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).


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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Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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