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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Houston's offense had another strong day at the plate in Seattle against the Mariners on Wednesday. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After striking a deal with the Mariners before Tuesday's game, along with a reported deal with the Marlins on Wednesday before the finale, the Astros continued to try and bolster their bullpen with fresh arms while also focusing on this series against Seattle. Having won the night prior to even it up, it came down to the rubber game on Wednesday afternoon to decide the series.

Final Score: Astros 11, Mariners 4

Astros' Record: 63-40, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (4-5)

Losing Pitcher: Yusei Kikuchi (6-6)

Astros continue to score runs in Seattle

Just like in the earlier games in this series, the Astros had no problems offensively. They strung together four consecutive one-run innings, starting in the top of the second when they loaded the bases, then got an RBI groundout by Myles Straw to go up 1-0. In the top of the third, Yuli Gurriel drove one in on a two-out RBI double, bringing in Jose Altuve, who led the inning off with a double of his own. Chas McCormick led off with a single in the fourth, then later scored on an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz.

The fourth run in as many innings came in the top of the fifth, as Gurriel would notch his second RBI with a solo homer to start that inning, pushing the lead to 4-0. They didn't stop there, and neither did Gurriel, as he would get RBI number three on the day as part of a four-run top of the sixth, with RBI hits him, Altuve, Diaz, and Carlos Correa, doubling the lead to 8-0.

Odorizzi gets to the sixth before allowing two homers

The run support gave Jake Odorizzi plenty of leeway, which he didn't need until the bottom of the sixth. He held Seattle scoreless over the first five frames, allowing just four baserunners on a hit by pitch, a walk, and two singles, all peppered over that span and erased in each inning. Kyle Seager would get the Mariners on the board in the bottom of the sixth, blasting a one-out solo homer to cut the lead to seven runs at 8-1. After a single in the next at-bat, recently traded Abraham Toro made it four games in a row with a homer, this one a two-run shot to cut the lead to 8-3 and end Odorizzi's day. His final line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 95 P.

Houston wins the series

Houston brought in Brooks Raley to finish the sixth, issuing two walks but stranding them to keep it a five-run lead. Myles Straw helped push that back to six in the top of the seventh, reaching on a single to start the innings, then stealing both second and third to get in position for Diaz's third RBI of the day, a groundout to make it 9-3. Cristian Javier was the next reliever out for the Astros, but he would not make it through the bottom of the seventh, allowing a single and three walks, the third with the bases loaded to bring in a run.

Bryan Abreu was brought in to get out of the jam, getting a strikeout to end the seventh. Then, in the top of the eighth, Kyle Tucker would put two more runs on the board with a two-run homer making the lead seven runs at 11-4. Abreu remained in for the bottom of the eighth, erasing two one-out singles to get through the frame. Brandon Bielak took over in the bottom of the ninth to close things out, posting a 1-2-3 inning to wrap up the win and give Houston the series victory.

Up Next: Houston will travel down the coast to San Fransisco before getting a day off on Thursday. They'll pick up an exciting three-game series with the Giants on Friday, with the opener slated to start at 8:45 PM Central. Framber Valdez (6-2, 2.97 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, while San Fransisco's starter is TBD.

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