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Three things: Atlanta go home, get back on track vs. DCU

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Sunday provided everyone with example no. 143,395 of Why we shouldn’t draw any conclusions whatsoever from the first week — or two months, probably — of the MLS season.

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From week to week, no other league in the world will see a team turn in such diametrically opposed performances…

[ MORE: MLS 2018 season previews ]

Tactical flexibility is a must-have in today’s MLS

Atlanta United were demolished and run off the field in their season-opening 4-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo last weekend, at which point the MLS masses were clearly a tad too quick to celebrate and dance on the Five Stripes’ grave.

Not only did the players respond during Sunday’s 3-1 thrashing of D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, so too did manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino during the week as he settled on a formational change and devised the perfect gameplan to cure precisely what ailed his high-powered attacking machine just eight short days ago. In that game, Atlanta were completely overrun in midfield with Darlington Nagbe and Chris McCann deployed as a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 — it didn’t work because there was simply too much space — vertically, but especially horizontally — for the pair to cover, and they were torched out wide.

To offset the obvious shortcomings of a Nagbe-McCann central midfield, Martino swapped the 4-2-3-1 for an aggressive, high-pressing 5-3-2 which featured Greg Garza and second-year Swiss Army knife utilitarian Julian Gressel and left and right wing backs, respectively. The third central defender helped Nagbe and his new midfield partner, Jeff Larentowicz, vertically while Garza and Gressel were godsends to either side. Not only were they asked to do far less defensively, thanks to G&G harassing Yamil Asad and Paul Arriola out wide, but Nagbe in particular was able to have an immense impact on Atlanta’s possession game — something which was null and void just a week ago.

Tata’s also working out the Nagbe “problem”

Speaking of Nagbe, it’s only a small exaggeration to suggest he could lead the league in assists, on secondary assists alone, this season. Consider the embarrassment of attacking talent playing ahead of him: Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco and Hector Villalba — who’d be the focal point for at least half the teams in MLS, but falls to third chair in his own midfield — playing behind Josef Martinez. There will be plenty of goals scored in the ATL, just like last season.

Take Atlanta’s first goal on Sunday as the most perfect example of how much easier the aforementioned stars have already begun to make Nagbe’s job. Sure, the first touch is great and bails out Villalba who’s in a tough trapped spot up against the sideline, but the ensuing through ball for Villalba is elementary stuff for a player of Nagbe’s skill:

The “problem” that Nagbe has presented his various coaches — both club and international — throughout his career is that he “should” be this type of player, or he “should” be that type of player. It’s pretty clear, after seven seasons and more than 200 appearances, he’s not a no. 10 and he’s not a winger. Let the man be the brilliant shuttler and link between defense/defensive midfield and a vibrant, downhill attacking quartet. (Caleb Porter stumbled onto this formula in 2015, and the Portland Timbers rode it all the way to MLS Cup.) Does it carry less weight and sound far less sexy? Sure, but to play the part as quickly and instinctually as Nagbe can do, might just be what separates Atlanta from being “fun” and “great.”

Plenty of reason to have hope for DCU

I said it before the season, and I’ll say it again now: by the time summer arrives, no team will have improved more from 2017 to 2018 than D.C. United. The roster was turned over last August (Arriola, Zoltan Stieber and Russell Canouse) and the overhaul continued this winter (Asad, Frederic Brilliant, Ulises Segura and Junior Moreno). For the first time in a long while, Ben Olsen has a genuinely talented MLS roster at his disposal.

For not-insignificant stretches of Sunday’s game — say, most of the second half — United were not quite in control of the run of play, but they were the more dangerous side with the score still 1-0. Darren Mattocks missed a couple decent chances (as he does) and the Black and Red were unable to capitalize and fatally conceded two goals in as many minutes.

Once Luciano Acosta reclaims his place in the starting lineup (he returned to the bench after being suspended for last week’s 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC), he should tie together United’s sturdy back half and an attacking unit made up of (largely) slightly above replacement-level MLS retreads.

Ronaldo’s Juventus debut ends with goalkeeper in hospital

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MILAN (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo’s Serie A debut was marked not by a goal but by accidentally putting the opposing team’s goalkeeper in hospital.

With the score locked at 2-2 late on in Juventus’ match at Chievo Verona, Ronaldo collided with Stefano Sorrentino in a chaotic penalty area.

[ MORE: Juventus win on Ronaldo’s goal-less debut; Napoli chasing again ]

Sorrentino was knocked out cold briefly and there were an anxious few minutes as he received immediate treatment before being substituted.

The 39-year-old goalkeeper was immediately taken to the hospital and released on Sunday morning with a fractured nose, bruising to his left shoulder and whiplash.

Sorrentino was able to joke about the incident, posting a photo on Twitter with the caption: “Thanks for your messages of support, affection and esteem. We are a fantastic group and yesterday we almost achieved the feat: while CR7 got me in full!”

He also later revealed on the social media site that Ronaldo had been in touch: “I received a message of support and wishing me a speedy recovery from Cristiano Ronaldo. Thanks legend!”

[ MORE: Edin Dzeko starts Roma off right with stunning winner ]

Sorrentino pulled off several fine saves to deny Ronaldo and his Juventus teammates – although Chievo went on to lose the match 3-2 following Federico Bernardeschi’s stoppage-time winner.

