The Soccer Report

Club action halts for international break; Dynamo see playoff hopes end in Seattle

Club action halts for international break; Dynamo see playoff hopes end in Seattle
Paul Pogba and Manchester United put a stop to a four-match winless streak with a 3-2 comeback win over Newcastle. Courtesy of Addidas

The second international break following the 2018 FIFA World Cup is upon us and nations continue their work towards Qatar 2022. The week of international competition also signifies a break in most top division club competitions. To recap all the action, here is this week’s soccer report.

English Premier League

Things were started looking bleak for Manchester United after conceding two goals at Newcastle in the first 10 minutes of their match. Despite the circling drama around the Red Devils and Manager Jose Mourinho, United were able to rebound at home to a 3-2 win. Arsenal, who recently signed a $321 million deal to switch from Pumas to adidas next season, defeated London rivals Fulham 5-1 at their place. Chelsea picked up a 3-0 win at Southampton while Tottenham won 1-0 at Cardiff City. Brighton, Wolves, Bournemouth and Everton also picked up three points. A standstill 0-0 draw between Liverpool and Manchester City capped off the weekend to set up a three-way tie atop the standings.

Top six: 1. Manchester City (20), 2. Chelsea (20), 3. Liverpool (20), 4. Arsenal (18), 5. Tottenham (18), 6. Bournemouth (16)

Scoring leader: 7 - Eden Hazard (Chelsea FC)

Assists leader(s): Six players tied with 4 assists

Spain’s La Liga

It’s a new day in La Liga, at least temporarily, as Sevilla has climbed to the top of the mountain with a 2-1 win over Celta de Vigo. The move was helped by Barcelona’s being held to a 1-1 draw at Valencia. Atletico Madrid, third on goal differential, equaled the defending champions on points with a 1-0 win over Real Betis. Real Madrid drop down to fourth and were the talk of the weekend after being upset 1-0 late by Alaves.

Top six: 1. Sevilla (16), 2. Barcelona (15), 3. Atletico Madrid (15), 4. Real Madrid (14), 5. Espanyol (14), 6. Alaves (14)

Scoring leader: 8 - Cristhian Stuani (Girona)

Assists leader(s): Five players tied with 4 assists

German Bundesliga

At least for seven weeks in, Dortmund has taken a big step towards dreaming of a Bundesliga title. The Black and Yellow collected their fifth win of the year and sit at the top with a three point cushion from second place RB Leipzig. The biggest surprise is the fall of defending champion Bayern Munich, who sit in sixth place after a 3-0 loss versus Borussia Monchengladbach. In news related to the U.S. Men’s national team, Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic and Schalke’s Weston McKennie will miss out on the latest international friendlies due to injuries.

Top six: 1. Dortmund (17), 2.  RB Leipzig (14), 3. Monchengladbach  (14), 4. Werder Bremen (14), 5. Hertha Berlin (14), 6. Bayern Munich (13)

Scoring leader: 6 - Paco Alcacer (Dortmund)

Assists leader: 6 - Jadon Sancho (Dortmund)

Italian Serie A

Cristiano Ronaldo scored again in Serie A in a 2-0 Juventus win at Udinese. Second place Napoli is trying to get back into the title race with a 2-0 win over Sassuolo, but remains six points behind Juve. Inter Milan and Lazio both picked up wins to round out the top four in Italy. Other notable clubs include Roma in the top six and A.C. Milan in 10th place.

Top six: 1. Juventus (24), 2. Napoli (18), 3. Inter Milan (16), 4. Lazio (15), 5. Sampdoria (14), 6. Roma (14)

Scoring leader: 8 - Krzysztof Piątek (Genoa)

Assists leader(s): 4 - Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) / Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria)

French Ligue 1

Kylian Mbappe scored four goals - a poker - as PSG handed Lyon a 5-nil beatdown in Ligue 1. Lille picked up a 3-1 win over another top five side, St-Etienne, to keep pace in second place. Marseille also collected three points while Montpellier drew 1-1 at Guingamp. Monaco continues to disappoint with a 1-2 loss at Rennes and the 18th place in the table.

