passes over 90 minutes. That includes three key passes and six successful long balls.

And, oh yeah, #SaveTheCrew.

DC United: Yamil Asad got his debut goal for DC, who was better defensively than expected. There’s a lot of men with motors in the Black-and-Red, and Ben Olsen’s unit is going to be a tough out every week. The biggest difference maker? Probably defender Frederic Brillant.

FC Dallas: Eighteen shots, and FCD’s only goal in a 1-1 home draw was courtesy the other team. Max Urruti and Michael Barrios combined for nine shots. Throw in Mauro Diaz and it climbs to 12. It could’ve been worse.

Houston Dynamo: Wilmer Cabrera might still be grinning ear-to-ear after hanging a 4-0 on Tata freaking Martino’s Atlanta United. Alberth Elis was everywhere and he’ll need to continue that presence. Also, DYK Philippe Senderos scored a goal? Yes, that Philippe Senderos from Fulham and Arsenal who’s played 31 total times for four teams since the start of 2014-15.

LAFC: Bob Bradley knows how to coach, but we’re thinking LAFC supporters would do well to relish the good vibes of Diego Rossi’s 11th minute opener (from Carlos Vela) and a quality win over Seattle. Who knows what’s next, but this looks nice.

LA Galaxy: Carson, California, saw a home win and an attack which feels like it could cue Ola Kamara up for a goal or more per game. It’s just one game, but amazing what a solid defensive midfielder can do to shore up a back line. Perry Kitchen’s back, team.

Minnesota United: 

End of last season: “Hey Minnesota, fix your leaky defense.”

Minnesota: “Okay. We’ll try the backup goalkeeper.”

Start of this season, after a 3-2 loss to San Jose: “See our end of last season thoughts, please.”

Montreal Impact: Remi Garde has to press the reset button on an ugly debut against Vancouver. And, yes, it’s early, but maybe do the same on the idea of a 4-1-4-1.

New England Revolution: Brad Freidel may turn out to be a heck of a manager, but if he does it with this group he’s a hero of the highest order and we’ll all be working on our unique accents. It’s just one match, on the road, with a red card, but New England’s best hope is its steady vets playing steely ball.

New York City FC: David Villa turned 36 in December, and he didn’t look it on Sunday. The Spaniard managed six shots and an assist in the 2-0 win over Sporting KC. The five-man midfield was especially fun to watch. Not like-for-like but Jesus Medina and Yangel Herrera are among the players who could ease the worries of Jack Harrison’s exit.

Orlando City: It feels a little like that first gift you get at Christmas, watching Justin Meram and Orlando play without suspended Sacha Kljestan. Santa Mustache is coming soon, though, and the 1-1 draw with DC United is acceptable enough given 49 minutes down a man.

Philadelphia Union: How will David Accam and CJ Sapong co-exist? Just fine if Opening Day is any indication. Not a bad night for Haris Medunjanin in the middle of the park, either, as Philly takes advantage of New England on their schedule.

Portland Timbers: Gio Savarese’s baptism by fire came at the hands of LA’s talented attack, but don’t sleep on the Timbers’ response to going down 2-0. Away from home is a beast in MLS — even despite LA’s 2017 in Carson — and the Timbers finished the game with more attempts than the Galaxy and put seven on target to LA’s three. Sometimes it’s just about bounces.

Real Salt Lake: Outshot by double, the Utah-based visitors still came within five minutes and an own goal of getting Mike Petke a quality road win in Texas. Real also won 80 of 128 duels with FCD. There’s enough to like from a 1-1 draw.

San Jose Earthquakes: I was one to say Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili was being used poorly by last year’s coaches. One goal and two assists later, even against defensively-challenged Minnesota, I’m feeling good about that opinion being closer to fact. Mikael Stahre was an intriguing hire as coach, and is off to a winning start.

Seattle Sounders: Outshot LAFC 22-5 in a 1-0 loss. If there was ever a time to relax, it’s now. Things will be fine in Washington, especially once Magnus Wolff Eikrem becomes more than a sub. Nicolas Lodeiro led the league in passes with 106, seven more than his closest competitor. He also paced MLS in key passes with eight and crosses delivered with five.

Sporting KC: A match to forget against a very talented team, we learned that playmaking spots are up for grabs in Kansas City. Diego Rubio and Yohan Croizet both came off with around a half hour to play, with Daniel Salloi and Gerso Fernandes entering the fray. Young Salloi made a couple of chances, and gives a little hope to an otherwise moribund home loss.

