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Soccer Recap - Chivas wins Concacaf, Barcelona clinch title ahead of El Clasico

Soccer Recap - Chivas wins Concacaf, Barcelona clinch title ahead of El Clasico
Club Deportivo Guadalajara held off Toronto FC to win the 2018 Concacaf Champions League last Wednesday. Victor Araiza/SportsMap

As the countdown to the 2018 FIFA World Cup continues (now at 44 days), most leagues across the globe are reaching the end of their calendar. The great matches don’t stop, however, as this coming week is packed with blockbusters - including the most heated rivalry in the game as FC Barcelona hosts Real Madrid.

Here is the week that was in soccer:

UEFA Champions League

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino had their way with the Roma defense as the trio guided Liverpool to a 5-2 first leg win at Anfield in the UCL semi finals. Salah led the way with two spectacular goals against his former club in a performance that increased the conversation for the Egyptian to win the Ballon d'Or. A 5-nil lead had LFC looking like they were all but through to the final before two late goals by Roma brought intrigue for the second leg. Roma need three goals at home - something they've done already in the previous round when they eliminated FC Barcelona.

In the other semifinal, another chapter was written in one of Europe's biggest rivalries. Real Madrid defeated Bayern Munich 2-1 at the Allianz Arena behind goals from Marcelo and 22-year-old Marco Asensio. Cristiano Ronaldo was influential in his teams win even if he did not show up on the scoresheet. The defending champions now head back to Madrid looking to go to the final and conquer their third consecutive European title. Joshua Kimmich got the lone goal for Bayern as the Bavarians hope to complete a comeback at the Bernabeu.

Premier League

West Brom, Stoke City and Southampton are all staring at relegation, although Swansea, Huddersfield and West Ham aren't far behind. West Brom and Southampton slightly helped their case with wins over Newcastle and Bournemouth respectively, while Stoke pulled a point against Liverpool. With only two matches on their schedule - one ahead of the other two - Stoke need to win out to stay in the Premier League.

At the top of the table, Chelsea continue to chase London rivals Tottenham to secure a Champions League spot, though it's hard to make up ground as Spurs continue to win. Liverpool remains in the pole position for the third UCL spot as second place Manchester United has already secured qualification.

Top 5: Manchester City* (93), Manchester United (77), Liverpool (72), Tottenham (71), Chelsea (66)

La Liga

FC Barcelona clinched their 25th La Liga title - their seventh in the past 10 seasons - as they demolished Deportivo La Coruña 4-2 away. Club legend Andres Iniesta announced his departure from the Catalan side would come at the end of the season. He initiated last week with that announcement and began this week with his final championship parade. Barcelona have yet to lose this season and have four matches left - including Sunday’s Clasico against Real Madrid - to finish as the only undefeated side in La Liga history.

Based off the same result, Deportivo were assured relegation to Spain’s second division. Las Palmas and Malaga also clinched relegation after not being able to survive the weekend. At the top of the table, Atletico Madrid and Real have secured themselves a Champions League spot for next season.

Top 5: FC Barcelona* (86), Atletico Madrid (75), Real Madrid (71), Valencia (67), Real Betis (59)

Bundesliga

Bayern Munich continued their winning streak going in a 4-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt while Schalke 04, Dortmund and Hoffenheim have assured themselves a spot in at least the Europa League next season. Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig both lost, taking hits to their Champions League qualification goals. Cologne lost 3-2 at Freiburg and are the first Bundesliga team to be relegated to the 2. Bundesliga.

Top 5: FC Bayern Munich* (81), Schalke 04 (57), Dortmund (55), Hoffenheim (52), Bayer Leverkusen (51)

Serie A

Last week, Napoli pulled in close to Juventus at the top of the table to make the title race interesting. This week, Napoli may have conceded the league. Juventus took care of their business by picking up three points in a 3-2 win at Inter Milan. Napoli, on their end, could not pull out a result on the road and lost 3-0 at Fiorentina. In the race for Champions League spots, Roma and Lazio both picked up three points to further solidify their positions at three and four. Atalanta and A.C. Milan both won to stay in sixth and seventh for the moment. Bevento drew 3-3 against Udinese but the result matters little for the one team that is already guaranteed to go down to the Serie B next season.

Top 5: Juventus (88), Napoli (84), Roma (70), Lazio (70), Inter Milan (66)

Ligue 1

Memphis Depay scored in Lyon’s 2-0 win over Nantes to pull his team into second place, jumping Monaco after their 0-0 draw with Amiens. The win pulls Lyon closer to a Champions League spot with three matches left to play. Along with Lyon, Monaco and Marseille are assured at least Europa League next season. Saint-Étienne jumped up to fifth with a 1-0 win at Montpellier. No team is officially relegated to Ligue 2 yet but Metz may clinch that harsh reality if they don’t garner a result this coming weekend. Lille and Troyes are also in position to descend but they have a bit more breathing room.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain* (91), Lyon (72), Monaco (71), Marseille (70), Saint-Étienne (52)

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Concacaf Champions League

After a 2-1 loss in the first leg at home, Toronto FC needed to bring out their full arsenal if they were to walk out of Guadalajara as winners of the Concacaf Champions League. Orbelin Pineda’s goal in the 18th minute put Chivas up 1-nil before Jozy Altidore would tie things up six minutes later. Sebastian Giovinco, named the player of the tournament, would place TFC in the lead right before halftime to even the score on aggregate. In the second half, missed opportunities cost both sides and - given that the rules don’t allow for extra time - it was straight to a penalty shootout to decide the champion. Missing none of their kicks to Toronto’s two, it was Chivas who would lift their first international title since 1962 and advance to the 2018 FIFA Club World Cup.

