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MLS wrap: Three Things We Learned

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A busy day of Major League Soccer action saw comebacks, golazos, howlers and more. Here’s what we learned.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Soccer is Alive and Well in Minnesota

It’s a brand-new stadium of course, but a full house of almost 20,000 rowdy and pumped-up Minnesota United fans packed into Allianz Field to watch their team play New York City FC to a thrilling 3-3 draw. The game had a little bit of everything, with goals from Designated Player striker Angelo Rodriguez and Osvaldo Alonso (of all people) for Minnesota United, along with a howler of an own goal by NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

And yet, against the odds, NYCFC proved that it can fight back and picked up a much-needed point on the road. For a team that’s struggled to score this season and find someone to replace outgoing captain David Villa, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi scored his first two goals of the season, the second of which tied the game at 3-3 in the second half.

Regardless of the result, fans certainly got their money’s worth from attending, and there should be many exciting matches moving forward.

Barco Finally Shines for Atlanta

There was much hoopla and excitement surrounding Ezequiel Barco’s multi-million dollar transfer signing in 2018, but the Argentine youngster failed to back it up on the field.

After a year beset by injuries, poor form, and the standard time needed to adapt to a new culture, Barco may be ready for his chance to step into the spotlight. Barco’s brace, off the bench no less, helped Atlanta United on Saturday secure its first win of the season, in a 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Tito Villalba set up both goals with marauding runs down the left wing, as Barco stabbed home the first shot and then curled home a beauty for his third goal of the season and his team’s second of the game.

Yes, it came against the now last-place New England Revolution, which continues to struggle mightily under Brad Friedel. But maybe this is a sign of things to come for Atlanta, which has also struggled this season and just won its first game, seven weeks into the season, after winning the title in December.

The Sounders Are Your MLS Cup Frontrunners (as of today)

Yes, I know, Los Angeles FC hasn’t lost a game all season and is on fire early this season. But no team is as deep in the attacking spaces of the field as the Seattle Sounders.

Who would have expected the Dancing Bear, Will Bruin, to score a brace as the Sounders won a thrilling 3-2 match over Toronto FC at CenturyLink Field. With the likes of Raul Ruidiaz, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris, it was the combination of Brad Smith and Will Bruin, two players who aren’t often in the spotlight, who helped the Sounders pick up three points and remain unbeaten this season. The Sounders are three points behind LAFC but have a game in hand.

Why do I think they’re favorites to win the title? Vela could miss a month or more of action at the 2019 Gold Cup, and it’s unclear how anyone on LAFC’s bench can replace his productivity. Meanwhile, if Jordan Morris is away playing for the U.S., Bruin can step right in and keep scoring.

While the Smith-to-Bruin combination was fun to watch, there’s none better in MLS right now than that of Alejandro Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore. The two Designated Players are somehow already on the same wavelength and Pozuelo played two terrific passes that Altidore finished on Saturday. Expect many more goals between those two the rest of the season.

Lascelles admits Newcastle in for “long, tough season”

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Newcastle captain Jamaal Lascelles admits the players are prepared for a difficult campaign after dropping into the relegation zone early in the season.

After a third defeat in their first five Premier League matches, falling 3-1 to leaders Liverpool, the English defender labeled the upcoming match against Brighton & Hove Albion “our biggest game yet” and admitted this season could provide some trying times. “We have had a tough run at the start of the season, tough for any team. So it is going to be a long tough season. Ie have a good 11, a good squad and a lot of bodies. When we start finding the net we will get going.”

Newcastle will be buoyed by the knowledge that of those three losses, two came against Liverpool and Arsenal while the third came against a red-hot Norwich City side. The Magpies also topped Champions League finalists Spurs 1-0 and managed a draw against a struggling Watford side before falling to Liverpool last time out.

“We were in a decent position, a win against Spurs and draw against Watford,” Lascelles said after the Liverpool loss. “Now we need to push and get three points against Brighton. These games are six pointers at home to Brighton, we have to fancy ourselves. They will be big competition for us and Saturday is the right time to do that.”

Lascelles admitted that while the defensive form is a struggle at the moment having conceded eight goals through the first five matches with just one clean sheet – the win over Spurs – everyone is hoping to chip in up front as well, an attacking mentality that flows through the team. “We’re not happy conceding three against Norwich and Liverpool,” Lascelles said. “We are getting chances and creating a lot. When a couple of people start scoring the goals will be flowing and we have had a couple injured as well. It is important we all chip in with goals. I’d like to get a few. Fab [Schar] is a goal scoring centre half. He puts important points on the board. If we and midfielders can help out we will get to 40 points sooner than later.”

