Star Struck

Alberth Elis plays second half as MLS All-Stars fall to Juventus on penalties

Alberth Elis represented the Dynamo in the MLS All-Star Game. Jesus Zamorano/Houston Dynamo

Atlanta set another Major League Soccer attendance record as 72,317 fans saw the MLS All-Stars and Italian champions Juventus play to a 1-1 draw (5-3 Juventus win on penalties) at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday.

The Bayou City was represented on the field by the Houston Dynamo’s Alberth Elis, who played the second half in its entirety. He became the second forward after Brian Ching to take part in the event as a member of the Dynamo.

“It's something I will not forget,” said Elis. “It’s wonderful to be here and one always works to be at these kind of events. I’m always going to keep working and trying to get better.”

The 22-year-old Honduran had three scoring opportunities, with his clearest one coming immediately after halftime. The speedy winger attempted to pounce on a pass from reigning league MVP Diego Valeri but was denied by Juventus’ backup goalkeeper Mattia Perin.

Elis was persistent in his attempts throughout the second half by applying pressure on defenders and attempting the nifty moves he displays on gamedays at BBVA Compass Stadium. 

Raising the flag for Honduras

Elis is the first Honduran player to receive All-Star honors since Roger Espinoza and Marvin Chavez in 2012 and only the third player from his country to don the All-Star jersey – the others being Alex Pineda Chacon in 2001 and the 2004 MLS All-Star Game MVP Amado Guevara.

The San Pedro Sula native has represented his nation since 2013 at the youth level, including a 4th place finish at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Five of his seven goals with the senior national team came in qualification games for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

“Very happy to be able to represent Honduras and my team,” said Elis. “Many thanks always for the support I receive from Honduras and everywhere where there’s Hondurans. I appreciate it with all my heart and I always hope to represent the country in the best way possible.”

In awe of the Atlanta support

This year’s attendance surpassed the 70,728 figure from the 2010 MLS All-Star Game that took place at Houston’s NRG Stadium to become the new standalone record for the event – the 1996 edition drew 78,416 but was part of a doubleheader featuring the Brazilian national team. It also became the second-largest attendance for any All-Star game in North America behind the 2010 NBA All-Star Game.

The match featured high-profile guests like singer Ashanti, rappers T-Pain and Waka Flocka Flame, former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White, wrestler “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Falcons/Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank. 

Of course, none of this comes as a surprise for those that follow MLS and have witnessed the second-year club skyrocket to take all top five spots in the league’s all-time individual game attendance list. 

The first time All-Star was able to experience that homefield advantage and was impressed by the support for soccer in the heart of SEC football territory.

“The truth is that the fans here are very different,” said Elis. “They get a lot into the game. I think it’s very nice, motivating for one as a player.”

Atlanta United leads the league in average attendance this season with 51,799 through 12 home games, just over 11,000 ahead of second-place Seattle who have hosted two less matches. The Houston Dynamo, in comparison, rank 17th in the 23-team league with a 17,236 average through 11 home games.

Eyes towards the playoffs and a trophy

Despite not coming away with the victory, the Dynamo’s top player looked rejuvenated by the experience and expressed joy in being able to take part in the event. He also clarified no hard feelings towards Dynamo Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera’s preference to not see him take part in the match.

“It’s normal,” responded Elis. “The team is going through a good spell and we know every player will be needed so the concern is normal.”

La Panterita (little panther) has scored 19 goals and 12 assists in regular season play through his two seasons with the Dynamo. He will be a key part of the team’s playoff hopes.

Four points separate the Dynamo from the playoffs and they’ll hope to make up that ground in the standings with three of their next four league matches at home, beginning with rival Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. They also have the added commitment of hosting the semifinal of the U.S. Open Cup next Wednesday - with hopes to win out and lift their first major trophy since their 2007 MLS Cup title.

“We know it won’t be easy,” said Elis. “We’re fighting for the cup as well. Next Wednesday we have the semifinal and we hope to go through, to the final, and look for the championship as well.”

Follow on Twitter: @victoraraiza

Carlos Tevez has challenged his Boca Juniors teammates to keep their heads up after drawing 2-2 with rivals River Plate in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores Final. Nike, Inc.

Manchester City, FC Barcelona, Dortmund, Juventus and PSG maintain leads in their respective leagues while the MLS Cup Playoffs is down to four teams. All eyes, however, were on South America as one of the fiercest rivalries reached new heights with the Copa Libertadores title on the line.

English Premier League

Matchday 12 in the Premier League provided close encounters with five of the 10 matches resulting in draws and three other results decided by one goal. In fact, the biggest margin of victory this week was by two and it included the top two sides in the standings - Manchester City and Liverpool.

