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Soccer Recap: New U.S. Soccer President, Donovan debuts in Liga MX and Aguero scores four

Soccer Recap: New U.S. Soccer President, Donovan debuts in Liga MX and Aguero scores four
Carlos Cordeiro was elected U.S. Soccer's 32nd President during the federation's Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Saturday in Orlando. U.S. Soccer/Wazee Digital

The UEFA Champions League returns on Tuesday and team's that will feature in the round of 16 did their best to arrive in their best form. South of the border, Landon Donovan officially exits retirement with his first minutes with Club Leon. This was the week in soccer:

English Premier League

The weekend in England started with the North London Derby, a 1-nil result for Tottenham that was decided by Harry Kane’s 49th minute goal. Kane extended his season tally to 23 goals but Mohamed Salah would not be left behind as he scored one himself - bringing his season total to 22 - in Liverpool’s 2-0 win at Southampton. Sergio Aguero decided he would also like a crack at the golden boot by bringing his season total to 21, thanks to his four goal performance in Manchester City’s 5-1 thrashing of Leicester City. Other notable goalscorers this weekend where Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who scored the game-winner in West Ham’s 2-0 win over Watford, and Matt Ritchie, responsible for Newcastle’s 1-0 win over Manchester United. American DeAndre Yedlin went full ninety at right back for Newcastle.

Everton, Swansea and Huddersfield where the other teams with wins this weekend. U.S. midfielder Danny Williams was on the bench for Huddersfield in a 4-1 win over Bournemouth. Another American benched this week was Geoff Cameron in Stoke City’s 1-1 draw with Brighton. Cameron joined Glenn Davis on Soccer Matters this week in an in-depth interview where he details his experience on the U.S. men’s national team that failed to qualify for this summer’s FIFA World Cup.

Top 5: Manchester City (72), Manchester United (56), Liverpool (54), Chelsea (53), Tottenham (52)

La Liga

FC Barcelona just won’t lose. The league leaders had a close call at home against Getafe this week but ultimately held on for a scoreless draw. With Atletico Madrid’s 1-0 win at Malaga, Barcelona’s lead shortens to seven - still a good bit but enough to make the league interesting. Valencia also won but they are too far back to challenge for the title. One point behind them are Real Madrid who beat Real Sociedad 5-2 with a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo. Villarreal was the one top five team that fell this week, 2-1 to relegation-threatened Alaves.

Top 5: FC Barcelona (59), Atletico Madrid (52), Valencia (43), Real Madrid (42), Villareal (37)

Bundesliga

Another week, another shift in spots two through five in the Bundesliga. Of course the top of the table is all but secured by Bayern Munich who rolls on with their ninth consecutive league win, a 2-1 result over Schalke 04. RB Leipzig goes back up to second with a 2-0 win over Augsburg and Batshuayi scores again for Dortmund to move them up to third. Eintracht, Hertha Berlin, Hannover 96, Hoffenheim, Stuttgart and Werder Bremen also picked up three points this week.

Top 5: Bayern Munich (56), RB Leipzig (38), Borussia Dortmund (37), Eintracht Frankfurt (34), Bayer Leverkusen (35)

Ligue 1

Paris Saint-Germain is another team in Europe that is riding their lead through the season. This week, an own goal is all they needed to pull out a 1-0 win over Toulouse. Second place Monaco won big, 4-0 in fact, over Angers while Marseille drew 2-2 with St. Ettiene. Nantes also drew, 2-2 against Lille, while Lyon  fell 2-0 to Rennes. Despite no goals this weekend, Edinson Cavani (21), Neymar (19) and Radamel Falcao (17) continue to lead the golden boot race while Neymar holds the lead in assists with 11 this season.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (65), Monaco (53), Marseille (52), Lyon (48), Nantes (38)

Serie A

A top five clash took place in Italy as Napoli made an example of Lazio in a 4-1 home win. Juventus, Inter Milan and Roma all picked up three points, dropping Lazio down to fifth in the table. Sampdoria (6th) and A.C. Milan (7th) also picked up wins to make the rest of the race more interesting. In Serie A, the top four advance to next year’s Champions League and the difference from third to ninth place is 12 points with 14 dates left to be played. There’s no doubt Italy has the most interesting race in all of Europe.

Top 5: Napoli (63), Juventus (62), Inter Milan (48), Roma (47), Lazio (46)

Liga MX

The separation is starting in the Liga MX standings and Pumas is proving to look like a playoff club. Pumas UNAM took a 2-1 win at Morelia while Club America took a 1-1 draw at Tigres UANL. The two Mexico City clubs are the only undefeated sides left and, rightfully so, are one and two in the standings. Monterrey lost their undefeated status at Toluca in a 2-1 loss that saw one of their marquee players, Aviles Hurtado, red carded. Santos Laguna jumped back into the top five after a 2-0 win over a Guadalajara team that continues to hang near the bottom of the table. Veracruz - the leader in the relegation table - lost 1-0 to Pachuca while two other clubs fighting off relegation faced off, with Lobos BUAP winning 3-1 over Atlas.

Landon Donovan made his Liga MX debut by playing in his first professional match in over a year. Donovan entered the game in the 83rd minute and almost picked up an assist as Leon held on to win 2-1 over Puebla. Fellow former MLS All-Star Erick Torres also debuted this week, entering the game in the 84th wn in Pumas’ win. In other scores, Queretaro won 2-0 at Tijuana and Necaxa won 2-0 at Cruz Azul. In U20 action, former Dynamo midfielder Christian Lucatero started and played 55 mins in a 1-0 loss at Cruz Azul U20.

On a side note, Leon announced the first date of their 2018 U.S. tour on Monday. They'll visit the San Jose Earthquakes - the club where Donovan won his first two MLS Cups - on March 24.

