On the pitch

Soccer weekly recap: Cristiano Ronaldo named “The Best,” Dynamo secure home field for playoffs opener

The Dynamo are back in the playoffs and will have a home game. Houston Dynamo

European competition takes a break this week as FIFA celebrated “The BEST” in London after an action-packed weekend. Here are the takeaways from the week in soccer:

The Best FIFA Football Awards 2017

The second edition of FIFA’s “The Best” award ceremony took place this past Monday in London. Cristiano Ronaldo was named the best male player for the second year in a row over Lionel Messi. Here is the complete list of winners:

Men’s Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

Women’s Player: Lieke Martens

Men’s Coach: Zinedine Zidane

Women’s Coach: Sarina Wiegman

Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon

Puskás Award: Olivier Giroud

Fan Award: Celtic supporters

Fair Play Award: Francis Kone

World11: Gianluigi Buffon; Dani Alves, Leonardo Bonucci, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Toni Kroos, Andres Iniesta, Luka Modric; Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar.

UEFA Champions League

The group stage reached the halfway point in Europe’s premier club competition. The biggest takeaway is that, for the moment, all five English teams lead their groups. Harry Kane forced an own goal and Cristiano Ronaldo tied things up in Tottenham’s 1-1 draw at Real Madrid. Manchester City scored two goals in the first 13 minutes to win 2-1 at home against Napoli, at the time the only perfect team out of one of Europe’s top league’s.

Wednesday’s matchups featured wins by Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United and Paris while Chelsea and Roma played to a thrilling 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge. Atletico Madrid made life difficult on themselves by tying 0-0 at Azerbaijan champion Qarabag.

UEFA Europa League

In Europa’s secondary competition, the scores that stand out are wins by Marseille, Zenit, Red Bull Salzburg, Real Sociedad, Lazio and Hoffenheim. Arsenal collected three points in Serbia against Red Star Belgrade on an 85th minute wonder goal by Olivier Giroud to extend their comfortable lead in the group. AC Milan still lead their group despite a 0-0 draw at home against AEK Athens. Everton remains in the bottom of their group, with only one point, after a 2-1 loss at French club Lyon.

Premier League

Chelsea, Manchester City and Newcastle all took care of business by collecting three points. Manchester United, however, were upset 2-1 at newly-promoted Huddersfield Town, managed by former United States national team forward David Wagner. After firing their manager Craig Shakespeare, Leicester City bounced back with a 2-1 win at Swansea. Everton’s downward spiral continued with a 5-2 loss at home against Arsenal and Tottenham demolished Liverpool 4-1 at Wembley.

Top 5: Manchester City (25), Manchester United (20), Tottenham (20), Chelsea (16), Arsenal (16)

La Liga

Everything was business as usual in Spain this weekend as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico collected three points. Real Betis, Valencia and Villarreal also picked up three themselves as did Leganes over Athletic Bilbao.

These results lead to the top 5 to look like this: Barcelona (25), Valencia (21), Real Madrid (20), Atletico Madrid (19) and Leganes (17).

Bundesliga

In Germany, things are getting interesting at the top as Dortmund dropped points by drawing 2-2 at Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayern Munich earned a 1-0 win at Hamburg. Leipzig and Schalke also earned wins as Hoffenheim drew at Wolfsburg.

The top 5 in Germany: Dortmund (20), Bayern Munich (20), RB Leipzig (19), Hoffenheim (16), Schalke 04 (16).

Ligue 1

PSG remain at the top of the table but not without some drama as Neymar was ejected from his first match in Ligue 1 in the 2-2 draw at Marseille. Monaco got right with a 2-0 win over Caen and Lyon got a 5-0 win at Troyes.

The top 5 in France: Paris Saint-Germain (26), Monaco (22), Nantes (20), Lyon (19), Marseille (18)

Serie A

The weekend in Italy began on Friday with a matchup of the two top teams in the standings. Napoli hosted Inter Milan to a 0-0 draw at home, a result that ends their perfect run to start the season. Roma got a 1-0 win at Torino, Juventus demolished Udinese 6-2 on the road and AC Milan continued their winless form with a 0-0 draw vs. Genoa.

The top 5: Napoli (25), Inter Milan (23), Juventus (22), Lazio (22), Roma (18)

Major League Soccer

Decision Day, what has become an annual tradition in MLS, took place as all 22 teams took place in 11 simultaneous matches. One playoff berth was on the line and playoff positioning was at stake. The Houston Dynamo were big winners, 3-0 over Chicago Fire, as a Sporting Kansas City loss allowed them to move up to 4th place and will now host SKC in the one-off playoff match Thursday. The biggest loser was FC Dallas, who’s last minute effort at the playoffs was done in by San Jose’s stoppage time goal against Minnesota. By the way, expansion side Atlanta United broke their own record by once again setting an MLS record in attendance as 71,874 packed the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday.

The MLS Cup Playoffs begin Wednesday and Thursday, with the winners advancing to take on the top two teams in each conference.