Toronto FC: Losing at home is a rarity for TFC, and maybe they needed a dose of humility after waltzing past Colorado in the CONCACAF Champions League and winning everything in sight last season. The Reds now turn to a tricky tie with UANL Tigres in the CCL quarters, and Greg Vanney’s tactics will be important as ever. Lineup selection will be something to monitor moving forward, as newcomer Ager Aketke is an intoxicating talent but there are only so many ways to organize him with Michael Bradley, Victor Vazquez, Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio…

Vancouver Whitecaps: Alphonso Davies won’t be here for long, so let’s enjoy him. No player in MLS had a better rating from WhoScored this weekend.

By the way, something to bookmark: Kei Kamara looked okay.

Miami FC makes surprise move to United Soccer League

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The United Soccer League scored an eyebrow raiser on Wednesday when it announced the addition of Miami FC.

Miami purchased the franchise rights of the disbanded Ottawa Fury, and joins the USL Championship for the 2020 season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva had been an outspoken proponent of promotion and relegation, reportedly offering a $4 billion TV deal to MLS to become an open system. He’s also one of the men who filed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to force U.S. Soccer to adopt the system.

USL president Jake Edwards has spoken about bringing pro/rel into the league, between the Championship and League One. Adding the club owned by Silva, a powerful voice, begs the idea that there are some big things in the oven.

With the move, Miami FC will have to compete with a Major League Soccer team down the street in Inter Miami. They’ll play in the FIU stadium named after Silva.

Here’s what Miami FC president Paul Dalglish said via a team release:

“The decision to join USL gives us two key things.  First, it gives us a stable platform to further expand our academy program and community work, meaning accessible, inclusive and fun family events that bring all of Miami’s soccer communities together.

“Second, it means we’ll be playing 17 home games at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, providing a fantastic experience for the army of loyal fans that have stood by us. We can’t wait to get started and begin the campaign to our add to our trophy haul.”

It’s a far cry from its roots in the NASL as a buccaneer of professional soccer, but provides stability for a team which has finished first in its last five campaigns spread across three leagues: the NASL, NPSL, and the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).

Some see pro/rel as an inevitability given FIFA’s rules and a MLS landscape which is now producing an uneven schedule and a number of markets which seek top-tier teams and have the money and audience to support higher tiers.

And at some point, it must be acknowledged that the USL has a number of markets blocked in their pathway to MLS and could emerge as a righteous competitor or fold into a gigantic tiered system. The addition of Miami in a year Major League Soccer is launching Inter Miami is unlikely to be welcomed by MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Meanwhile, Miami FC’s departure means U.S. soccer landscape will certainly turn an eye toward NISA. The nascent league features Atlanta SC, California United, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Los Angeles Force, Michigan Stars, Oakland Roots, San Diego 1904 FC, Stumptown Athletic, the New York Cosmos, and unnamed teams in Connecticut and Providence.

NISA announced that U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors formally approved Detroit City, Chattanooga, Oakland and Michigan on Wednesday. Detroit and Chattanooga are the two highest-profile grass roots clubs outside the USL and MLS, and widely viewed as bellwethers for independent clubs.

Report: Salzburg star Haland meets with Borussia Dortmund

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Erling Braut Haland is one of the most promising young names in European football, his career trajectory shooting up, up, up after several dynamite performances in the UEFA Champions League.

The Red Bull Salzburg striker, 19, wasn’t in full fitness when his side was bounced from the UCL by Liverpool on Tuesday, but he’d made his presence felt earlier in the competition.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Haland bagged eight of his 28 season goals in the UCL, including three against Napoli and one against the reigning champion Reds.

Now the Leeds-born Norwegian is eyeing up his next step. Having been linked with Manchester United and his dad’s club Leeds, Haland reportedly flew into Dortmund for a Wednesday meeting with Borussia Dortmund.

Dad, Alf-Inge Haland, played 22 years between Bryne, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Manchester City, and Rosseland.

Now should Haland find a new home, it seems awfully likely it would work similar to Christian Pulisic‘s move to Chelsea from Dortmund last season; The twice-capped Norway international could sign for BVB (or another club) and head back to Salzburg to star in the Europa League (he’s cup-tied in the UCL).

Plus, Salzburg would love to give coach Jesse Marsch a full year with the star. They’re unbeaten in league play.

Europa League preview: Injured Arsenal still seeking knockout round berth

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The Europa League got a lot trickier on Wednesday, as it tends to do when UEFA Champions League outcasts transfer to the competition.

Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg will join the competition for knockout stage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Two of three Premier League sides have already laid claim to places in the next round, Wolves and Manchester United handling their business while Arsenal left its fate in the balance for Thursday’s final group stage match day.