“Before coming onto the pitch I told myself I would have to try to stop him in every way possible,” Sorrentino said on Italian television. “I did that in the real sense of the word.”

During the commotion Juventus was awarded a goal using goal-line technology, then it was disallowed a few minutes later on video review.

[ MORE: Lazio ultras want to ban women from “sacred space” in stadium ]

Paulo Dybala and Giorgio Chiellini celebrated when the goal was given, causing widespread outrage as Sorrentino was still receiving urgent treatment.

“Paulo wrote to me, apologizing because he hadn’t realized the seriousness of the situation and he was celebrating for a goal that I didn’t even know I had conceded,” Sorrentino said.

DCU win again, look like genuine playoff contenders

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The game in 200 words (or less): No individual — other than Ben Olsen, perhaps — has benefitted from the arrival of Wayne Rooney at D.C. United more so than Luciano Acosta. Through his first 82 games in MLS, Acosta managed to rack up nine goals and 23 assists — a healthy enough haul considering the lack of quality around him since day one in 2016. Still, the frustration and unhappiness were plain to see, every time the Argentine playmaker’s teammates weren’t able to link up or finish one of his brilliant through balls. In United’s last five games (Acosta has played 438 of 450 minutes), including Sunday’s 2-0 win over the 10-man New England Revolution: four goals and three assists. Of course, United, as a whole, have benefitted greatly, too. Their record in Rooney’s eight games: 5W-1D-2L (prior to his debut, the Black and Red won just two of 14 games). Olsen and Co., have risen from last place in the Eastern Conference and reach the dizzying heights of eighth place, where they are now just six points back of fifth and sixth place — a de facto impossibility just a month ago, when they had just 10 points to their name and were 13 off the pace of sixth.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez ties MLS record with 27th goal in 2018 ]

Three moments that mattered

13′ — Acosta finishes with aplomb at the back post — The three Revs defenders, who let the ball run across the face of goal without making any attempt to play or clear it, could have done just about anything else and it would have been preferable to what they did.

73′ — Caldwell gets a second yellow, Revs down to 10 — Scott Caldwell didn’t need to run into Junior Moreno a full second or two after the ball was away, but he did so anyway. No advantage to gain from the “challenge,” and Caldwell’s teammates had to finish the game a man short.

89′ — Stieber gets in behind, makes it 2-0 — Rooney had skied a nearly identical chance just seconds earlier, leaving it up to Zoltan Stieber to put the game to bed.

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Man of the match: Luciano Acosta

Goalscorers: Acosta (13′), Stieber (89′)

Lazio ultras want to ban women from “sacred space” in stadium

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ROME (AP) Lazio’s “ultra” fans have caused outrage by telling women to avoid their “sacred space” in the club’s Stadio Olimpico.

The die-hard supporters distributed flyers ahead of their team’s Serie A opener at home to Napoli.

[ MORE: Juventus win on Ronaldo’s goal-less debut; Napoli chasing again ]

“The Curva Nord represents for us a sacred space, an environment with an unwritten code to be respected,” read the flyer. “The first few rows, as always, have been experienced like the trenches. In the trenches, we do not allow women, wives and girlfriends, so we invite them to position themselves from the 10th row back.

“Those who choose the stadium as an alternative to a carefree and romantic day in (Rome’s) Villa Borghese (gardens), should go to other sections.”

Lazio spokesman Arturo Diaconale told Italian news agency Ansa on Sunday that “it is not the position of the club, we are against any discrimination.”

He added: “Moreover, there is an enormous number of Lazio fans, this instead is an initiative from a few fans. We can’t always intervene to avoid politically incorrect displays like this.”

[ MORE: Edin Dzeko starts Roma off right with stunning winner ]

Some Lazio fans caused outrage last season when they littered the Stadio Olimpico in Rome with images of Anne Frank — the young diarist who died in the Holocaust — wearing a jersey of city rival Roma. Lazio was fined $63,000 by the Italian soccer federation because of the anti-Semitism displayed by the team’s fans.

It was the latest in a series of racist and anti-Semitic incidents, with Lazio previously having its stadium fully or partly closed for European and domestic matches as punishment.

Bale powers Real Madrid in first win of post-Ronaldo era

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MADRID (AP) Gareth Bale is doing his part to help Real Madrid get over Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.

Bale scored in Madrid’s Spanish league opener and set up the other goal in a 2-0 win over Getafe on Sunday.

Dani Carvajal also scored for Madrid, which for the first time in nearly a decade started its league campaign without Ronaldo, the club’s greatest goal-scorer.

Bale, who hadn’t played much while Ronaldo was still on the team before he moved to Juventus in the offseason, scored in the 51st minute with a shot from inside the area after a well-placed cross by Marco Asensio.

Bale had already struck the crossbar with a 16th-minute header, and a few minutes later he provided the cross that led to Carvajal’s goal after Getafe goalkeeper David Soria failed to fully clear the ball.

Bale didn’t have many chances as a starter under coach Zinedine Zidane, but is likely to gain a bigger role as new manager Julen Lopetegui deals with Ronaldo’s absence and the lack of major signings by the club.

Bale received a loud ovation by the crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium when he was substituted by Lucas Vazquez in the 77th minute.

Madrid started its season with a loss to city rival Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup final. It was only third in the league last season, behind Atletico and champion Barcelona.