Soccer notebook

Team USA, others try to lock down World Cup spots tonight in busy week of soccer

Christian Pulisic and Team USA have a big game with Trinidad and Tobago tonight. Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Cup qualifying

Leagues around the World took a backseat this weekend as World Cup qualifiers resumed, with 17 of the 32 teams now booked for next summer’s competition.

World Cup Qualifying - CONCACAF

The United States defeated Panama 4-0 in what was a big win because of where both teams were in the table. With the win, the USA move into the top three with a chance to clinch direct qualification on Tuesday night. Costa Rica booked its ticket with a last minute corner to tie 1-1 at home against central american rivals Honduras. Mexico, who was already qualified, defeated already-eliminated Trinidad & Tobago 3-1.

As things stand only one direct ticket is available. An win would put the U.S. in while a draw or loss would complicate things, though anything other than a W would be an upset at this point. The fourth place would clinch a play-in game. Panama and Honduras are currently tied at 10 points which makes the last day of qualifying in CONCACAF must-watch.

World Cup Qualifying - CONMEBOL

Things are definitely interesting in South American qualifying as the gap between second and seventh place is only four points. Only four teams qualify directly with a fifth going to a playoff against New Zealand. Brazil and Uruguay are in meaning only three spots are up for grabs between the likes of Chile, Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Paraguay.

The biggest story is Argentina, considered one of the top national teams in soccer and fielding one of the world’s best two players in Lionel Messi, can’t seem to win at home. Peru went to Buenos Aires and came out with an important 0-0 draw for their World Cup hopes. Copa America champions Chile got a 3-0 win to put themselves back in the qualification zone and Colombia took a hit by losing 2-1 in Paraguay.

World Cup Qualifying - UEFA

Germany will officially return to defend their World Cup title in 2018, not that it’s any surprise. England, Spain, Poland and Serbia also clinched spots over the weekend but the biggest surprise is Iceland. The 2016 UEFA Euro darlings will make their first World Cup appearance next year after a 3-0 win over Turkey.

As things wrap up Tuesday, more teams will clinch direct spots as group winners with the second-place teams going to playoffs for the rest. The biggest drama is in Group A where the Netherlands, the third-place team at the 2014 World Cup, is all but eliminated because of the goal differential it needs to make up to break a potential tie with Sweden.

World Cup Qualifying - CAF, AFC and OFC

In Africa, Egypt is the big story after clinching their first World Cup appearance since 1990. Nigeria is the only other team clinching in the CAF region over the weekend. Australia defeated Syria in the Asia region playoff, awaiting the fourth-place CONCACAF team to play for a World Cup spot. The OFC region, Oceania, had already been decided in September and didn’t have any games in October. New Zealand awaits the South American fifth-place for a shot at the World Cup.

Major League Soccer

Despite the international break, some teams did take part in MLS action over the weekend. The most important result was a 3-0 New York Red Bulls win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC, clinching the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. All six playoff teams in the East are now decided, with only playoff seeding to be decided.

In the Western Conference, only Vancouver has clinched a spot with five places up. Only Kansas City has the opportunity to clinch this coming week if they win or tie at Houston Dynamo on Wednesday.

Soccer Weekend in Houston

Three friendlies took place between Thursday and Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston Dynamo lost 3-5 against Mexico City team Cruz Azul in the ninth annual Dynamo Charities Cup, with this year’s proceeds going toward the Hurricane Harvey relief fund.

Liga MX teams faced off on Saturday afternoon with Monarcas Morelia defeating Tigres UANL 2-0. French goalscorer and Tigres forward André-Pierre Gignac was the main attraction and played every minute of the friendly. The 12,000 plus in attendance were mainly Tigres fans.

On Sunday afternoon, a heavy Salvadoran crowd saw their country defeat the Canadian national team 1-0. The match was a homecoming for Houston area product Arturo Alvarez, who returned and captained his national team after an almost two-year hiatus. MLS standouts Cyle Larin and Tosaint Ricketts featured for Canada.