Top six: 1. PSG (27), 2. Lille (19), 3. Marseille (16), 4. Montpellier (16), 5. St-Etienne (15), 6. Lyon (14)

Scoring leader: 8 - Kylian Mbappé (PSG), Neymar (PSG)

Assists leader: 5 - Dimitri Payet (Marseille)

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Major League Soccer

The Philadelphia Union and expansion club Los Angeles FC were the latest teams to clinch a spot in the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs. The Montreal Impact did themselves a big favor by winning 3-0 at Columbus, keeping pace for the last playoff spot in front of surging D.C. United. Speaking of D.C., Wayne Rooney continues to inspire United with a 2-1 win at home against Chicago Fire. Zlatan Ibrahimovic also continues to inspire his own side, LA Galaxy as they tied 1-1 at Sporting Kansas City to keep playoff hopes alive. Portland won 4-1 at Real Salt Lake in two West teams shooting for the playoffs, complicating things for RSL.

The Houston Dynamo joined the list of eliminated teams on Monday night in a 4-1 loss at Seattle Sounders FC. With the result, the Dynamo will miss out on the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons. DaMarcus Beasley scored the only goal for Houston, his first of the year, and what could’ve been his last for the club depending what happens the rest of the year.

East top six: 1. Atlanta United (66), 2. NY Red Bulls (65), 3. NYC FC (53), 4. Philadelphia (50), 5. Columbus (48), 6. Montreal (43).

West top six: 1. FC Dallas (57), 2. Sporting KC (53), 3. LAFC (53), 4. Portland (51), 5. Seattle (50), 6. Real Salt Lake (46).

Scoring leader: 30 - Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)

Assists leader: 17 - Borek Dockal (Philadelphia Union)

Liga MX

Cruz Azul continues their stay at the top of Mexican soccer with a 2-1 win over Monterrey. Mexico City rivals are not far behind, in second after a 3-2 win at Tigres UANL. Defending champions Santos Laguna are third with a 3-1 win over Atlas. With five matches to go in the race to the Apertura 2018 playoffs, the race heats up with only five points separating 16th place Lobos BUAP from the top eight.

Top eight: 1. Cruz Azul (26), 2. Club America (24), 3. Santos Laguna (24), 4. Pumas UNAM (22), 5. Toluca (22), 6. Toluca (19), 7. Monterrey (20), 8. Tigres UANL (18)

Scoring leader(s): 9 - Julio Furch (Santos Laguna) / André-Pierre Gignac (Tigres)

Assists leader: 6 - Dorlan Pabon (Monterrey)

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UEFA Champions League

The second matchday of Europe’s prime competition took place at the start of last week. Top clubs like Barcelona and Juventus begin to solidify their place at the top of their groups while other giants are seeing signs of struggle. PSG picked up an empathic 6-1 win over Red Star Belgrade while Napoli had an impressive 1-0 win vs. Liverpool to take the top of Group C. Bayern Munich had a rare 1-1 draw at home while Manchester United also struggled in a 0-0 draw with Valencia, but the biggest surprise came as defending champion Real Madrid lost 0-1 at CSKA Moscow.

Group A: Dortmund (6), Atletico Madrid (6), Club Brugge (0), Monaco (0)

Group B: Barcelona (6), Inter Milan (6), Tottenham (0), PSV (0)

Group C: Napoli (4), Liverpool (3), PSG (3), Red Star Belgrade (1)

Group D: Porto (4), Schalke 04 (4), Galatasaray (3), Lokomotiv Moscow (0)

Group E: Ajax (4), Bayern Munich (4), Benfica (3), AEK Athens (0)

Group F: Lyon (4), Manchester City (3), Shakhtar Donetsk (2), Hoffenheim (1)

Group G: CSKA Moscow (4), Real Madrid (3), Roma (3), Plzeň (1)

Group H: Juventus (6), Manchester United (4), Valencia (1), Young Boys (0)

UEFA Europa League

As with the Champions League, the teams with more talent begin to distance themselves in Europe’s secondary competition. Premier League sides Arsenal and Chelsea stay undefeated while historic sides like Milan and Rangers also picked up three points. Scottish giant Celtic lost 1-3 at Red Bull Salzburg while Spanish leader Sevilla lost 1-2 at Russian side Krasnodar.

