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Three things: NYCFC flying with Villa, Medina at the helm

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Week 2 of the 2018 MLS season is in the books, and New York City are one of just four teams with six points following Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy.

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Earlier today, I advocated against making any judgments whatsoever about the MLS season before the calendar reads May or June. Barely two hours later, I’m ready to ignore my own advice and tell you that NYCFC are very, very good — largely based upon the entirety of 2017, but also the way they’ve kicked off the 2018 season…

[ MORE: MLS 2018 season previews ]

Medina lessens the blow of losing Harrison

Jack Harrison was, in so many ways, a perfect complement to David Villa, in that he was only slightly less aggressive and quick to transition than the legendary Spaniard. He was an abundant source of secondary goals — a must-have for every team, even ones with a Villa-caliber spearhead.

Everyone was, understandably, unsure how NYCFC would replace Harrison’s final-third production following his transfer to Manchester City. It was a big ask for 20-year-old Paraguayan attacker Jesus Medina to walk straight into an established squad and immediately shoulder the load as Villa’s primary running mate. Through two games, Medina has surpassed expectations by miles and miles.

He scored a goal against Sporting Kansas City last week, and was instrumental in setting up both goals against LA. On the first, it was Medina who got the ball wide right, held up play ever so slightly to allow Villa to move ahead of him, and finally slotted the perfectly timed and weighted through ball to the top of the six-yard box. Villa’s shot was saved, but the rebound came to Anton Tinnerholm, who smashed his left-footed shot off the underside of the crossbar and in.

On the second, it was Medina, alongside Ben Sweat, who chased a bouncing ball deep inside NYCFC’s half and eventually won possession, then turned on the jets as he glided around one defender before playing the pass to present itself, a simple square ball to Sweat at the top of the box. Again, Sweat’s shot was saved, but the rebound fell to Villa with an empty net to mark his 100th MLS appearance with a game-winner.

Medina will probably come up short of Harrison’s numbers in the goals column — maybe even for assists, too — but it’s already very clear that he’s got a brilliant soccer mind when it comes to so many of the little things: his movement off the ball, how to time his runs to maximize the space he creates for others, and a willingness to play within the confines of his own strengths and weakness. For a 20-year-old player of any age, he’s been off-the-charts impressive.

Injuries, ineffectiveness, indifference

We’re only two weeks into the season, and LA have already lost superstar attacker Romain Alessandrini to a hamstring injury last week, starting center back Michael Ciani to an injury of his own on Sunday, and supposed-to-be-star Giovani dos Santos to a complete loss of form and ability, and/or an overwhelming sense of indifference. Dos Santos was subbed off at halftime of Sunday’s game, replaced by Servando Carrasco, a defensive midfielder.

Why would Sigi Schmid do that to his most expensive and centerpiece Designated Player, you ask?

Considering LA have considerably curtailed their free-spending tendencies in recent seasons, it’s not at all outside the realm of possibility that they could look to move on from Dos Santos’ contract, which pays him $5.5 million per year, should he continue in this vein of form.

Yes, we’re going to keep talking about VAR

… until MLS and the Professional Referee Organization gets its head on straight. If you missed it yesterday, I ranted at greater length about Baldomero Toledo and Co.’s refusal to even consult the video review available to him after Los Angeles FC scored what will likely be the most egregiously offside goal this season (since, you know, VAR is in place to correct these kind of mistakes).

On Sunday, barely a day later, another instance where VAR could have fixed a potentially “clear and obvious error” occurred in the 85th minute, with LA trailing 2-1 and threatening to equalize, when Ashley Cole was shown a second yellow card for tripping Villa as he prepared to run into 50 yards of open field.

First things first, yellow cards — not even a second yellow — aren’t reviewable within the guidelines set forth by MLS (goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistake identity). Considering a second yellow has the exact same impact as a straight red, which is to effectively end LA’s comeback bid when Cole appears to have made no contact with Villa, it should be reviewable all the same.

These are simple matters of common sense that, were MLS serious about using VAR as a tool to improve the level of refereeing, could be fixed overnight. They started using VAR roughly two-thirds of the way into the season last year, so what’s an amendment to the guidelines after fewer than two dozen game this year?

UEFA Champions League qualifying preview

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Six slots remain in the UEFA Champions League’s 2019-20 group stage, and the 12 teams hoping to fill them begin the final round of qualifying on Tuesday and Wednesday.

There are a pair of Americans in the bunch of hopefuls, with Sergino Dest of Ajax and Ethan Horvath of Club Brugge in action on Tuesday.

The fortunes of those players have changed dramatically in recent months.

