ON THE PITCH

Weekly Soccer Recap: David Beckham brings MLS to Miami; Dynamo kick off preseason

David Beckham's group were awarded Major League Soccer's 25th franchise. MLSsoccer.com

The MLS offseason is officially over but the biggest move off the field came from a former player. Overseas, cup competition is heating up since most leagues already - unofficially - know it’s champion. This was the week in soccer:

Premier League

The Premier League took a backseat to domestic cup competition this week. Midweek, Manchester City and Arsenal won their League Cup semifinal matches against Bristol City and Chelsea respectively. The final is set for Feb. 25 at Wembley Stadium in London.

Over the weekend, the FA Cup took priority with fourth round matchups. The upsets came from West Brom as they won 3-2 at Liverpool and Wigan Athletic who bested West Ham 2-nil at home. There will be four replay matches next week for the four draws, including Tottenham vs. League Two side Newport County. Chelsea, Leicester City, Manchester City and Manchester United all walked into the next round with big wins.

The Premier League returns with matches on Tuesday.

Top 5: Manchester City (65), Manchester United (53), Chelsea (50), Liverpool (47), Tottenham (45).

La Liga

Leganés remain the only Madrid area team in the Copa del Rey as both Atlético and Real were eliminated in the quarterfinals. Atlético could not overcome the likes of Sevilla and Real Madrid were humbled 2-1 by Leganés, who advance on away goals. The semifinal series will begin this week between Leganés vs. Sevilla and FC Barcelona vs. Valencia.

League action took place over the weekend with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi leading the charge for Barcelona - this week with only one goal apiece. Cristiano Ronaldo scored a double - both goals coming via penalties - as Real cruised to a 4-1 win at Valencia. Atlético defeated Las Palmas 3-0 at home.

The 5: Barcelona (57), Atlético Madrid (46), Valencia (40), Real Madrid (38), Villarreal (37).

Bundesliga

Just when Bayern Munich looked beatable, they overturn a 2-0 deficit to win 5-2 over Hoffenheim. Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke kept their spots at second and third with 2-nil wins. Eintracht Frankfurt had a 2-nil win of their own over Borussia Mönchengladbach, catapulting them up to fourth in the standings. Leipzig drops to fifth as a result of their 1-1 draw vs. Hamburg. Christian Pulisic started in Dortmund’s 2-2 draw with Freiburg.

On that note, Borussia Dortmund fans will be pleased to know that their club is headed stateside after the conclusion of the Bundesliga. They will play at LAFC in the new Banc of California Stadium (date and time TBD) in one of their 2018 tour stops.

Top 5: Bayern Munich (50), Bayer Leverkusen (34), Schalke 04 (34), Eintracht Frankfurt (33), RB Leipzig (32).

Ligue 1

Another win for PSG with Edinson Cavani, Neymar and Angel Di Maria guiding the club to a 4-0 win over Montpellier. Neymar’s double came with one of his goals via the penalty spot but the spotlight went to Cavani, who surpassed Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the club’s all-time leading scorer. Monaco dropped to fourth place after a 2-2 tie at Marseille - an important result as only the top three are guaranteed a spot in the UEFA Champions League. Monaco can jump back into the top three with a home match against Lyon this coming weekend.  

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (59), Lyon (48), Marseille (48), Monaco (47), Nantes (37).

Serie A

The most compelling title race in Europe out of the top five leagues is heating up as neither Napoli or Juventus want to give away an inch. Napoli cruised to a 3-1 over Bologna while Juventus won 3-0 at Chievo Verona. Lazio had a hiccup this week, losing 2-1 at A.C. Milan, while Inter tied 1-1 at SPAL and Roma lost 1-0 vs. Sampdoria.

The top 5: Napoli (57), Juventus (56), Lazio (46), Inter Milan (44), Roma (41).

Liga MX

The early season shuffling at the top of the table continues as only Pumas UNAM and Santos Laguna were able to keep a place in the the top five. Pumas continues to be the leader but were held to a 1-1 draw at Lobos BUAP. Former Houston Dynamo Erick Torres missed out on his debut but did make the gameday roster. In one of the standout matches, Tigres defeated Pachuca 3-2 at home. Monterrey picked up a 2-1 win at Chivas and Leon were dismantled 4-0 at home against Necaxa - still no word on Landon Donovan’s potential debut.

The top 5: Pumas UNAM (8), Monterrey (8), Tijuana (8), America (8), Santos (7).

Major League Soccer

Quite possibly the most awaited expansion announcement took place at the Adrienne Arsht Center on Monday as Miami was awarded an MLS franchise. Very few details were given other than the team is expected to play in the league during the 2020 season - 19 years after the folding of the previous Miami MLS franchise. The club is still looking for a temporary home as their soccer-specific stadium will not be built in time for their inaugural campaign. The event garnered major media attention because of the involvement of David Beckham.

Off the field, plenty of transfer moves continue to reshape the league. Houston Dynamo sold their 2017 top scorer Erick Torres to Liga MX leader Pumas while the Cyle Larin era is over in Orlando in a move that sends the Canadian to Champions League side Besiktas of Turkey. Orlando City have also bolstered their midfield with the addition of Justin Meram from Columbus and Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic is reportedly close to finalizing a deal with LA Galaxy.

National Women’s Soccer League

In an announcement that shook the reputation of the top division in Women’s Soccer, the Boston Breakers have ceased operations just weeks before the start of preseason after a new ownership group could not be established. A dispersal draft will be held Tuesday afternoon to decide the destination of the players on the roster. The Houston Dash will pick sixth in the snake draft.

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Jan. 23:

1:45 p.m. - [Coppa Italia] Atalanta vs. Juventus (GolTV)

2 p.m. - [Premier League] Huddersfield vs. Liverpool (NBC Sports)

2 p.m. - [Coupe de la Ligue] Rennes vs. Paris Saint-Germain (beIN Sports)

Wednesday, Jan. 24:

1:45 p.m. - [Coppa Italia] Milan vs. Lazio (GolTV)

2 p.m. - [Premier League] Spurs vs. Manchester United (NBC Sports)

2:30 p.m. - [Copa del Rey] Leganes vs. Sevilla (beIN Sports)

8 p.m. - [International Friendly] Mexico vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina (UniMas/Univision Deportes)

Thursday, Jan. 25:

2:30 p.m. - [Copa del Rey] Barcelona vs. Valencia (beIN Sports)

Friday, Jan. 26:

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Koln vs. Dortmund (FS1)

1:45 p.m. - [Coupe de la Ligue] Marseille vs. Metz (beIN Sports)

Saturday, Jan. 27:

6:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Burnley vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Mainz vs. Bayern Munich (FS1)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Schalke vs. Werder Bremen (FS2)

9 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester United vs. Huddersfield (NBC Sports)

10 a.m. - [Ligue 1] Lille vs. Paris Saint-Germain (beIN Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Arsenal vs. Everton (NBC/Telemundo)

11:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Mönchengladbach vs. RB Leipzig (FS2)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Levante vs. Real Madrid (beIN Sports)

Sunday, Jan. 28:

8:15 a.m. - [Premier League] Crystal Palace vs. Newcastle (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Augsburg vs. Frankfurt (FS1)

9:15 a.m. - [La Liga] Espanyol vs. Barcelona (beIN Sports)

10:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Liverpool vs. Spurs (NBC Sports/Telemundo)

11 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Hamburg vs. Hannover (FS2)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Atletico Madrid vs. Valencia (beIN Sports)

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Houston couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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