Lampard, players look to play down Chelsea penalty incident

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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard and his players have come together in hopes of playing down the incident at the end of the game that led up to Ross Barkley‘s fateful missed penalty late in the 1-0 Champions League loss to Valencia on Tuesday.

Barkley appeared to take the ball off a host of other Blues players who wished to take the penalty, with Willian and Jorginho looking the most vocal. Jorginho conceded rather quickly, but Willian was more insistent in his wish to take the spot-kick, pulling up his socks in front of Barkley before finally conceding.

[ Azpilicueta also backs Barkley ]

According to Lampard, Barkley was indeed the designated penalty taker and his assistance was within protocol. “Ross is the penalty taker,” Lampard said in the post-match press conference. “He was pre-season, scored a couple, has been when he started, and was today when he came on and he missed it, clear story.”

“I don’t know what the conversation was,” Lampard continued about the confrontation, “but Jorginho and Willian were penalty takers on the pitch, but when Ross comes on he’s the penalty taker, and he’s missed it.”

[ MORE: Recap, 3 things from Chelsea loss ]

Barkley confirmed this as well after the match. “We’ve got a lot of good penalty-takers in the squad,” said Barkley. “On a sheet in the changing room, it says I’m on penalties when I’m on the pitch, otherwise it’s Jorginho.”

Willian, who was far more demonstrative on the pitch about taking the penalty, said he was disappointed to miss out, but he stands behind his teammate. “I wanted to take it but he (Barkley) was confident to take it. This is football. He missed the penalty but it could be me that missed, or Jorginho or whoever. So football is like this. But when we win, we win together, and when we lose, we lose together.”

Chelsea needs to wait “48 hours” to assess Mount

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Mason Mount‘s move from the Championship to the Premier League has been nearly seamless.

His adjustment to the Champions League was cut down too quickly to get an understanding of whether it would be too big of a jump.

[ MORE: Match recap | Barkley drama ]

Mount, 20, was chopped down by Valencia’s Francis Coquelin, the former Arsenal man, and had to leave the game after just 16 minutes.

Here’s Frank Lampard, from ChelseaFC.com:

“He’s got an ankle injury but we don’t know how bad it is. We’ll have to assess it in the next 48 hours to see the scale of the injury. It was a shame because he started the game well and it meant we had to make the change early on.”

Mount scored nine times with four assists on loan under Lampard at Derby County last season, and has already chipped in three goals for Chelsea this season.

Lampard turned to Pedro off the bench on Tuesday, but any lengthy absence for Mount will spell more time for American youngster Christian Pulisic.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday preview: Man City, Spurs debut

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur begin their UEFA Champions League campaigns on very different results and with very different vibes.

City is coming off a stunning 3-2 loss to injury-hit Norwich City, and is set up in Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk for the third-straight season, a side which beat Pep Guardiola once in four tries between 2017/18 and 2018/19 in the UCL.

[ MORE: UCL Tues. wrap ]

But on Wednesday, Guardiola’s men are going to carry a similar feel to one of his old Barcelona teams, as Pep seemingly will have Fernandinho pull a Javier Mascherano and drop into the back line.

Yes, Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi are Manchester City’s hopes at center back, now that John Stones has joined Aymeric Laporte on the shelf.

“For me as a manager it’s an incredible challenge,” said Pep Guardiola. “But I believe a lot, people don’t know the spirit and resolve to solve this problem. The players going to come back with Dinho, Eric Garcia, Taylor Harwood-Bellis. … It’s happened, but what we are not going to do is complain. We have to have 11 players on the pitch and I like it, to find a solution. For the players as well to find an incredible step forward.”

Spurs, meanwhile, will simply be trying to build on any momentum gained by a 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace at the weekend, a win which came after manager Mauricio Pochettino begged his side to “re-focus” after a relatively poor start to the season.

Now a bit more relaxed, Spurs head to Greece as the clear favorites against stingy Olympiacos. These are, after all, the finalists of last season’s tournament.

Pochettino won’t be sleeping on the challenge, from The London Evening Standard:

“They have good players and if we are not focused and don’t take our best game we are going to suffer. But last season we played in the final of Champions League, so it’s normal people think before the game, Tottenham is one step above Olympiacos but in the end you need to show it on the pitch.”

Spurs are one of two early kickoffs on Tuesday.

Full UCL Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Tottenham Hotspur

3 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Paris Saint-Germain v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Dinamo Zagreb v. Atalanta
Bayern Munich v. Red Star Belgrade
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Manchester City