SOCCER MATTERS

MLS All-Star match far from “meaningless” for Dynamo’s Elis

Alberth Elis has nine goals and eight assists in 21 league appearances with the Houston Dynamo this season. Houston Dynamo

Alberth Elis has made no secret of his ambitions to play in Europe and Wednesday night could provide him the one-way ticket he needs to get there. The 22-year-old Houston Dynamo goal scorer will team up with other top players in Major League Soccer to face European giant Juventus in front of 70,000 plus at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and millions around the world.

As it is any league, the MLS All-Star game is an exhibition match that serves more as a marketing event than a contributor to the on-field product. A few of the league’s coaches – including the coach of this year’s All-Star team – have expressed their discontent with where it falls in the schedule and some of the league’s biggest stars, like 19-year veteran Zlatan Ibrahimović, have chosen to forego appearing in the match.

For a young player like Elis, however, this platform could be his best opportunity to make the jump across the pond to play among the world’s elite. An opportunity he cannot afford to waste.

Working towards the spotlight

Getting to this stage has been anything but easy for the Dynamo’s Honduran playmaker – but there’s no doubt he’s earned it. Arriving in 2017 as a loan player, Elis made an immediate impact by scoring 10 goals to help the Dynamo to their best offensive year and scored the game-winner to give the club its first playoff win since 2013.

This year he has doubled down on the work ethic, resembling a younger version of fellow Houston resident J.J. Watt. Elis is all but assured to be named the team’s MVP, with 13 games still left on the schedule, and could end up on the short list for league MVP if the Dynamo make the playoffs. 

Given that the All-Star roster is announced in June, Elis had to make his case in the first half of the season. He opened the season by being a driving force in every Dynamo goal in a 4-0 win over Atlanta United – the same club who is hosting the All-Star game on Wednesday.

Atlanta Head Coach Gerardo Martino, known worldwide for his time as the manager of FC Barcelona and the Argentina national team, selected Elis to his first All-Star appearance as part of his coach’s picks. Surely the first impression helped but “La Panterita” (the little panther) made his case with his consistency, notching either a goal or assist in 10 of Houston’s first 12 games.

He is second in goals and assists for the team, with a good game or two separating him from the lead. He is also third in shots on target in MLS, a category he led for much of the season - all indicators that he is worthy of being amongst the league’s best.

“When I came to this league, it was one of the goals that I set, to try to always be among the best and thank God things are going well for me.”

-  Alberth Elis on his selection to the All-Star team

Dynamo not happy – but there’s a bigger picture

“As a coach, I do not want Alberth Elis to go to the All-Star game or it does not benefit me. Not because I don’t want Alberth Elis to shine. Alberth Elis is very happy, he should go and any player would want to go but the reality is that for Alberth Elis, it’s not beneficial to go. For the Houston Dynamo, it’s not good that he goes because our calendar – whoever made it wasn’t interested in the Houston Dynamo. So it’s a heavy schedule, we’re in plain summer and Elis would be playing eight matches in 25 days. That’s not good for Alberth Elis.

Dynamo Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera

If it were up to the Houston Dynamo, Elis wouldn’t be playing on Wednesday night. To be fair, that can be said of virtually any team around the league but MLS has made it a point to make sure their marquee players show up - or face a suspension for the following league game. 

The Dynamo simply can’t afford to have their best player miss out a game during the playoff race, and that’s understandable, but there’s a bigger picture to see here. Having a player on this stage brings an added media attention to the club and helps increase the brand in order to recruit future players.

Cabrera focuses heavily on the here-and-now but the Dynamo, under his tenure, have shown their limitations and are doomed to to be no more than a playoff participant without a larger budget. Given that the team is still playing catchup in the development department and the ownership group have yet to show the pocketbook to compete with the league’s big spenders, the biggest influx of cash short-term will have to come from profiting off the assets they currently have.

A move to Europe for Elis would benefit both the future of the player and the team. Unfortunately, there’s a short window for the team to profit on their reported $2.5 million investment in the Honduran – so time’s ticking.

Why it’s a can’t miss opportunity

“One as a forward always wants to score goals, this match is not going to be the exception… I hope to do well and represent my team and my country well.”

-  Alberth Elis on the 2018 MLS All-Star Game

The harsh truth is, the spotlight in MLS lies in markets like Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle, to name a few, because of what clubs in those cities have done to garner mainstream attention. The Dynamo have failed to draw the attention within their city – never mind, nationwide - despite being located in the country’s fourth largest city and a top ten media market.

Elis’ nationality also bears him a similar struggle on the international stage. Honduras was unsuccessful in qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia after being eliminated in a playoff against Australia. The World Cup would have put him in the eye of the storm this past summer with an opportunity to shine in front of major European scouts. 

So after grief in missing out on a childhood dream, Elis put Russia in the backburner and focused all his energy on the 2018 MLS season. If he impresses against Juventus, who have the eyes of the world on them after signing Cristiano Ronaldo this summer, I’d say Elis is as good as gone next year.

Given the Dynamo’s uncertainty in making the playoffs in 2018, this may be the biggest stage Elis gets until next summer and by then he’ll be a year older.

The 2018 MLS All-Star Game will air nationally tonight at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN (English) and UniMás (Spanish).

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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