Group A: Bayer Leverkusen (6), FC Zurich (6), Ludogorets (0), AEK Larnaca (0)

Group B: Red Bull Salzburg (6), RB Leipzig (3), Celtic (3), Rosenborg (0)

Group C: Zenit (4), Copenhagen (4), Slavia Praha (3), Bordeaux (0)

Group D: Dinamo Zagreb (6), Fenerbahce (3), Spartak Trnava (3), Anderlecht (0)

Group E: Arsenal (6), Sporting CP (6), Vorskla (0), Qarabag FK (0)

Group F: A.C. Milan (6), Real Betis (4), Olympiacos (1), Dudelange (0)

Group G: Rangers (4), Rapid Wien (3), Villarreal (2), Spartak Moscow (1)

Group H: Eintracht Frankfurt (6), Lazio (3), Marseille (1), Apollon Limassol (1)

Group I: Sarpsborg (3), Genk (3), Besiktas (3), Malmo (3)

Group J: FC Krasnodar (6), Sevilla (3), Standard Liege (3), Akhisar (0)

Group K: Astana (4), Rennes (3), Dynamo Kiev (2), Jablonec (1)

Group L: Chelsea (6), PAOK (3), BATE (3), Videoton (0)

Copa Libertadores

The semi finals are set in the 59th edition the top international competition for South American clubs. In a battle of Argentine powerhouses, River Plate got the better of Independiente in a 3-1 home win - winning the series by the same scoreline after a scoreless draw in the first leg. Brazilian side Gremio defeated Atletico Tucuman 4-0 (6-0 agg.). Palmeiras assured Brazil a second representative in the semis with a 4-0 win (6-0 agg.) over Chilean side Colo-Colo. In the last quarterfinal, Boca Juniors defended their first leg win with a 1-1 draw at Cruzeiro, advancing 3-1 on aggregate.

Semifinals:

Tuesday, October 23 - River Plate vs. Gremio (first leg)

Wednesday, October 24 - Boca Juniors vs. Palmeiras (first leg)

Tuesday, October 30 - Gremio vs. River Plate (second leg)

Wednesday, October 31 - Palmeiras vs. Boca Juniors (second leg)

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2018 Concacaf Women's Championship

The wait continues to find out who will represent Concacaf (North America, Central America & the Caribbean) at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The two finalists, to be determined on Sunday, will gain automatic berths while the last place will be decided in the third place match on October 17th.

Only the United States women have assured themselves a spot in the semifinals as the three other teams await to be decided in the final group stage matches on Wednesday.

Group A: USA (6), Panama (3), Mexico (3), Trinidad and Tobago (0)

Group B: Canada (6), Costa Rica (3), Jamaica (3), Cuba (0)

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, October 9

8:30 p.m. - [Copa MX - Quarterfinal] Monterrey vs. Queretaro (FOX Deportes)

Wednesday, October 10

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

6:30 p.m. - [Concacaf Women's Championship] USA vs. Trinidad and Tobago (FS2)

Thursday, October 11

1 p.m. - [International Friendly] Iraq vs. Argentina (beIN SPORTS)

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

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

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

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

2:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Russia vs. Sweden (ESPNews)

6:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] United States vs. Colombia (FS1/Univision)

8:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] Mexico vs. Costa Rica (Univision)

Friday, October 12

5:35 a.m. - [International Friendly] Japan vs. Panama

6 a.m. - [International Friendly] South Korea vs. Uruguay

1 p.m. - [International Friendly] Saudi Arabia vs. Brazil (beIN SPORTS)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Croatia vs. England (ESPN2)

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

9 p.m. - [Major League Soccer] LAFC vs. Houston Dynamo (KUBE57)

Saturday, October 13

8 a.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Slovakia vs. Czech Republic (ESPNews)

11 a.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Norway vs. Slovenia (ESPN3)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Ireland vs. Denmark (ESPN3)

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

3:55 p.m. - [Major League Soccer] D.C. United vs. FC Dallas (Univision/Twitter)

Sunday, October 14

11 a.m. - [International Friendly] Scotland vs. Portugal (ESPN+)

11 a.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Russia vs. Turkey (ESPNews)

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

4 p.m. / 6 p.m. - [Concacaf Women's Championship] Semifinals (USA match on FS1)

Monday, October 15

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

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Nations League] Iceland vs. Switzerland (ESPN2)

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

Tuesday, October 16

12:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Brazil vs. Argentina (beIN SPORTS)

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

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

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

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

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

6:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] United States vs. Peru (ESPN2)

8:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] Mexico vs. Chile (Univision)

 

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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