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MLS roundup: ATL’s unbeaten run at 7; TFC implode vs. Chicago

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A roundup of, plus a few quick thoughts about, all of Saturday’s action from Week 9 of the 2018 MLS season…

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Atlanta United 4-1 Montreal ImpactFULL HIGHLIGHTS

The Atlanta United buzzsaw couldn’t be runner smoother, as Tata Martino’s side improved to seven games unbeaten (six wins) with a 4-1 comeback victory over Montreal on Saturday. After going a goal behind in the 13th minute, Atlanta initially struggled to string together passes and create even a handful of half-chances. The same was true for 10 or 15 minutes of the second half before Miguel Almiron found his footing and started to take over.

The Paraguayan, like most of his teammates, finishes games stronger than he starts them, and Saturday’s two-goal performance was more of the same from the 24-year-old (he’s got 6 goals and 4 assists after eight games — he’ll be a finalist for MVP, if he sticks around past the summer transfer window). There comes a moment in just about every Atlanta game, when you can practically see their opponents’ will to continue fighting the unrelenting press and wave after wave of attacks leave their bodies, to a man. To that point, 13 of Atlanta’s league-leading 21 goals this season have been scored after the 60-minute mark.

On Saturday, Almiron netted in the 70th and 84th minute, with a pair of fantastic free kicks coming from Kevin Kratz shortly after each of Almiron’s goals.

Toronto FC 2-2 Chicago FireFULL HIGHLIGHTS

TFC returned home and responded to their CONCACAF Champions League heartbreak in the most encouraging of ways… for a brief period, which saw the Reds build a 2-0 lead after 22 minutes (Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vazquez), only to cough it up in the game’s final 25 minutes and lose a pair of much-needed points. In truth, they were quite fortunate to escape with the solitary point they managed to hold onto.

Bastian Schweinsteiger had his penalty kick effort saved by Alex Bono in the 38th minute, but the German superstar finally beat Bono in the 69th minute. Still, Greg Vanney’s side clung to its narrow lead until the final minute of stoppage time, when Alan Gordon swept home a bouncing, un-cleared ball inside TFC’s penalty area.

It’s completely understandable — and borderline expected — that TFC would come out with a sense of urgency and desperation before rapidly fading down the stretch. In that sense, the coming week will be a massive relief as it represents the season’s first period of normalcy — the chance return to a more manageable one-game routine in the coming weeks.

LA Galaxy 2-3 New York Red BullsFULL HIGHLIGHTS

Where in the world do we start with this game? There are so many ways to approach it.

There’s the obvious: the Galaxy fell 2-0 behind after failing to show up for the game’s opening 45 minutes, then came roaring back courtesy of Ola Kamara and Giovani dos Santos, then threw it all away again very late on, and lost 3-2. For the brief 10-minute period midway through the second half, Sigi Schmid’s side even looked as though they had spent all week preparing to play on Saturday.

There’s also the up-and-down performances of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was little more than a passenger for the entirety of the first half, before dropping a dime to Kamara and kickstarting LA’s comeback in the 59th minute.

Finally, there’s the dead horse (here and here): VAR remains an unmitigated dumpster fire. The threshold of a “clear and obvious error” continues to befuddle not only the league’s referees in their application of the video-review system, but also the league’s fans in their understanding why referees do and don’t utilize the tool. For example, New York were awarded a penalty in the 84th minute after the ball appeared to have struck the arm of Dave Romney. Upon viewing the television broadcast’s replay, the ball appeared to have hit Romney much higher on his arm (perhaps even his shoulder) than first viewing indicated. Allen Chapman didn’t review the call on the field, and Alejandro Romero scored the game-winning goal with six minutes of regular time remaining.

Elsewhere in MLS

New England Revolution 1-0 Sporting Kansas City — HIGHLIGHTS
Philadelphia Union 3-2 D.C. United — HIGHLIGHTS
Columbus Crew SC 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes — HIGHLIGHTS
Minnesota United 2-1 Houston Dynamo — HIGHLIGHTS

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

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Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

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Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

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Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).