MVP of the Week - Christian Pulisic

The 19-year-old soccer superstar takes the cake for MVP of the Week after scoring the first goal against Panama and assisting on the second to secure the three points in World Cup qualifying. The 4-0 scoreline will lead some to believe that it was a dominant team effort but the rout doesn’t start without the brilliant plays of the Borussia Dortmund starlet. Now holding an automatic spot to the World Cup, all the U.S. have to do is tie on Tuesday in Trinidad & Tobago.

Off the field, Pulisic decided to sign his game-worn jersey and give it to seven-year-old Alex Ibarra. The young fan was in possession of a Dortmund jersey signed by Pulisic and decided to donate it to a raffle benefiting Puerto Rico relief following Hurricane Maria. When Pulisic heard of the gesture, he decided to reward the kid for his generosity.

Upcoming games (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Oct. 10:

1:45 p.m. - Netherlands vs. Sweden (ESPN Deportes)

6:30 p.m. - Ecuador vs. Argentina (beIN Sports Espanol)

6:30 p.m. - Brazil vs. Chile

6:30 p.m. - Peru vs. Colombia

7:00 p.m. - Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA (beIN Sports)

7:00 p.m. - Panama vs. Costa Rica

7:00 p.m. - Honduras vs. Mexico (Telemundo)

Wednesday, Oct. 11:

7:00 p.m. - Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting Kansas City (KUBE 57)

Saturday, Oct. 14:

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

9:00 a.m. - Crystal Palace vs. Chelsea (NBC Sports)

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

9:15 a.m. - Getafe vs. Real Madrid (beIN Sports)

1:45 p.m. - Atletico Madrid vs. FC Barcelona (beIN Sports)

Sunday, Oct. 15:

6:30 p.m. - Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo (KUBE 57)

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Carlos Correa had a big home run Saturday night. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

With four wins in a row, including the first two of this series, Houston had a chance to keep their momentum going to lock up a series win on Saturday in this four-game set. Although Texas would make it interesting late, the Astros would hold them off to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 6, Rangers 5

Astros' Record: 23-17, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Luis Garcia (1-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dane Dunning (2-3)

Action in the first

After getting trounced the night prior, the Rangers managed to grab early momentum with a run to start the scoring Saturday night against Luis Garcia. It came after a one-out triple set up a sac fly, giving Texas a 1-0 lead. Houston quickly took control back in their favor, though, putting up four in the bottom of the inning on a two-RBI single by Alex Bregman and a two-run homer by Carlos Correa, making it 4-1 Astros.

The scoreboard went quiet after that inning, with both teams slowing down at the plate. Garcia put together a decent night, allowing just the one run over five innings of work, erasing some runners throughout the night. His final line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HR, 94 P.

Rangers tighten it up late

Bryan Abreu was the first reliever to enter for Houston, taking over for Garcia in the top of the sixth. He worked around a leadoff single, keeping it a three-run game, then returned for a 1-2-3 top of the seventh. Correa led off with a double in the bottom of the inning, setting up a two-run Kyle Tucker homer, extending his recent hot streak and the lead to 6-1.

Ryne Stanek took over on the mound for Houston in the top of the eighth but worked himself into trouble with a single and walk to set up a three-run homer by Joey Gallo to make it a two-run game at 6-4. He would manage just one out before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Brandon Bielak. Bielak would allow a run while getting the final two outs, making it 6-5.

Astros secure the series

After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, Ryan Pressly would try to notch another save and close the door on the Rangers. He would get the job done, sitting the Rangers down in order, keeping Houston's winning streak intact.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game set will start at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Lance McCullers JR. (3-1, 3.10 ERA), fresh off of a recent gem, will look to continue his success for the Astros, while Kyle Gibson (3-0, 2.28) will try to stay perfect on the season for the Rangers.

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