THE SOCCER REPORT

Premier League race awaits final weekend; Liga MX playoffs set

Chelsea secured a Champions League spot for next season while debuting their new kits. Courtesy: Nike, Inc.


UEFA Champions League

FC Barcelona and Ajax took wins in the first leg semi-final matches. Barcelona goes on the road to Liverpool, who will be without Mohamed Salah, while Ajax looks to close out Tottenham at home.

Semifinals - first leg results:

  • Tottenham 0-1 Ajax
  • FC Barcelona 3-0 Liverpool

UEFA Europa League

Arsenal took a good lead at home but must now close the deal in Spain to advance to the final. With the Premier League results over the weekend, Europa League may be Arsenal's last chance to qualify for next year's Champions League. With Chelsea, assuring themselves a spot in next year's UCL, their biggest motivation to continue strong in the Europa League is the chase for silverware.

Semifinals - first leg results:

  • Arsenal 3-1 Valencia
  • Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Chelsea

English Premier League

The Premier League title will come down to the final day of the season. Manchester City is in the pole position and will be crowned champions if they win. Liverpool need a win and a City draw/loss. Chelsea clinched a top four finish and a Champions League spot while Manchester United missed out on the latter and will have to settle for Europa League next season.

Top six: 1. Manchester City (92), 2. Liverpool (91), 3. Chelsea (71), 4. Tottenham (70), 5. Arsenal (67), 6. Manchester United (66)

Scoring leader: 22 - Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

Assists leader: 15 - Eden Hazard (Chelsea FC)

Spain's La Liga

Top six: 1. (C) - FC Barcelona (83), 2. Atlético Madrid (74), 3. Real Madrid (68), 4. Getafe (58), 5. Valencia (55), 6. Sevilla (55)

Scoring leader: 34 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

Assists leader: 13 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona) / Pablo Sarabia (Sevilla)

German Bundesliga

Bayern Munich are within reach of the Bundesliga title, needing only a win to clinch it in the penultimate matchday.

Top six: 1. Bayern Munich (74), 2. Dortmund (70), 3. RB Leipzig (65), 4. Eintracht Frankfurt (54), 5. Bayer Leverkusen (54), 6. Monchengladbach (52)

Scoring leader: 22 - Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

Assists leader: 14 - Jadon Sancho (Dortumund)

Italian Serie A

Top six: 1. (C) - Juventus (89), 2. Napoli (73), 3. Inter Milan (63), 4. Atalanta (62), 5. A.C. Milan (59), 6. Roma (59)

Scoring leader: 25 - Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria)

Assists leader: 10 - Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta) / Dries Mertens (Napoli)

French Ligue 1

Top six: 1. (C) - PSG (85), 2. Lille (69), 3. Lyon (63), 4. Saint-Étienne (62), 5. Montpellier (55), 6. Marseille (55)

Scoring leader: 30 - Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

Assists leader: 13 - Teji Savanier (Nimes)

Dutch Eredivisie

Top three: 1. Ajax (80), 2. PSV Eindhoven (80), 3. Feyenoord (62)

Belgian First Division A

Championship Round: 1. Genk (50), 2. Club Brugge (44), 3. Antwerp (38), 4. Standard Liege (36), 5. Anderlecht (30), 6. Gent (26)

Portuguese Primeira Liga

Top three: 1. Benfica (81), 2. Porto (79), 3. Sporting CP (73)

Scottish Premier League

Championship: 1. (C) Celtic (84), 2. Rangers (75), 3. Aberdeen (61)

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Concacaf Champions League

CF Monterrey Highlights vs. Tigres 2www.youtube.com

Monterrey finally lifted a title at their new stadium and it couldn't have come against a sweeter opponent. After winning the first leg 1-0 away, Monterrey tied 1-1 at home against city rivals Tigres to win the 2019 Concacaf Champions League.

