THE SOCCER REPORT

Soccer Recap: Champions League draw reveals Round of 16; MLS adds 30th team

Soccer Recap: Champions League draw reveals Round of 16; MLS adds 30th team
Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus got a favorable encounter in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. Photo: adidas

The week in soccer has left plenty to talk about in domestic and international news. Wednesday will feature some important matches as Mexico's Monterrey faces England's Liverpool in the FIFA Club World Cup and FC Barcelona host Real Madrid in the most notorious rivalry in the sport, "El Clasico."

Major League Soccer announces Charlotte as 30th franchise

Expansion is a recurring topic these days in MLS as more and more teams sign up to join the league. This time it's Dave Tepper, owner of the NFL's Carolina Panthers, who has ponied up a record $325 million expansion fee to join the largest first division league in the world (in terms of teams).

For the upcoming 2020 year, 26 teams will play in MLS - the league's 25th season. The league only had 12 teams total in 2006 when the Houston Dynamo debuted as the latest "expansion" side after relocating from San Jose. Twenty teams have joined the league since 2005.

UEFA Champions League Round of 16 pits Real Madrid vs. Man City

The Round of 16 matchups for the UEFA Champions League knockout stage are set. The glaring series is between Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid and Pep Guardiola's Manchester City. Both sides are contenders every year because of the unlimited cash behind their squads but the storyline is the bout between Madrid and the former Barcelona manager. It will also be the first time Zidane and Guardiola meet as managers, both icons of their respective Spanish clubs.

Atletico Madrid versus defending champions Liverpool and Chelsea versus Bayern are also enticing matchups. Defensive Atleti will have a tall task against the heavy metal offense of Liverpool, who will return to Atleti's Wanda Metropolitano stadium - the site of the 2019 UCL final where Liverpool lifted their 6th title. Chelsea and Bayern will have a similar feel as Frank Lampard returns to the site of Chelsea's 2012 Champions League triumph.

Juventus, Tottenham and Barcelona look to be winners of the draw with favorable matchups in the Round of 16. The knockout stage begins in February.

UEFA Europa League Round of 32 announced

The draw for the Europa League was also held on Monday in Switzerland. England's Manchester United and Arsenal plus Italy's Inter Milan are among the favorites to win it all and grab the coveted Champions League entry for the 2020-21 edition.

U.S. Soccer Players of the Year named

No surprise, Pulisic was named the best male player for U.S. Soccer.

Julie Ertz was named U.S. Soccer Women's Player of the Year given after her performance in last summer's FIFA Women's World Cup. Megan Rapinoe was named Sports Illustrated's 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. The entire U.S. Women's National Team was named TIME Magazine's Athlete of the Year.

FIFA Club World Cup

The end of the year tournament to determine the Club World Champion is underway in Qatar. Flamengo defeated Al-Hilal on Tuesday in the semifinals. The Copa Libertadores champions now await the winner of Wednesday's bout between European Champions Liverpool and Concacaf Champions Monterrey.

European Roundup

English Premier League

Top six: 1. Liverpool (49), 2. Leicester City (39), 3. Man City (35), 4. Chelsea (29), 5. Tottenham (26), 6. Man Utd (25)

Bottom three (relegation): 18. Southampton (15), 19. Norwich City (12), 20. Watford (9)

Scoring leader: 16 - Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)

Assists leader: 9 - Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)

Spanish La Liga

Top six: 1. FC Barcelona (35), 2. Real Madrid (35), 3. Sevilla (31), 4. Getafe (30), 5. Atletico Madrid (29), 6. Real Sociedad (28)

Bottom three: 18. Celta Vigo (14), 19. Leganes (10), 20. Espanyol (10)

Scoring leader: 12 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona) / Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

Assists leader: 6 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona) / Rodrigo (Valencia)

German Bundesliga

Updated after Tuesday, Dec. 17 results

Top six: 1. RB Leipzig (34), 2. Monchengladbach (31), 3. Dortmund (30), 4. Schalke 04 (28), 5. Bayern Munich (27), 6. Freiburg (25)

Bottom three: 16. Fortuna (12), 17. Cologne (11), 18. Paderborn (9)

Scoring leader: 18 - Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) / Timo Werner (RB Leipzig)

Assists leader: 10 - Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)

Italian Serie A

Updated after Tuesday, Dec. 17 results

Top six: 1. Inter Milan (39), 2. Juventus (39), 3. Lazio (36), 4. Roma (32), 5. Cagliari (29), 6. Atalanta (28)

Bottom three: 18. Brescia (13), 19. Genoa (11), 20. SPAL (7)

