MLS Cup playoffs begin Wednesday; tragedy strikes Leicester City

Wayne Rooney's D.C. United are one of the hottest teams entering the MLS Cup Playoffs. MLS/D.C. United

Cristiano Ronaldo is on the hottest start of any Juventus player in recent years while Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick for FC Barcelona in El Clasico. The playoff picture is set in MLS and the Copa Libertadores finalists will be decided this week. Here is the week in soccer:

English Premier League

The top six remain the same in the Premier League as Manchester City and Liverpool continue in the pole position for the title. City and Tottenham faced off in a fight of top five teams where a Riyad Mahrez goal was the difference. The 1-0 spectacle was marred by the football lines at Wembley that were left from Sunday’s NFL game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Arsenal, unbeaten in their last 12, saw their 11-match winning streak snapped by 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace. Liverpool won 4-1 vs. Cardiff City, Chelsea won 4-0 at Burnley and Bournemouth took a 3-0 win at Fulham to round out action for the top six. Manchester United, down in 8th place, added three points for themselves with a 2-1 win over Everton.

On Saturday, Leicester City drew 1-1 with West Ham United at the King Power Stadium. Unfortunately, the headlines came from the tragic death of five from a helicopter crash outside the stadium following the match. Among the casualties was Leicester City Owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who purchased the team for a reported reported £39 million ($50 million) in 2010 and helped the club win it’s first Premier League title with their 2015-16 cinderella season.

Top six: 1. Manchester City (26), 2. Liverpool (26), 3. Chelsea (24), 4. Arsenal (22), 5. Tottenham (21), 6. Bournemouth (20)

Scoring leader: 7 - Eden Hazard (Chelsea FC) / Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)

Assists leader: 5 - Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City FC) / Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth)

Spain’s La Liga

All eyes in Spain - and around the world - this weekend were on the 238th edition of El Clasico. FC Barcelona held on to the top of the table with a 5-1 home win over rivals Real Madrid. Uruguay’s Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick to carry Barcelona in the absence of Lionel Messi. Real Madrid, now winless in their last five league encounters, drop to ninth and will go with a new manager the rest of the way as Julen Lopetegui was relieved of that position on Monday.

Alaves, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid all picked up three points to keep pace with the defending champions at the top of the standings. Espanyol, in second last week, drop to fifth after a 1-1 draw at fellow top-six side Valladolid.

Top six: 1. Barcelona (21), 2. Alaves (20), 3. Sevilla (19), 4. Atletico Madrid (19), 5. Espanyol (18), 6. Valladolid (16)

Scoring leader: 8 - Cristhian Stuani (Girona) / Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo)

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

German Bundesliga

Dortmund entered the weekend with a six-match winning streak across all competitions, including a 4-0 win vs. Spain’s Atletico Madrid in the Champions League midweek. On Saturday, they were shown the breaks with a 2-2 draw against top-six side Hertha Berlin. In fact, Dortmund were just minutes away from taking the full three points before giving up a goal off a penalty in stoppage time. That score could prove to be a costly mistake as defending champion FC Bayern Munich have climbed the standings and are now only two points removed from first place. It was just a few weeks ago that Bayern were down in sixth place but their latest win, 2-1 at Mainz, has calmed the waters in Bavaria and put rivals Dortmund on notice.

Top six: 1. Dortmund (21), 2. Bayern Munich (19), 3. Monchengladbach (17), 4. Werder Bremen (17), 5. RB Leipzig (16), 6. Hertha Berlin (16)

Scoring leader: 7 - Paco Alcacer (Dortmund) / Luka Jović (Eintracht Frankfurt)

Assists leader: 6 - Jadon Sancho (Dortmund)

Italian Serie A

Cristiano Ronaldo scored two to save Juventus from an upset at 18th place Empoli. The champions were down a goal before CR7 converted a penalty in the 54th and secured the winner in the 70th minute. Meanwhile, in a battle of top five teams, Mauro Icardi had two of his own in a 3-0 Inter Milan win at Lazio. Napoli were held to a 1-1 draw vs. Roma and A.C. Milan jumps into the top five with a 3-2 win at Sampdoria.

Top six: 1. Juventus (28), 2. Inter Milan (22), 3. Napoli (22), 4. Lazio (18), 5. Milan (15), 6. Fiorentina (15)

Scoring leader: 9 - Krzysztof Piątek (Genoa)

Assists leader: 7 - Suso (A.C. Milan)

French Ligue 1

PSG remain perfect in league play as they collected their 11th win of the season with a 2-0 result at Marseille. The league’s top scorer Kylian Mbappé started off the bench after arriving late to the pre-match team meeting. The French phenom nonetheless went on to score the winning goal in the 65th minute. The loss drops Marseille down to fifth in the standings, allowing Lyon to move up to fourth place with their 2-1 win at Angers.