[ MORE: Julian Green flying high ]

Horvath, 24, was the starter for 34 matches across all competitions last season and the first two matches of this domestic season but has seen nothing but bench since Brugge scooped up Simon Mignolet from Liverpool.

Will Mignolet allowing three goals to Dynamo Kiev have changed anything for manager Philippe Clement? Seems unlikely, but we’ll still keep an eye on the lineup against Austrian side LASK. Ghanaian national teamer Samuel Tetteh is an intriguing player for the hosts, on loan from Red Bull Salzburg.

Dest is still 18 until November and has started Ajax’s last two games at right back. He made his debut at left back in a 2-0 defeat of PSV Eindhoven to start the season, and Ajax is 4-0 with him on the field this season.

While we’re talking Yanks in the UCL, the group stage already has Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, Lille’s Timothy Weah, RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams, and Red Bull Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch.

Canadian winger Alphonso Davies is with Bayern Munich.

Full schedule

All matches at 3 p.m. ET

Tuesday
APOEL Nicosia v. Ajax
CFR Cluj v. Slavia Prague
LASK v. Club Brugge

Wednesday
Dinamo Zagreb v. Rosenborg
Olympiacos v. Krasnodar
Young Boys v. Red Star Belgrade

USMNT’s Green flying high with new manager, new position

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The early season report that 2.Bundesliga side Greuther Fuerth manager Stefan Leitl wants to tie Julian Green down to a new contract are making a lot of sense with three league matches in the books.

Playing as a No. 8, Green has gone 90 minutes in all three league matches under Leitl this season, scoring against FC St. Pauli and Jahn Regensburg. That gives him five goals in 15 matches since Leitl was hired late last season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Green turned 24 this summer, a number that feels even younger considering his goal against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup seems like it happened about 150 years ago.

It’s a small sample size, but after three games Green is the 8th-ranked performer in the entire German second division by advanced statistics site WhoScored. And for those who sleep on the English Championship and 2.Bundesliga, it’s worth noting that is one of only two second tiers the web site bothers rating on a week-to-week basis.

In addition to his pair of goals, Green is completing 89.2 percent of his passes in the center of the park, making 1.7 tackles per match, and has drawn 3.3 fouls per match. That last figure is fourth in the league.

Green isn’t a flashy personality and even says in the above article that he’d rather his play do the talking, but you have to think he’s on the radar of Greeg Berhalter for next month’s USMNT friendlies with so many Americans on new club teams and MLS in the thick of its stretch run.

Green had certain success under USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan but has yet to be called up by Berhalter, a man who knows the value of the 2.Bundesliga having helped Energie Cottbus to Bundesliga promotion as a player.

And as a No. 8, or even further up and central? Nice.

If he doesn’t re-up with Furth, it will be intriguing to see where he winds up next season (especially if Furth manages to get promoted).

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 2

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Boy do I love getting yelled at, so let’s invite more criticism with Week 2 of the Premier League Power Rankings.

Let’s also get something out of the way, though: While a round-robin tournament such as the Premier League doesn’t need power rankings by the end of the season given the balanced schedule, the early season is ripe for these sorts of debate because of the performances and opponents.

[ MORE: Wolves 1-1 Man Utd | Nuno reacts ]

Additionally, we like having fun. Because this is sports. And sports are supposed to be fun. Even if you support Newcastle and the idea that sports are supposed to be fun sounds like someone telling you something you’re allergic to is goooooood eatin’.

Excited for the furor. Let’s party in the comments section.

20. Newcastle United — For all the promise Miguel Almiron showed under Rafa Benitez, the Paraguayan looks like absolutely clueless under Steve Bruce.
Last week’s ranking: 16
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Norwich City
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Spurs

19. Watford — The Pozzo Family is known to change managers on a whim, and Javi Gracia will be wondering if his wonderful 2018-19 is fresh enough in the owners’ minds following an insipid loss to Brighton and a two-shot performance at Everton.
Last week’s ranking: 20
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham

18. Crystal Palace — Unlike Newcastle at Norwich, the Eagles probably deserved a point in losing to a newly-promoted side. They still did, however, lose to a newly-promoted side. Will Wilfried Zaha torment his old club (Man Utd) and teammate (Aaron Wan-Bissaka) on Saturday? Also, those away jerseys…
Last week’s ranking: 14
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Manchester United

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17. West Ham United — Manuel Pellegrini will be under deserved pressure if he can’t manufacture a result at Watford.
Last week’s ranking: 18
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Brighton and Hove Albion
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Watford

16. Southampton — Thoroughly deserved a home point versus Liverpool, but that does not totally make amends for a terrible Week 1.
Last week’s ranking: 19
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Brighton and Hove Albion