Joining Man United and Wolves as already through to said Round of 32 are Sevilla, APOEL Nicosia, Basel, Sporting Lisbon, LASK, Celtic, Espanyol, Gent, Wolfsburg, Braga, and AZ Alkmaar.

So what hasn’t been decided? Let’s begin with the Gunners.

Arsenal needs just a point from Standard Liege in Belgium on Thursday to advance, although an unlikely Eintracht Frankfurt home loss to Vitoria SC would send a defeated Gunners onto the Round of 32.

Freddie Ljungberg is missing a lot of firepower. Nicolas Pepe is now dinged up, joining Hector Bellerin, Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding, and Dani Ceballos as unavailable.

“But we’ve brought a lot of firepower here, we have younger players here who have played earlier in the group stages, not just now. They’ve been playing the whole time. So it’s a big game and we’re here to get a result. We have a lot of respect for the opponents.”

While Ljungberg’s status as Arsenal boss feels likely to be short-term, another club whose UEL status is up in the air sees its manager looking long-term.

Rangers boss Steven Gerrard is coming off the disappointment of what would’ve been a deserved silverware triumph off an age-old rival, and now immediately has to get his team to bounce back and earn a spot in the next round.

[ MORE: Five UCL match-ups we’d love to see ]

Celtic saved a penalty and scored an offside goal — no VAR — in lifting the Scottish League Cup this weekend in a 1-0 win over Rangers, but the defeated Glaswegians will be buoyed by the news that Gerrard is making progress on an improved deal.

“(Only being here for a couple of years) wasn’t in my thinking, it has been in the thinking of the majority of everyone else – ‘Oh, Rangers is a stepping stone’ or ‘He’s just going there to rehearse for something else.’ It’s a load of nonsense – I’ve come here as this is a big opportunity for me and I have no plans of going anywhere else.”

Rangers (eight points) simply need a point at home against Swiss powers Young Boys, who enter the game one point back of Glasgow’s blue side. Porto is also a point back of Rangers, and they’ll meet last place Feyenoord (five points).

Full Thursday slate

12:55 p.m. ET
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Vitoria
CFR Cluj v. Celtic
LASK v. Sporting Lisbon
Copenhagen v. Malmo
PSV Eindhoven v. Rosenborg
Qarabag v. Dudelange
Standard Liege v. Arsenal
Basel v. Trabzonspor
Dynamo Kiev v. Lugano
APOEL Nicosia v. Sevilla
Rennes v. Lazio
Getafe v. Krasnodar

3 p.m. ET
Rangers v. Young Boys
Wolves v. Besiktas
Espanyol v. CSKA Moscow
Gent v. Oleksandriya
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Porto v. Feyenoord
Ludogorets Razgrad v. Ferencvaros
Slovan Bratislava v. Braga
Roma v. Wolfsberg
Manchester United v. AZ Alkmaar
Wolfsburg v. Saint-Etienne
Partizan Belgrade v. Astana

Five match-ups we’d love to see in the UCL Round of 16

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We know who each UEFA Champions League knockout round contestant can draw in the Round of 16, but some would be juicier than others.

From an American angle, we’ve been deprived of a Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund reunion for now, though we could see a CONCACAF young star duel if Pulisic’s Chelsea draws Alphonso Davies’ Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

But let’s be honest: That’s simply a subplot for our North American audience. The big intrigue lies elsewhere.

Alas, most of Jose Mourinho’s old employers Chelsea and Real Madrid are unseeded like current club Spurs. Barcelona cannot draw Man City, another beauty.

5. Tottenham Hotspur v. Barcelona — Jose Mourinho and Barcelona have a history, while Spurs are winless in four outings against La Liga’s storied club.

4. Juventus v. Real Madrid — Wouldn’t it be something if Cristiano Ronaldo and his longtime buddies met up in the Round of 16.

3. Manchester City v. Real Madrid — Guardiola v. Zidane, with a heaping helping of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. Pep might not be able to draw Bayern Munich nor Barcelona, but he sure wouldn’t mind tangling with a side who was involved in a number of incredible Clasicos as a player and manager.

2. Liverpool v. Borussia Dortmund — We got Jurgen Klopp against his old Der Klassiker rivals Bayern Munich last season, and it’s only natural that the Reds could match up against Klopp’s former club and maybe future star in Jadon Sancho. The two sides met in the 2015/16 Europa League quarterfinals, but this stage — with Klopp as a UCL reigning champ — would be extra delightful.

1. Juventus v. ChelseaMaurizio Sarri went to Chelsea for one season, won the Europa League over a crosstown rival and came within penalty kicks of upending Man City for the League Cup. The Blues are doing well under Frank Lampard, but an “our guy versus the guy we didn’t like” would be a cigarette-chewing wonder, wouldn’t it?