The five stalemates where Southampton-Watford (1-1), Leicester City-Burnley (0-0), Huddersfield-West Ham (1-1), Chelsea-Everton (0-0) and Arsenal-Wolves (1-1). The biggest setbacks where obviously for Chelsea, who stay in third but see the gap widen from the title race, and Arsenal, who dropped to fifth and now saw Tottenham pass them by three points. Bournemouth stay in sixth but took a hit with a 1-2 loss at Newcastle. Watford and Manchester United have equaled Bournemouth with 20 points and Everton is one point behind at 9th place.

Mohamed Salah was influential in Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Fulham but Manchester City maintained first place in the standings with a 3-1 win over rivals United in the Manchester Derby.

Big news came down this Wednesday as last place Fulham announced Claudio Ranieri as their new manager. The Italian tactician led Leicester City on that Cinderella Premier League title run that later saw him named the The Best FIFA Men's Coach in 2016.

Off the field, the Premier League announced a new CEO, and their first top female executive, in Animal Planet chief Susanna Dinnage. The new PL chief will take over in January and will be tasked with the continuing global growth of the Premier League.

Top six: 1. Manchester City (32), 2. Liverpool (30), 3. Chelsea (28), 4. Tottenham (27), 5. Arsenal (24), 6. Bournemouth (20)

Scoring leader: 8 - Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Assists leader: 6 - Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth)

Spain’s La Liga

Don’t pencil in FC Barcelona as the champions just yet. The defending champions suffered a dramatic 3-4 loss to the visiting Real Betis and have been kept within range in the Spanish title race. Sevilla, with a 2-1 win over Espanyol, and Atletico Madrid, with a late 3-2 win over Athletic Bilbao, each picked up three points to pull within one of 1st place.

Real Madrid picked up their 4th straight win with a 4-2 victory at Celta Vigo, a result that influenced two managerial announcement. Real Madrid Manager Santiago Solari saw his interim tag removed and has assured himself the position with a contract lasting until June 2021. Celta Vigo, meanwhile, parted ways with Antonio Mohamed and announced Miguel Cardoso as their new manager.

La Liga will resume after the international break with a match of title implications as third place Atletico Madrid hosts FC Barcelona in the Spanish capital.

Top six: 1. Barcelona (24), 2. Sevilla (23), 3. Atletico Madrid (23), 4. Alaves (23), 5. Espanyol (21), 6. Real Madrid (20)

Scoring leader: 9 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona) / Luis Suarez (FC Barcelona)

Assists leader: 5 - Jony Rodriguez (Alaves) / Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

German Bundesliga

Borussia Dortmund are looking every bit the part of the champion after a 3-2 win over rivals Bayern Munich. The two were separated by four points and Bayern were looking to shorten that gap to one on their path to a 28th league title and their potential 7th consecutive title. Dortmund, the last champion before Bayern’s six-season stranglehold, now look like a potential threat to that dynasty.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga, Luka Jović had a brace in Frankfurt’s 3-0 win over Schalke 04 to take the top spot in the golden boot race. Monchengladbach and Leipzig also picked up three points apiece to take advantage of Bayern’s loss and move up the standings.

Top six: 1. Dortmund (27), 2. Monchengladbach (23), 3. RB Leipzig (22), 4. Eintracht Frankfurt (20), 5. Bayern Munich (20), 6. Hoffenheim (19)

Scoring leader: 9 - Luka Jović (Eintracht Frankfurt)

Assists leader: 6 - Jadon Sancho (Dortmund)
 

Italian Serie A

Cristiano Ronaldo continues to perform for Juventus by scoring in the marquee match at A.C. Milan. The 2-0 result keeps Juve in a somewhat comfortable lead as CR7 is now second in both goals and assists. Napoli kept pace with the leaders with a 2-1 win at Genoa while Inter Milan fall back to third with an embarrassing 1-4 loss at Atalanta. Lazio could not bring away the full three points at Sassuolo while Roma makes its way up the table with a 4-1 win vs. Sampdoria.

Top six: 1. Juventus (34), 2. Napoli (28), 3. Inter Milan (25), 4. Lazio (22), 5. Milan (21), 6. Roma (19)

Scoring leader: 9 - Krzysztof Piątek (Genoa)

Assists leader: 8 - Suso (A.C. Milan)

French Ligue 1

Another day, another win for Paris Saint-Germain. The defending champions are now on a thirteen match winning streak with a 4-0 win at Monaco. Lille drew 0-0 with Strasbourg and Montpelier lost 1-0 at Angers, stretching PSG’s lead even further. Lyon remains in the top four with a 4-2 win at Guingamp with St-Etienne and  Marseille picking up wins of their own to keep them in the picture for European competition next season.