Top 5: Pumas UNAM (14), Club America (12), Monterrey (11), Santos (11), Morelia (10)

MLS Preseason

The start of the 2018 Major League Soccer season is only two weeks away, but the action begins next week for teams participating in the CONCACAF Champions League. FC Dallas faced two Central American opponents this week in an effort to better prepare themselves for Panamanian side Tauro FC, their opponent in the round of 16. FCD has also kept their reserves busy by facing them off against USL opposition. MLS Champions Toronto FC took a trip to Mexico City to face off against Club America (6-3 loss) and the Mexican Navy (2-0 loss). In Tennessee, Nashville SC (joining MLS in 2019 or 2020) played their first ever match in a 3-1 loss to Atlanta United.

Locally, the Houston Dynamo essentially had an off-week as it came to friendlies and held a intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday. Good news came midweek with the return of Romell Quioto to training after missing almost two weeks due to flu-like symptoms. The team arrived in Tucson on Monday ahead of their “spring training” in Arizona but before that, Alberth Elis was a special guest at the Rockets-Mavs game on Sunday night where he met James Harden and Chris Paul. The Dynamo will play friendlies on Wednesday and Saturday, both streamed online.

U.S. Soccer Election

It was a weekend of change as a new President of the United States Soccer Federation was elected over the weekend. Carlos Cordeiro, the federation’s former Vice President, gained the majority decision on the third round of voting. He becomes the first Hispanic president but his former ties to Sunil Gulati, who served as the federation’s president since 2006, left many fans feeling like it would be more of the same. Cordeiro is a former Goldman Sachs executive - namely with their Asia division - and is expected to soon name a new “general manager” type of role for the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams.

The federation on Monday announced three friendlies for this year, March 27 vs. Paraguay in Cary, North Carolina, June 2 at Ireland in Dublin and June 9 at France in Lyon.

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Feb. 13:

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

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Basel vs. Manchester City (FS2)

7 p.m. - [Liga MX] Atlas vs. Necaxa (UniMas/Univision Deportes)

8:30 p.m. - [Liga MX] Lobos BUAP vs. Tigres (Galavision)

8:45 p.m. - [Liga MX] Club America vs. Monarcas Morelia (UniMas/Univision Deportes)

Wednesday, Feb. 14:

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Real Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain (FS1/ESPN Deportes)

1:45 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Porto vs. Liverpool (FS2)

3 p.m. - [MLS Preseason] Portland Timbers vs. Houston Dynamo (HoustonDynamo.com/live)

7 p.m. - [Liga MX] Queretaro vs. Guadalajara (ESPN Deportes)

Thursday, Feb. 15:

10 a.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Astana vs. Sporting CP (FS2)

12 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Ostersund vs. Arsenal (FS2/ESPN Deportes)

2:05 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Copenhagen vs. Atletico Madrid (FS2/ESPN Deportes)

Friday, Feb. 16:

1:45 p.m. - [Ligue 1] Monaco vs. Dijon (beIN SPORTS)

2 p.m. - [FA Cup] Chelsea vs. Hull City (FS2)

2 p.m. - [La Liga] Girona vs. Leganes (beIN SPORTS en Español)

7 p.m. - [Liga MX] Monarcas Morelia vs. Lobos BUAP (Univision Deportes)

Saturday, Feb. 17:

6:30 a.m. - [FA Cup] Sheffield Wednesday vs. Swansea (FS1)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Wolfsburg vs. Bayern Munich (FS2/UniMas)

9:15 a.m. - [La Liga] Eibar vs. FC Barcelona (beIN SPORTS/beIN SPORTS en Español)

11:30 a.m. - [FA Cup] Huddersfield vs. Manchester United (FS2)

11:30 a.m. - [La Liga] Alaves vs. Deportivo (beIN SPORTS en Español)

1:45 p.m. - [Serie A] Genoa vs. Inter Milan (beIN SPORTS)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Malaga vs. Valencia (beIN SPORTS en Español)

4 p.m. - [MLS Preseason] Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew (beIN SPORTS)

5 p.m. - [Liga MX] Cruz Azul vs. Puebla (Univision)

6:30 p.m. - [MLS Preseason] Charleston Battery vs. Minnesota United (beIN SPORTS)

7 p.m. - [Liga MX] Tigres vs. Atlas (Univision)

7 p.m. - [Liga MX] Club Leon vs. Queretaro (ESPN Deportes)

7:15 p.m. - [MLS Preseason] Houston Dynamo vs. New York Red Bulls (HoustonDynamo.com/live)

7 p.m. - [Liga MX] Guadalajara vs. Pachuca (Univision)

9 p.m. - [Liga MX] Necaxa vs. Monterrey (ESPN Deportes)

Sunday, Feb. 18:

5:30 a.m. - [Serie A] Torino vs. Juventus (beIN SPORTS/beIN SPORTS en Español)

8 a.m. - [Serie A] Napoli vs. SPAL (beIN SPORTS)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Augsburg vs. Stuttgart (FS2)

9:15 a.m. - [La Liga] Atletico Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao (beIN SPORTS en Español)

10 a.m. - [FA Cup] Rochdale vs. Tottenham (FS1)

11 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Monchengladbach vs. Dortmund (FS2)

12 p.m. - [Liga MX] Toluca vs. Santos Laguna (Univision)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Real Betis vs. Real Madrid (beIN SPORTS/beIN SPORTS en Español)

6 p.m. - [Liga MX] Veracruz vs. Club America (Univision Deportes)

Monday, Feb. 19:

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Frankfurt vs. RB Leipzig (FS2)

1:55 p.m. - [FA Cup] Wigan vs. Manchester City (FS1)

 

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I 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.

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