Top six: 1. PSG (33), 2. Lille (25), 3. Montpellier (22), 4. Lyon (20), 5. Marseille (19), 6. St-Etienne (17)

Scoring leader: 10 - Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

Assists leader: 6 - Angel Di Maria (PSG)


Major League Soccer

The final day of the regular season left plenty of talking points in MLS. Atlanta United failed to secure the top spot overall and was denied the opportunity to best Toronto FC’s 2017 record of most points in a single season by Toronto themselves in a 4-1 loss in Canada. That record of 69 points was broken, however, by the New York Red Bulls who picked up their third Supporters’ Shield title - securing homefield throughout the playoffs. New York City FC and Philadelphia faced off in a playoff preview as Philly’s 3-1 loss drops them to sixth, a result that will see them return to Yankee Stadium instead of opening at home for the first round of the postseason. As a result, D.C. United moves to fourth and secured a home playoff match to culminate the club’s revival with the arrival of Wayne Rooney. Columbus’ 3-2 win over Minnesota secured them the last playoff spot in the East.

The top of the table in the West was another story to follow as four teams were in play for the top two spots - and the bye to the next round that comes with it. Sporting Kansas City secured first in the West with a home win against LAFC, who themselves where playing for the same spot. FC Dallas was unable to move up back in the top two after a 2-1 upset at Colorado. By virtue of these results, Seattle became the biggest benefactor and jumped up to second with a home win over San Jose.

The biggest upset came with the Houston Dynamo’s 3-2 comeback win at LA Galaxy. LA were up 2-0 at halftime but were beaten in the second half with a double by the Dynamo’s Mauro Manotas. LA misses the postseason for the second consecutive season, the postseason misses out on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and an LA Derby in the first round and Real Salt Lake - who were out of action on “Decision Day” - take the last playoff spot in the West.

Final standings

East - 1. NY Red Bulls (71), 2. Atlanta United (69), 3. NYCFC (56), 4. D.C. United (51), 5. Columbus (51), 6. Philadelphia (50).

West - 1. Sporting KC (62), 2. Seattle (59), 3. LAFC (57), 4. FC Dallas (57), 5. Portland (54), 6. Real Salt Lake (49).

Scoring champion: 31 - Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)

Assists champion: 18 - Borek Dockal (Philadelphia Union)

Playoff Matchups

Knockout Round

(E3) New York City vs. (E6) Philadelphia Union

(E4) D.C. United vs. (E5) Columbus Crew

(W3) LAFC vs. (W6) Real Salt Lake

(W4) FC Dallas vs. (W5) Portland Timbers

Conference Semifinals 

(E1) New York Red Bulls vs. D.C., Columbus or Philadelphia

(E2) Atlanta United vs. NYCFC, D.C. or Columbus

(W1) Sporting KC vs. Dallas, Portland or RSL

(W2) Seattle Sounders vs. LAFC, Dallas or Portland

Liga MX

There was quite a bit of shuffling in the top eight in Mexico with less than a handful of matches before the playoffs begin. Club America and Cruz Azul faced off in a test of top three teams where the scoreless result benefited the former to stay at the top of the table. Santos Laguna’s 1-0 win over Monterrey helped them climb to second while Monterrey fell to six. Morelia’s 2-1 win at Guadalajara helped the “Monarchs” jump into the playoff picture to seventh place. Hanging around the playoff bubble are Pachuca, Queretaro and Puebla.

Top eight: 1. Club America (28), 2. Santos Laguna (28), 3. Cruz Azul (27), 4. Pumas UNAM (26), 5. Toluca (25), 6. Monterrey (23), 7. Morelia (22), 8. Tigres UANL (20)

Scoring leader(s): 11 - Julio Furch (Santos Laguna)

Assists leader: 7 - Dorlan Pabon (Monterrey)


UEFA Champions League

Borussia Dortmund, FC Barcelona, Porto and Juventus were the teams that took a stranglehold at the top of their groups and put themselves just a few steps away from advancing to the knockout stage. Dortmund demolished “defensive” Atletico with a 4-0 win while Barcelona won 2-0 over a tough Inter Milan side. Tottenham were held to a 2-2 draw at PSV as neither could take advantage of Inter’s defeat. In Group C, Liverpool went to the top with a 4-0 win and a 2-2 draw between PSG and Napoli. Ajax is giving Bayern a run for their money in Group E as both picked up three points this week. Manchester City and Real Madrid went top of their groups with wins while Juventus defeated Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford in the marquee match of the week.

Group A: Dortmund (9), Atletico Madrid (6), Monaco (1), Club Brugge (1)

Group B: Barcelona (9), Inter Milan (6), Tottenham (1), PSV (1)

Group C: Liverpool (6), Napoli (5), PSG (4), Red Star Belgrade (1)

Group D: Porto (7), Schalke 04 (5), Galatasaray (4), Lokomotiv Moscow (0)

Group E: Ajax (7), Bayern Munich (7), Benfica (3), AEK Athens (0)

Group F: Manchester City (6), Lyon (5), Hoffenheim (2), Shakhtar Donetsk (2)

Group G: Real Madrid (6), Roma (6), CSKA Moscow (4), Plzeň (1)

Group H: Juventus (9), Manchester United (4), Valencia (2), Young Boys (1)

UEFA Europa League

Not much surprise in Europa League as clubs like Arsenal, Sevilla and Chelsea continue to lead their groups with little trouble. Real Betis, leaders in Group F, are the biggest revelation with a 2-1 win at A.C. Milan. Rangers are faring well also, sharing the top of the group with Spain’s Villareal.

