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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

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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