Top six: 1. PSG (39), 2. Lille (26), 3. Montpellier (25), 4. Lyon (24), 5. St-Etienne (23), 6. Marseille (22)

Scoring leader: 11 - Emiliano Sala (Nantes) / Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

Assists leader: 6 - Angel Di Maria (PSG)

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Major League Soccer

We’re down to the last four in the MLS Cup Playoffs: New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United in the East, Sporting Kansas City and Portland Timbers in the West.

New York City FC could not extend their season after defeating Philadelphia Union in the knockout round and lost their series against Atlanta by 4-1 on aggregate. The main question with NYCFC is what will be their direction after failing to win any hardware with 2010 FIFA World Cup winner David Villa, who will reportedly part ways from the club this offseason. Columbus Crew are left with a similar question as they too are eliminated. The Crew took care of red hot D.C. United in the knockout stage but could not get past the mighty Red Bulls in the conference semifinals. With Crew Head Coach Gregg Berhalter reportedly the leading candidate to take over the U.S. national team, many wonder who will lead Columbus next year.

In the West, Los Angeles FC and FC Dallas could not translate successful seasons into lengthy playoff runs. Both teams were one-and-done against lower seeds Real Salt Lake and Portland Timbers, respectively. RSL gave West No. 1 seed Sporting KC a scare but ultimately could not get past a more complete team. The Timbers, on the other end, took Seattle Sounders FC to extra time in the second leg of the Western conference finals, eliminating their bitter rivals on penalties.

The playoffs now take a hiatus due to the international break and return on Nov. 25 with the start of the Conference finals. The two conference champions will meet in the MLS Cup Final, hosted at the higher seed, on Dec. 8.

Playoff Results:

Knockout Round 

(E3) New York City 3-1 (E6) Philadelphia Union

(E4) D.C. United 2-2 (2-3 pens) (E5) Columbus Crew

(W3) LAFC 2-3 (W6) Real Salt Lake

(W4) FC Dallas 1-2 (W5) Portland Timbers

Conference semifinals 

(E1) New York Red Bulls 3-1 agg. (E5) Columbus Crew

(E2) Atlanta United 4-1 agg. (E3) New York City

(W1) Sporting KC 5-3 agg. (W6) Real Salt Lake

(W2) Seattle Sounders 4-4 agg. (2-4 pens) (W5) Portland Timbers

Liga MX

The playoff picture is almost complete in Mexico with one matchday left in the Apertura 2018 tournament. The eight are essentially the same we’ve seen for a few weeks, with a bit of shuffling around from one through eight. Cruz Azul is back on top with a 2-1 win over Lobos BUAP while Santos and America drew 1-1 this past weekend. Pumas took advantage of the latter by moving up to third in the standings with a 1-0 win over Toluca. Frenchman Andre-Pierre Gignac scored four in a 6-1 Tigres win against Puebla to propel his side up to sixth. In the final playoff spot, Monarcas may have all but booked their spot with a 3-2 win over Tijuana. Pachuca and Queretaro, at 9th and 10th with 23 points each, are the only teams on the bubble with possibilities to crash the party.

With Liga MX taking a rest due to the FIFA international break, many teams use the opportunity to stay in action by touring in the United States. Tigres UANL and Pumas UNAM, two contenders for this season’s title, will face off on Saturday (2:00 p.m. kickoff) in Downtown Houston. Plenty of tickets are still available at BBVACompassStadium.com

Top eight: 1. Cruz Azul (33), 2. Club America (30), 3. Pumas UNAM (29), 4. Santos Laguna (29), 5. Monterrey (27), 6. Tigres UANL (26), 7. Toluca (26), 8. Morelia (25)
 

Scoring leader(s): 14 - André-Pierre Gignac (Tigres UANL)

Assists leader: 8 - Dorlan Pabon (Monterrey)

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UEFA Champions League

There’s never any shortage of things to talk about when it comes to the Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo made sure of that with a stunner of a goal against his former club Manchester United, and was then upstaged by the Red Devils as they took a 2-1 win in Turin, Italy. Red Star Belgrade defeated Liverpool in Sebia to throw a wrench in Group C, as if Napoli hadn’t done that already. In Group A, Atletico Madrid made up for their loss at Dortmund by winning their match against the German leaders, 2-0, in Madrid. Barcelona could not break down Inter Milan in Italy but retains the top spot after a 1-1 draw. Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Real Madrid all enjoyed comfortable wins and kept the top spots in their groups.