Knockout matches: Chicago vs. NY Red Bulls, Vancouver vs. San Jose, Atlanta vs. Columbus, Houston vs. Kansas City (TV listings below)

First round byes: Toronto FC, New York City FC, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders FC

MVP of the Week - Sebastian Giovinco

The “Atomic Ant,” dubbed that because of his 5’4 stature, continues to dazzle Major League Soccer as he rose to the occasion once again in front of the 71,874 record-breaking crowd in Atlanta. The former Juventus midfielder played the villain as his top-seeded Toronto, having nothing to play for as they are assured home-field throughout the playoffs, helped deny Atlanta a higher seed with a 2-2 draw. Altidore scored tied the match, 1-1, in the 60th minute and, after a fan threw a beer at Altidore, Giovinco picks up the cup and drinks the beer to celebrate. In the 84th minute, he drew the match 2-2 with one of his trademark free kicks. He is a big reason why Toronto where far and away the best club in the regular season and may be the reason they are favored to win it all.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Wednesday, Oct. 25:

7:30 p.m. - Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls (FS1)

9:30 p.m. - Vancouver Whitecaps vs. San Jose Earthquakes (UniMás [ENG via SAP])

Thursday, Oct. 26:

6:00 p.m. - Atlanta United vs. Columbus Crew (ESPN2)

8:30 p.m. - Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City (KUBE 57/UniMás [ENG via SAP])

Saturday, Oct. 28:

6:30 a.m. - Manchester United vs. Tottenham (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - Hannover 96 vs. Dortmund (FOX Sports)

9:00 a.m. - Liverpool vs. Huddersfield (NBC Sports)

9:00 a.m. - West Brom vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

11:30 a.m. - Bournemouth vs. Chelsea (NBC Sports)

11:30 a.m. - Atletico Madrid vs. Villarreal (BeIN Sports)

11:30 a.m. - Bayern Munich vs. RB Leipzig (FOX Sports)

1:45 p.m. - Athletic Bilbao vs. FC Barcelona (BeIN Sports)

Sunday, Oct. 29:

10:15 a.m. - Girona vs. Real Madrid (BeIN Sports)

11:00 a.m. - Leicester City vs. Everton (NBC Sports)

Monday, Oct. 30:

3:00 p.m. - Burnley vs. Newcastle (NBC Sports)

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There's an elephant in the room when it comes to the Houston Texans. No, it's not Bill O'Brien. He's the ominous black cloud that hoovers over the whole building. That cloud is like a slow moving weather system that's constantly dumping rain and flooding the city. Eventually, it'll pass, we'll rebuild and recover from it.

It's not even the McNair family. Cal and Janice are the building itself. It exists, but needs people around and operating it in order for it to fully function. Sure, it could use some work. After all, it's almost twenty years old and could probably use a facelift. It happens when buildings age and are only taken care of or held to minimal standards.

The elephant in the room is Deshaun Watson. More specifically, his progress as a franchise/superstar quarterback. I've heard different people talk about this in one way, shape, form or whatever. AJ and Fred covered it on ESPN Houston's The Blitz. My friend @itsDanielBsr tweeted it and brought it up as well. There were others who talked about this topic, but these were the two places I encountered it in which I could pay closer attention.

When it comes to Watson, most people believe he's a great talent. However, there is a growing sentiment that it's time for him to take the next step. Watson turned 25 on September 14. He signed his four-year extension about a week before his birthday. When you're getting paid like a top quarterback and people recognize you as one of the better young quarterbacks, there comes a time when you need to poop or get off the pot.

When calling Watson to the carpet, people will call O'Brien into question. O'Brien is a factor in holding Watson back some. He's been the play-caller his whole time here in Houston up until this year when he allegedly turned it over to Tim Kelly. We've all seen how that has gone. O'Brien is also the general manager that traded away Watson's top target in DeAndre Hopkins. These type of things can hinder a young quarterback's growth and development, but at what point do we stop blaming O'Brien and start looking at Watson?

Some will point to the offensive line as a key factor as to why Watson isn't progressing. We've seen him escape sacks and create plays out of thin air. But when is it time to call him to the carpet for not going through his reads and/or making a check-down? He often escapes sacks and looks downfield, but should he be looking to scramble more often? Should he be reading progressions better? These intimate details are answers we won't ever get, but we hope we can understand that Watson is making his reads and decisions the way he's supposed to.

Whether it's his big extension, his bumbling idiot of a head coach, his lack of protection, or his lack of weapons, fans will eventually stop giving Watson a pass. Del said it best on ESPN Houston's The Bench: When will people stop bringing up Clemson when talking about Watson's greatness? NFL quarterbacks have their college career talked about in their rookie seasons. After that, it's all about what have you done for me lately. I sincerely hope Watson realizes his tremendous potential. He's a star now and a superstar in the making. The one thing that he needs is the success on the field that will catapult him into the upper echelon of the other top talents at his position. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Pat Mahomes, Russell Wilson, and Lamar Jackson all have either a league MVP award and/or a Super Bowl ring. If Watson is to be mentioned in that rarefied air, he needs to start taking the necessary steps. The clock is ticking and people are watching. Your move Deshaun.

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