Major League Soccer

East top seven: 1. Philadelphia (20), 2. D.C. United (20), 3. Montreal (17), 4. Toronto (16), 5. NYCFC (15), 6. Columbus (13), 7. Orlando (12)

West top seven: 1. LAFC (24), 2. LA Galaxy (22), 3. Houston (19), 4. Seattle (19), 5. FC Dallas (17), 6. Minnesota (15), 7. San Jose (11)

Scoring leader: 11 - Carlos Vela (LAFC)

Assists leader: 6 - Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC) / Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers) / Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders FC)

Liga MX

Top eight: 1. Leon (38), 2. Tigres UANL (34), 3. Monterrey (30), 4. Cruz Azul (29), 5. Pachuca (28), 6. Necaxa (26), 7. Club America (26), 8. Tijuana (25)

Scoring leader: 14 - Angel Mena (Leon)

Assists leader: 10 - Angel Mena (Leon)

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National Women's Soccer League

Standings: 1. North Carolina Courage (8), 2. Utah Royals (9), 3. Chicago Red Stars (5), 4. Portland Thorns (5), 5. Houston Dash (7), 6. Washington Spirit (4), 7. Seattle Reign (3), 8. Sky Blue FC (2), 9. Orlando Pride (1)

Scoring leader: 4 - Crystal Dunn (North Carolina)

Assists leader: 2 - Lynn Williams (North Carolina) / Meghan Klingenberg (Portland) / Yuki Nagasato (Chicago)

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Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, May 7

2:00p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Liverpool vs. FC Barcelona (TNT, Univision, Univision Deportes)

7:30 p.m. - [Copa Libertadores] River Plate vs. Internacional (beIN SPORTS)

Wednesday, May 8

2:00p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Ajax vs. Tottenham (TNT, Univision, Univision Deportes)

5:15 p.m. - [Copa Libertadores] Cruzeiro vs. Emelec (beIN SPORTS en Español)

6:00 p.m. - [MLS] Atlanta United vs. Toronto FC (ESPN+)

7:00 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Pachuca vs. Tigres UANL (Univision Deportes)

7:30 p.m. - [Copa Libertadores] Peñarol vs. Flamengo (beIN SPORTS)

9:00 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Tijuana vs. Leon (Univision Deportes)

Thursday, May 9

2:00p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Valencia vs. Arsenal (B/R Live, UniMas)

2:00p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Chelsea vs. Frankfurt (B/R Live, Univision Deportes)

7:00 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Necaxa vs. Monterrey (Univision Deportes)

7:30 p.m. - [Copa Libertadores] Boca Juniors vs. Atletico PR (beIN SPORTS)

9:00 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Club America vs. Cruz Azul (Univision Deportes)

Friday, May 10

9:00 p.m. - [MLS] Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. Portland Timbers (ESPN+)

Saturday, May 11

8:30 a.m. - [Budesliga] RB Leipzig vs. Bayern Munich (FOX, UniMas)

8:30 a.m. - [Budesliga] Dortmund vs. Dusseldorf (FS1, FOX Deportes)

1:00 p.m. - [MLS] FC Dallas vs. NY Red Bulls (Univision, Twitter)

2:30 p.m. - [NWSL] Utah Royals vs. Houston Dash (YahooSports.com)

7:00 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Tigres vs. Pachuca (Univision Deportes)

9:00 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Leon vs. Tijuana (Univision Deportes)

9:00 p.m. - [MLS] Seattle Sounders FC vs. Houston Dynamo (KUBE 57)

Sunday, May 12

9:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

9:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Liverpool vs. Wolves (NBC)

9:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Leicester City vs. Chelsea (CNBC)

9:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Tottenham vs. Everton (SyFy)

9:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Burnley vs. Arsenal (MSNBC)

9:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester United vs. Cardiff City (USA)

1:30 p.m. - [MLS] Atlanta United vs. Orlando City (ESPN)

6:00 p.m. - [MLS] D.C. United vs. Sporting KC (FS1)

6:00 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Club America vs. Cruz Azul (Univision Deportes)

8:00 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Leon vs. Necaxa (Univision Deportes)

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

Can't get enough Astros coverage?

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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