Group A: Dortmund (9), Atletico Madrid (9), Club Brugge (4), Monaco (1)

Group B: Barcelona (10), Inter Milan (7), Tottenham (4), PSV (1)

Group C: Napoli (6), Liverpool (6), PSG (5), Red Star Belgrade (4)

Group D: Porto (10), Schalke 04 (8), Galatasaray (4), Lokomotiv Moscow (0)

Group E: Bayern Munich (10), Ajax (8), Benfica (4), AEK Athens (0)

Group F: Manchester City (9), Lyon (6), Hoffenheim (3), Shakhtar Donetsk (2)

Group G: Real Madrid (9), Roma (9), CSKA Moscow (4), Plzeň (1)

Group H: Juventus (9), Manchester United (7), Valencia (5), Young Boys (1)

UEFA Europa League

Premier League clubs Arsenal and Chelsea continue to walk through the Europa League group stage, but other top clubs have found it difficult. A.C. Milan, for example, continues to be upstaged by Real Betis in Group F and Sevilla is finding it hard to take a stranglehold of Group J. Other hopefuls like Scottish clubs Celtic and Rangers remain in their respective group races but with little room for error.

Group A: Bayer Leverkusen (9), FC Zurich (9), Ludogorets (2), AEK Larnaca (2)

Group B: Red Bull Salzburg (12), RB Leipzig (6), Celtic (6), Rosenborg (0)

Group C: Zenit (8), Slavia Praha (7), Copenhagen (5), Bordeaux (1)

Group D: Dinamo Zagreb (12), Fenerbahce (7), Spartak Trnava (3), Anderlecht (1)

Group E: Arsenal (10), Sporting CP (7), Vorskla (3), Qarabag FK (3)

Group F: Real Betis (8), A.C. Milan (7), Olympiacos (7), Dudelange (0)

Group G: Villarreal (6), Spartak Moscow (5), Rangers (5), Rapid Wien (4)

Group H: Eintracht Frankfurt (12), Lazio (9), Marseille (1), Apollon Limassol (1)

Group I: Genk (7), Sarpsborg (5), Malmo (5), Besiktas (4)

Group J: FC Krasnodar (9), Sevilla (9), Standard Liege (6), Akhisar (0)

Group K: Astana (8), Dynamo Kiev (8), Rennes (3), Jablonec (2)

Group L: Chelsea (12), Videoton (6), PAOK (3), BATE (3)

Copa Libertadores

One of the most heated rivalries in all of soccer, with the South American championship on the line, kicked off this past weekend after weeks of anticipation. It took an extra day, as heavy rains and floods in the Buenos Aires region postponed the match from its original Saturday kickoff to Sunday afternoon. Once the first leg was underway, there was no denying the electricity as Boca Juniors took the lead with a 34th minute goal by their talisman in this edition of the Libertadores, Ramon Abila. The celebration was short lived by the home fans as River Plate’s Lucas Pratto tied the game on the ensuing kickoff. Boca were then forced to make an early change as Cristian Pavon had to leave the game due to injury. His replacement, Dario Benedetto, came off the bench and gave the home team the 2-1 lead just before halftime.

River Plate tied the match in the 61st minute thanks to a Carlos Izquierdoz own goal and the match would end in a 2-2 draw. Now, the animosity will grow back as the two teams prepare for the return leg across town on the 24th of this month. The winner will have everlasting bragging rights as this is not only the first time the historic rivals face off in a South American final but also the last in a home-and-home series - next season, the Libertadores switches to a neutral venue one match final.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Thursday, November 15

 

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Belgium vs. Iceland (ESPNews)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Croatia vs. Spain (ESPN+)

1:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Germany vs. Russia (ESPN+)

2 p.m. - [International Friendly] England vs. USA (ESPN2/UniMás)

Friday, November 16

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Wales vs. Denmark (ESPNews)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Netherlands vs. France (ESPN+/UniMás)

2 p.m. - [International Friendly] Brazil vs. Uruguay (beIN Sports)

6 p.m. - [International Friendly] Argentina vs. Mexico (UniMás/Univision Deportes)

6:15 p.m. - [International Friendly] Chile vs. Costa Rica (beIN Sports)

Saturday, November 17

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Italy vs. Portugal (ESPN+)

Sunday, November 18

8 a.m. - [UEFA Nations League] England vs. Croatia (ESPNews)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Switzerland vs. Belgium (ESPN+)

1:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Spain vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina (ESPN+)

Monday, November 19

12:30 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Iceland vs. Qatar (ESPN+)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Czech Republic vs. Slovakia (ESPNews)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Germany vs. Netherlands (ESPN+)

Tuesday, November 20

1:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] Brazil vs. Cameroon (beIN Sports)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Sweden vs. Russia (ESPNews)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Portugal vs. Poland (ESPN+)

1:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Italy vs. USA (FS1/UniMás)

2 p.m. - [International Friendly] France vs. Uruguay (ESPN+)

6 p.m. - [International Friendly] Argentina vs. Mexico (UniMás/Univision Deportes)

 

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