ON THE PITCH

Soccer weekly recap: MLS playoffs down to 4 including Dynamo; Tottenham and Man City stock rises in UCL

Portland fans are known for their creative tifos but will have to wait till next season to display their next one. Victor Araiza

It was a big week all over the soccer world as another FIFA international break is upon us. Two English teams in particular saw their stock rise while the race to the MLS Cup is down to four clubs, including the local Houston Dynamo.

UEFA Champions League

Tottenham and Manchester City are the two names that will stand out in most people’s minds when they look at this round of scores. Spurs defeated reigning champions Real Madrid 3-1 at Wembley while Pep Guardiola’s side got an important 4-2 victory at Napoli. Manchester United and Liverpool also got results. The only other English club, Chelsea, suffered a 3-0 draw at Roma. The biggest surprises are Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, semifinalists and quarterfinalists respectively last year, who don’t look like they’ll be moving on past the group stage this year.

Qualified to knockout phase: Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Tottenham Hotspur

UEFA Europa League

Four teams are through to the knockout round of Europe’s secondary club competition. The motivation to win the Europa League is that the champion qualifies directly to next year’s UEFA Champions League. For teams historic UCL teams like Arsenal, Milan this could serve as insurance policy in case they fail to qualify (which is the reason why they are playing here).

Arsenal are through while Milan, who played at AEK Athens to a scoreless draw, looks poised to qualify. Other teams like Atalanta, Lyon and Villarreal also look on their way to qualify. Meanwhile, English club Everton are one of three sides already eliminated after poor results.

Qualified to knockout phase: Arsenal, Dynamo Kyiv, Lazio, Steaua București, Zenit Saint Petersburg

Premier League

To add to their Champions League success, Manchester City are pulling away in the Premier League table after a 3-1 win over Arsenal. The loss drops Arsenal out of the top five as Liverpool moves in thanks to their 4-1 win at West Ham. Chelsea inches closer to Manchester United by facing them directly in a 1-0 home win for the Blues. Tottenham take care of business with a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Top 5: Manchester City (31), Manchester United (23), Tottenham (23), Chelsea (22), Liverpool (19)

La Liga

Barcelona’s 2-1 win versus Sevilla knocks the Sevillistas out of the top five while keeping the blaugranas at the top.Valencia, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid all got wins to maintain their place. Real Sociedad, Celta Vigo and Girona also picked up wins.

The 5: Barcelona (31), Valencia (27), Real Madrid (23), Atlético Madrid (23) and Villareal (20).

Bundesliga

All eyes in Germany where on Der Klassiker, the rivalry match between top clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Last week the Bavarians took over the top of the table and this week’s 3-1 win at Dortmund extended the gap over their rivals. To make matters worse for Dortmund, Leipzig’s 2-1 win over Hannover drops them to third in the table. Hoffenheim took advantage of that result as well as they move up into fifth. Schalke quietly picked up a 1-0 win at Freiburg.

Top 5: Bayern Munich (26), RB Leipzig (22), Dortmund (20), Schalke 04 (20), Hoffenheim (19).

Ligue 1

PSG continue to cruise in the French top division with a 5-0 win over Angers, driven by doubles from Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappé. Monaco had a blowout win for themselves 6-0 over Guingamp, with doubles from Guido Carrillo and Adama Traoré. Lyon and Marseille had 5-0 wins of their own while Nantes got a 2-1 win over Toulouse.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (32), Monaco (28), Lyon (25), Marseille (24), Nantes (23).

Serie A

Napoli is still unbeaten to start the season, a run of 12 consecutive matches, but their recent draws have allowed last year’s champions to catch up to them. A scoreless draw for Napoli plus a 2-1 Juventus win against Benevento now have the race for the top spot one point apart. Inter Milan dropped to third this weekend thanks to a 1-1 draw with Torino but are still within striking distance of first place. Lazio’s match with Udinese was postponed due to rain, Roma got a 4-2 win over Fiorentina to go with their Champions League group lead and A.C. Milan picked up a 2-0 win at Sassuolo.

The top 5: Napoli (32), Juventus (31), Inter Milan (30), Lazio (28), Roma (27)

Major League Soccer

The second leg of the conference semifinals took place over the weekend in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Seattle defeated rivals Vancouver behind a double from Nacogdoches native Clint Dempsey on Thursday night as they waited to find out their next opponent. Many were already penciling in another pacific northwest rivalry for the Western Conference Championship but the Houston Dynamo had other plans. Behind goals from Dylan Remick and Mauro Manotas, the Dynamo eliminated the Portland Timbers and will host Seattle for the first leg on November 21.

In the Eastern Conference, both New York clubs were eliminated as Toronto and Columbus Crew will meet for the East ticket to the MLS Cup Final. TFC lost 1-0 at home but advance on aggregate after winning the first leg 2-1. The story of that match was a brawl inside the stadium tunnel during halftime that saw red cards given to U.S. national team players Jozy Altidore and Sasha Kljestan. Columbus’ 4-1 lead from the first leg carried over to see them advance as New York City FC could only manage a 2-0 win. The elimination of NYCFC also means the retirement of FIFA World Cup winner Andrea Pirlo.

MVP of the Week - Mauro Manotas

Colombian forward Mauro Manotas collected his first playoff goal for the Houston Dynamo to secure the team’s qualification to the Western Conference Championship. The 22-year-old who never wavered during a mediocre season for the club in 2016 - biding his time in the “minors” at Rio Grande Valley FC before returning to score a club-leading nine goals in all competitions - is having his best season with 11 goals in MLS this year. A stunning goal on the Portland turf makes him the MVP of the week and the kid didn’t shy away from the rowdy Timbers fans after scoring.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Thursday, Nov. 9:

1:30 p.m.- Leg 1: Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland (ESPN2)

1:30 p.m.- Leg 1: Croatia vs. Greece (ESPN3)

1:30 p.m.- Friendly: Scotland vs. Netherlands (ESPN3)

9 p.m. - Friendly: U.S. Women vs. Canada (ESPN2)

Friday, Nov. 10:

6 a.m.- Friendly: Japan vs. Brazil (beIN Sports)

11 a.m.- South Africa vs. Senegal (beIN Sports)

1:30 p.m.- Leg 1: Sweden vs. Italy (FS1)

1:30 p.m.- Algeria vs. Nigeria (beIN Sports)

1:30 p.m.- Friendly: Belgium vs. Mexico (Univision Deportes)

4 p.m.- Leg 1: Honduras vs. Australia (Telemundo)

9 p.m.- Leg 1: New Zealand vs. Peru (beIN Sports)

Saturday, Nov. 11:

1:30 p.m.- Leg 1: Denmark vs. Ireland (FS2)

Sunday, Nov. 12:

8 p.m. - Friendly: U.S. Women vs. Canada (FS1)

Monday, Nov. 13:

1:30 p.m.- Leg 2: Italy vs. Sweden (FS1)

Tuesday, Nov. 14:

2:45 p.m.- Friendly: Portugal vs. USA (FS1/UniMas/Univision Deportes)

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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