15. Aston Villa — Dean Smith knows the mistakes made early against Bournemouth can’t happen in the Premier League, but the Villans were the better team in a loss to Bournemouth.
Last week’s ranking: 8
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Bournemouth
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday v. Everton

14. Bournemouth — Eddie Howe, on the other hand, will be thanking his lucky stars that Tom Heaton decided to put Villa behind the 8-ball after just 45 seconds. We need to see better from the Cherries, and it’s probably not coming when Man City visits on Sunday.
Last week’s ranking: 15
Last match: Won 2-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Man City

13. Sheffield United — The Blades have been a pesky problem in collecting four points from Bournemouth and Palace. Saturday’s visit from Leicester City will be a bird of a different feather.
Last week’s ranking: 13
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Leicester City

12. Norwich City — Teemu Pukki was lethal against Newcastle, and the Canaries probably could’ve scored thrice on Opening Day at Anfield. That, folks, is what we call encouraging stuff for a newly-promoted group.
Last week’s ranking: 17
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Newcastle United
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Chelsea

11. Chelsea — There’s a lot to say about Frank Lampard as a manager, but we can’t stop thinking about how gigantic he looked standing next to Brendan Rodgers after the match. Will we have the chance to see it again when Chelsea visits Leicester City on Feb. 1?
Last week’s ranking: 12
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Norwich City

(Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)

10. Leicester City — So far, so okay for Brendan Rodgers and the Foxes, who took points from two tricky fixtures. Nothing but three points will be acceptable this weekend at Sheffield United.
Last week’s ranking: 10
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Chelsea
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

9. Burnley — Don’t bet against Sean Dyche. You’ll either lose, or be terrified at how angry you’ve made Sean Dyche in being right.
Last week’s ranking: 6
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

8. Everton — After taking four points from two matches, the Toffees’ bring an extremely enticing start to the Premier League weekend on Friday at entertaining Aston Villa.
Last week’s ranking: 11
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Watford
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday at Aston Villa

7. Wolves — What they’ve done in drawing Leicester City and Manchester United while bombarded with Europa League fixtures and planning is laudable and acceptable.
Last week’s ranking: 9
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Manchester United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Burnley

6. Brighton and Hove Albion — Graham Potter‘s Blue and White Army are unbeaten through two matches and deserved three points against West Ham in a 1-1 draw. Leandro Trossard is a talent, and looks like what the Seagulls thought they bought last summer with Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Last week’s ranking: 5
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. West Ham United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Southampton

5. Manchester United — Paul Pogba: Penalties as Shaquille O’Neal is to free throws. We’ll hang up and listen. The Red Devils should be 2-0 and sitting atop the league. Alas.
Last week’s ranking: 2
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Wolves
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Crystal Palace

4. Arsenal — 2-0 is 2-0, even if the wins come against Newcastle and Burnley. There’s no way Arsenal will be able to afford Dani Ceballos at the end of his loan stint if he keeps looking like an absolutely wondrous midfielder of the highest order.
Last week’s ranking: 7
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

3. Liverpool — The bad news is that Liverpool’s poor defensive summer has dragged into August and they are a competent Danny Ings flick away from drawing Saints. The good news is that the Reds are alone in first place despite the defensive foibles. Also, relax, you’re the European champions. It’s okay.
Last week’s ranking: 7
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Arsenal

2. Spurs — Took the most shots in the league in Week 1, and followed it up by scoring twice and taking a point from the Etihad Stadium. That’s something only one team did over 19 matches last season (Palace’s 3-2 memorable win around Christmas).
Last week’s ranking: 3
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Man City
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Newcastle United

1. Manchester City — VAR did it’s job in enforcing a rule that is, at best, against the spirit of the game in supporting defenders unfairly in comparison to attackers. City took 30 shots against the Champions League finalists and deserved all three points. If you think they should be lower on the list, try this mental exercise which is at the heart of the PL power rankings: Based on what you’ve seen this season, tell me you’d rather play City than any other team in the league. You’re lying.
Last week’s ranking: 1
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Spurs
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Bournemouth

USMNT to play Cuba at Washington, DC

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CHICAGO (AP) The United States’ home game against Cuba in the first CONCACAF Nations League will be played at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11.

The site was announced Monday by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has yet to say where the Nov. 15 home match against Canada will be played.

[ MORE: Wolves 1-1 Man Utd | Nuno reacts ]

As part of the new tournament, the U.S. plays Canada at Toronto on Oct. 15. The U.S. closes Nov. 19 against Cuba, a game that may be played at George Town, Cayman Islands.

In its first year under coach Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. has eight wins, three losses and one tie, losing to Mexico in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Americans have a pair of exhibitions next month, against Mexico on Sept. 6 at East Rutherford, New Jersey, and versus Uruguay four days later at St. Louis.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports