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
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)
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).
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).
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).
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)
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.