Scoring leader: 17 - Ciro Immobile (Lazio)

Assists leader: 11 - Luis Alberto (Lazio)


French Ligue 1

Top four: 1. PSG (42), 2. Marseille (35), 3. Lille (31), 4. Rennes (30)

Bottom three: 18. Metz (16), 19. Nimes (12), 20. Toulouse (12)

Scoring leader: 11 - Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco)

Assists leader: 7 - Islam Slimani (Monaco) / Yoann Court (Brest)

TV listings (All Times CT):

Wednesday, December 18

11:30 a.m. - [FIFA Club World Cup] Liverpool FC vs. CF Monterrey (FS2, FOX Deportes)

11:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hertha Berlin (FOX Soccer Plus, TUDN)

11:30 a.m. - [Dutch Cup] Telstar vs. Ajax (GolTV)

11:55 a.m. - [Serie A] Sampdoria vs. Juventus (ESPN+)

1:00 p.m. - [La Liga] FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid (beIN Sports)

1:45 p.m. - [English League Cup] Everton vs. Leicester City (ESPN+)

1:45 p.m. - [English League Cup] Oxford vs. Manchester City (ESPN+)

2:00 p.m. - [English League Cup] Manchester United vs. Colchester (ESPN+)

Friday, December 20

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Hoffenheim vs. Borussia Dortmund (FS2, TUDN)

2:00 p.m. - [La Liga] Eibar vs. Granada (beIN SPORTS en EspaΓ±ol)

Saturday, December 21

6:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Everton vs. Arsenal (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [FIFA Club World Cup Third Place] Liverpool/Monterrey vs. Al Hilal (FS2, FOX Deportes)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Bayern Munich vs. VfL Wolfsburg (FS1)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] RB Leipzig vs. Augsburg (TUDN)

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

9:00 a.m. - [La Liga] Barcelona vs. Alaves (beIN Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester City vs. Leicester City (NBC)

1:30 p.m. - [La Liga] Atletico Madrid vs. Osasuna (beIN SPORTS)

Sunday, December 22

6:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Watford vs. Manchester United (NBC Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Tottenham vs. Chelsea (NBC Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [FIFA Club World Cup Final] Liverpool/Monterrey winner vs. Flamengo (FS2, FOX Deportes)

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Are the Astros eyeing a massive trade? Composite Getty Image.

It's no secret, the Houston Astros are on a hot streak and have evened their record at 40-40 after winning seven straight games. But there's always room for improvement, and Astros GM Dana Brown has said repeatedly that the club will be buyers at the trade deadline.

Just this week, Astros insider Michael Schwab posted that Houston has interest in trading for Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., according to sources.

And Schwab has been right about these things before. He was the first to report that the Rangers were trading for Max Scherzer last season.

But this report made us wonder, should upgrading first base be the team's top priority? The club is down to four starting pitchers, and Mauricio Dubon has done a decent job at first since the departure of Jose Abreu.

Plus, dealing with the Blue Jays could get tricky, with former Astros GM James Click in Toronto's front office. We highly doubt he's looking to help the Astos after Jim Crane allegedly pushed him out the door after the 2022 World Series winning season.

And let's not forget, teams like the Yankees have deeper farm systems that could provide the Blue Jays with a bigger haul than Houston. The Astros at a minimum would likely have to trade away a quality prospect or two and player on the roster like Jake Meyers or Chas McCormick.

Oh, and we haven't even discussed the money. Guerrero Jr. is making about $20 million this year, and is under contract next season as well. A move like this would push the Astros over the second luxury tax threshold in all likelihood.

Pitching wins championships

The Astros currently have seven pitchers on the IL, and Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers aren't expected back for another month at the earliest. Justin Verlander is also dealing with a neck injury, with no timetable set for his return.

Not to mention, Spencer Arrighetti and Ronel Blanco have never thrown more than 125 innings in any professional season, according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome.

Which is why we wouldn't be surprised if the interest in Guerrero is a smoke screen, and the Astros are really focused on adding pitching. However, it is fun to imagine him in the middle of the Astros lineup.

Finally, it may be time to have a discussion about how quickly the Astros are bringing pitchers back from injury. Dana Brown has admitted they may have rushed JP France back a little too soon. He, too, is done for the season and expected to have shoulder surgery next week.

This leads us to question if the season-ending injuries to Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy could have been prevented.

Be sure to watch the video above as we break it all down!

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold β€˜Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and Charlie Pallilo 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. And be on the lookout for bonus episodes on Thursdays!


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