Getty Images

Champions League second qualifying round preview

Leave a comment

The new club season hasn’t started yet, but the Champions League is already in full swing, with the second qualifying round ready to start and the third qualifying round draw taking place, leaving clubs with a clearer path to the group stage.

All second qualifying round matches begin Wednesday save one, with Cypriot side APOEL meeting Montenegrin champions Sutjska Niksic on Tuesday.

The majority of the clubs still come from the Champions Path, having qualified by winning their leagues. Out of the League Path – teams who qualified without winning their league – PSV Eindhoven meets Basel while Olympiacos takes on Viktoria Plzen. The PSV roster is changing from the side that challenged for the Eredivisie title last season, with top scorer Luuk De Jong having moved to Sevilla and Mexican playmaker Hirving Lozano still with the club but likely on the move eventually. Lozano is with the club for preseason but came off their friendly against Wolfsburg limping, so his status for the Champions League prelims is unknown.

Neil Lennon and Celtic will take on Estonian side Nomme Kalju with the first leg in Scotland. They knocked off Bosnian side FK Sarajevo in the previous round, with Lennon rotating the squad for the two matches and is likely to do so again against inferior opposition with the season so young.

Serbian champions Red Star Belgrade meets Finnish side HJK. Red Star blitzed through the qualifying rounds and made it to the group stage last season, and now look to do so again. Continued solid performance in the qualifying rounds could help future Serbian champions enter the competition further down the road.

Hungarian side BATE Borisov will meet Norwegian club Rosenborg, looking to reach the Champions League group stage for the first time since the 2015/16 season. BATE has won the Hungarian league 13 seasons in a row, leaving them as consistent European participants, but always entering the competition in the playoff stages.

Cypriot club APOEL will meet Montenegrin club Sutjeska Niksic, hoping to make the group stage for the second time in three years, having played Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham, and Real Madrid in the 2017/18 group stage. Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb will meet Georgian club Saburtalo Tbilisi, featuring highly-rated 21-year-old Spanish youth international Dani Olmo who joined Dinamo Zagreb’s youth setup after leaving Barcelona in 2014.

All losers from the second qualifying round will enter the Europa League third qualifying round, while the winners are guaranteed at least a place in the Europa League playoff round.

The draw for the third qualifying round also took place, giving teams their potential opponents should they progress. The only set matchup for the Champions path is Ajax and PAOK, who were interestingly drawn together as the only two Champions path teams entering at this part of the preliminary stage.

In the League path, Porto will meet Russian side FC Krasnodar, and Belgian side Club Brugge takes on Ukranian giants Dynamo Kiev. Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir and Austrian club LASK are both forced to wait for solidified opponents, drawing winners from the PSV vs Basel and Olympiacos vs. Viktoria Plzen games.

Carlos Vela scored a celestial goal. We are blessed to have seen it

Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Carlos Vela is making all other spectacular individual MLS seasons look run of the mill.

I mean, look at the gumption on this guy.

[ VIDEO: Rooney sent off, Kamara scores golazo ]

The Cancun-born playmaker left the San Jose Earthquakes back line on the beach with a soft shoe routine to give LAFC its third goal in a 4-0 win on Thursday

Vela, 30, now has 25 goals and 11 assists in 25 league matches for LAFC this season. He added two goals and an assist in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play.

But this one, yeah, this one takes the cake.

First, there’s Vela’s non-chalant dummy before picking up the pass.

Then, there’s Florian Jungwirth’s body language during and after his being cooked with a nutmeg. That’s an entire mood.

Next, Vela dribbles around the keeper and allows a slide tackler so glide past him before finishing with aplomb, the magic touch his going near post as if to say, “Can I beat this guy a second time, or do I have to use the easier route?”

Diego Rossi also had a goal and an assist, while Mark-Anthony Kaye continued his strong season with an assist to ex-Fiorentina prospect Joshua Perez. It’s a first MLS goal for the California-born Perez, now 21.

WATCH: Rooney sees red for forearm shiver, Kamara scores golazo

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Midweek MLS provided plenty to talk about on Wednesday, with two red cards and a golazo in one match alone.

The two main talking points from the New York Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over DC United weren’t really part of what led the victors to three points.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

How? Well, one of the world’s marquee names earned a red card via VAR and a returning star scores an absolute stunner, that’s how.

Here’s Ola Kamara’s debut marker for the Black-and-Red, adding to a record which included 49 goals in 97 matches between Columbus and the LA Galaxy before moving to the Chinese Super League for a wildly disappointing time with Shenzhen FC.

All of that is forgotten.

As for the Rooney incident, the Red Bulls already led 1-0 when DC’s star striker went forearm shiver on Cristian Casseres Jr.

It’s the second red of the season for Rooney, who is set for Derby County in January.

Amro Tarek was later sent off for the Red Bulls, who moved ahead of DC in the standings. Kaku and Daniel Royer had RBNY’s goals.

Newcastle takeover could be back on if in holiday relegation battle

Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

How much do Newcastle United supporters dislike their owner Mike Ashley right now?

Enough that this report is likely to condemn many to hoping their favorite club in the world is in the Bottom 3 come Christmas.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas speculates that Ashley will lower his asking price for the club if it is in a relegation fight come December — something that looks certain after the Steve Bruce-led Magpies got bossed around by promoted Norwich City.

Nothing But Newcastle transcribed Douglas’ chatter from his podcast, in which he says,

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear more in December because there are still people sniffing around that football club and if the team are in the bottom three, there’ll be people thinking they can get a bargain out of Mike Ashley again. … He will probably more open to listening to lower offers in January and December which is what happened last December. He was basically saying ‘take it off my hands, you now have to take the risk’'”

This is notable for two reasons. First: the social experiment of wondering how many fans could see themselves rooting for their team to take a major and perilous back step just to see the back of a man they perceive is at the root of their failures (and that perception is widespread in this case).

But second, we can see if this rumor comes true because it’s difficult to imagine Newcastle as comfortably mid table by Christmas.

Fan protests and anger are nothing new, but here’s an effort to show how wobbly Ashley’s reputation is on Tyneside: Fans have taken to selling a black and white striped shirt with player name and number but no sponsor just so they can have a Newcastle jersey that doesn’t put money into Ashley’s pockets. And this is after he broke the club’s transfer record twice in one year.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few seasons, though, it’s that boycotts and anger will spur Ashley into insisting that he’s willing to sell and just conveniently enough it will be before the January transfer window. He “won’t be able to buy any players” with the takeover in play, and talks will hit a wall come late January, when they’ll loan a couple young players from Top Six sides.

Yes he spent significant money on Joelinton, Allen Saint-Maximin, and others this summer, but one decent window doesn’t make a culture. Count us amongst the skeptical, for now.

Messi back in training, could be fit for Betis

Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi was back in full training again on Wednesday and may be fit to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been training separately from the squad since injuring his right calf in the preseason.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener on Friday.

Barcelona has not said how long it expects Messi to be sidelined.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also dealing with injuries to forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Dembele is certain to miss Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou because of a left thigh injury that should keep him out for about five weeks.

Suarez also isn’t likely to play this weekend because of a muscle injury sustained before halftime of Friday’s game in Bilbao.

Two-time defending champion Barcelona hadn’t loss a league opener in 10 seasons.

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