Champions: Club Deportivo Guadalajara, 4-2 on penalties (3-3 agg.)

Major League Soccer

The story of the week may be the final game of weekend as new club LAFC debuted at home with a 1-0 win over Seattle Sounders FC. Even for over ninety minutes, the home side got the winner in stoppage time to inaugurate the Banc of California Stadium. David Villa reached 400 career goals as he led New York City to a 3-1 home win over FC Dallas, and back to the top of the MLS standings. Among other notable results, LA Galaxy fell 2-3 at home to the New York Red Bulls. Both NY teams will meet this coming weekend in their first derby of the year.

The Houston Dynamo, meanwhile, could not build on a 5-1 win over a depleted Toronto FC the previous week. Taking on a Minnesota side that was missing at least three key players, Alberth Elis put the Dynamo up 1-0 in the 10th minute. Another of Minnesota’s top players, Christian Ramirez, would leave the game in the 30th minute but the home side would fight back behind the efforts of former Liga MX midfielder Darwin Quintero. The Loons would break a four-game losing skid with a 2-1 win over the Dynamo as Houston would drop points in their third away game this season.

East Top 6: NYCFC (20), Atlanta United (19), Orlando City (16), New England Revolution (14), Columbus Crew SC (14), NY Red Bulls (12)

West Top 6: Sporting KC (17), LAFC (15), Vancouver Whitecaps FC (13), FC Dallas (12), LA Galaxy (10), Real Salt Lake (10)

Liga MX

The playoffs are set for the Clausura 2018 season in Liga MX. Pumas UNAM and Monarcas Morelia assured themselves the last two spots by virtue of their results this weekend. Among the sides that just missed out were Pachuca and Landon Donovan’s Leon, who won 2-0 at Chivas. Cruz Azul won 2-1 at Veracruz but that was hardly a consolation prize for a disappointing season. Monterrey rivals Tigres and Rayados met in a 2-2 derby draw that was a rematch of last season’s final. Mexican legend Rafa Marquez played his final minutes as he ended his club career and awaits to learn if he will be going to the FIFA World Cup with Mexico at the age of 39. Lobos BUAP was the side that gets “relegated” but that is yet to be seen as neither of the second division champions meet Liga MX’s requirements to be a first division team, leaving uncertainty for the number of teams that will participate in the top-flight next season.

Top 8: Toluca (36), Club America (29), Monterrey (29), Santos Laguna (29), Tigres UANL (28), Tijuana (25), Pumas (24), Monarcas Morelia (24)

Playoff matchups: (1) Toluca vs. (8) Monarcas, (2) Club America vs. (7) Pumas UNAM, (3) Monterrey vs. (6) Tijuana, (4) Santos Laguna vs. (5) Tigres UANL

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National Women’s Soccer League

The Houston Dash fell 2-0 to North Carolina Courage at BBVA Compass Stadium in the Lifetime Game of the Week. The home side simply could not contain the best team of the league - and the only undefeated team left - as Kealia Ohai made her home debut this season. The Dash are now on a five-game winless streak to start the season in what is becoming a harsh test for first-year Manager Vera Pauw. Earlier in the week, it was revealed that Pauw’s assistant and former Boston Breakers Head Coach Lisa Cole had parted ways with the team a few weeks back. It appears former Dynamo Brian Ching is an assistant, at least for the moment.

Top 4: North Carolina Courage (16), Chicago Red Stars (9),  Portland Thorns (8), Seattle Reign (7)

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, May 1:

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich (FS1/FOX Deportes)

Wednesday, May 2:

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Roma vs. Liverpool (FS1/ESPN Deportes)

7:30 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Pumas vs. Club America (Univision Deportes)

9:30 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Tijuana vs. Monterrey (Univision Deportes)

Thursday, May 3:

2:05 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Atletico Madrid vs. Arsenal (FS1/ESPN Deportes)

2:05 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Salzburg vs. Marseille (FS2)

7:30 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Tigres UANL vs. Santos Laguna (Univision Deportes)

9:30 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Monarcas Morelia vs. Toluca (Univision Deportes)

Friday, May 4:

2 p.m. - [Premier League] Brighton vs. Manchester United (NBC Sports)

Saturday, May 5:

6:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Stoke City vs. Crystal Palace (NBC Sports)

9 a.m. - [Premier League] Bournemouth vs. Swansea (NBC Sports)

9 a.m. - [Premier League] West Brom vs. Tottenham (CNBC)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Everton vs. Southampton (NBC)

12:55 p.m. - [MLS] New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC (ESPN).

3 p.m. - [MLS] LAFC vs. FC Dallas (Univision/Twitter)

6 p.m. - [NWSL] Sky Blue FC vs. Houston Dash (go90/NWSLsoccer.com)

7 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Club America vs. Pumas (Univision Deportes)

7:30 p.m. - [MLS] Houston Dynamo vs. LA Galaxy (KUBE 57)

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

Sunday, May 6:

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

10:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Chelsea vs. Liverpool (NBC Sports)

10:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Arsenal vs. Burnley (CNBC)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid (beIN Sports)

12 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Toluca vs. Monarcas Morelia (Univision Deportes)

6 p.m. - [Liga MX Playoffs] Santos Laguna vs. Tigres UANL (Univision Deportes)

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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