Group A: FC Zurich (9), Bayer Leverkusen (6), Ludogorets (1), AEK Larnaca (1)

Group B: Red Bull Salzburg (9), RB Leipzig (6), Celtic (3), Rosenborg (0)

Group C: Zenit (7), Slavia Praha (6), Copenhagen (4), Bordeaux (0)

Group D: Dinamo Zagreb (9), Fenerbahce (4), Spartak Trnava (3), Anderlecht (1)

Group E: Arsenal (9), Sporting CP (6), Vorskla (3), Qarabag FK (0)

Group F: Real Betis (7), A.C. Milan (6), Olympiacos (4), Dudelange (0)

Group G: Rangers (5), Villarreal (5), Rapid Wien (3), Spartak Moscow (2)

Group H: Eintracht Frankfurt (9), Lazio (6), Marseille (1), Apollon Limassol (1)

Group I: Genk (6), Malmo (4), Sarpsborg (4), Besiktas (3)

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

Group K: Astana (5), Dynamo Kiev (5), Rennes (3), Jablonec (2)

Group L: Chelsea (9), PAOK (3), Videoton (3), BATE (3)

Copa Libertadores

The semifinals in South America’s premier club championship is pitting two of the best from Argentina against two top Brazilian clubs. The dream match between hated Argentine rivals in the final may be put on hold. River Plate lost their home leg 1-0 against Gremio and will be without their Manager Marcelo Gallardo on the sideline for the return leg in Brazil due to suspension. Boca Juniors, 2-0 winners in their home leg against Palmeiras, will have the same problem as Manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto has also been served a suspension by the South American governing body, CONMEBOL. The second legs take place Tuesday and Wednesday to decide the finalists.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Wednesday, Oct. 31

12:30 p.m. - [German Cup] Dortmund vs. Union Berlin (ESPN Deportes)

2:30 p.m. - [Serie A] A.C. Milan vs. Genoa (ESPN+)

2:45 p.m. - [English League Cup] Arsenal vs. Blackpool (ESPN+)

2:45 p.m. - [English League Cup] Chelsea vs. Derby County (ESPN+)

2:45 p.m. - [English League Cup] West Ham vs. Tottenham (ESPN+)

2:45 p.m. - [German Cup] Monchengladbach vs. Leverkusen (ESPN3)

6 p.m. - [MLS Playoffs] New York City FC vs. Philadelphia Union (FS1)

7:45 p.m. -  [Copa Libertadores] Palmeiras vs. Boca Juniors (FOX Soccer Match Pass/Fanatiz)

8:30 p.m. - [MLS Playoffs] FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers (UniMás)

Thursday, Nov. 1

2:45 p.m. - [English League Cup] Manchester City vs. Fulham (ESPN+)

7 p.m. - [MLS Playoffs] D.C. United vs. Columbus Crew SC (FS1)

9:30 p.m. - [MLS Playoffs] LAFC vs. Real Salt Lake (ESPN2)

Friday, Nov. 2

8 p.m. - [Liga MX] Morelia vs. Tigres (Univision Deportes)

10 p.m. - [Liga MX] Puebla vs. Chivas (Univision Deportes)

10 p.m. - [Liga MX] Monterrey vs. Veracruz (FOX Deportes)

Saturday, Nov. 3

9 a.m. - [La Liga] Leganes vs. Atletico Madrid (beIN Sports)

7:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Bournemouth vs. Manchester United (NBC Sports)

9:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Bayern Munich vs. Freiburg (FS2/Univision Deportes)

10 a.m. - [Premier League] Cardiff vs. Leicester City (NBC Sports)

10:15 a.m. - [La Liga] Real Madrid vs. Valladolid (beIN Sports)

12:30 p.m. - [Premier League] Arsenal vs. Liverpool (NBC)

12:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Hertha Berlin vs. RB Leipzig (FS2/Univision Deportes)

2:30 p.m. - [Serie A] Juventus vs. Cagliari (ESPN+)

2:45 p.m. - [Premier League] Wolverhampton vs. Tottenham (CNBC)

2:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Rayo Vallecano vs. FC Barcelona (beIN Sports)

8 p.m. - [Liga MX] Club America vs. Toluca (Univision)

10 p.m. - [Liga MX] Lobos BUAP vs. Tijuana (Univision)

Sunday, Nov. 4 

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Monchengladbach vs. Dusseldorf (FS1)

9 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester City vs. Southampton (NBC Sports)

11 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Mainz vs. Werder Bremen (FS2/FOX Deportes)

11:30 a.m. - [La Liga] Real Sociedad vs. Sevilla (beIN Sports)

TBA - [MLS Playoffs] Check for listings

Monday, Nov. 5

2 p.m. - [Premier League] Huddersfield vs. Fulham (NBC Sports)


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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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